Among the number of stereotypes associated with being a Filipino, it is the ability to sing that many kababayans proudly embrace.
To be fair, there is no shortage of proof that Filipinos are indeed among the best singers in the world. Homegrown talents (Lea Salonga, Arnel Pineda and Jake Zyrus) and stars of mixed ethnic heritage (Bruno Mars, H.E.R. and Olivia Rodrigo) all seem to exemplify that vocal prowess does come naturally to those with Filipino blood. But does it?
A star is groomed
Whether intended or not, Filipinos are literally groomed to be pop stars as children. Many grow up watching talent shows, which can be found on nearly every television channel in the Philippines.
“Tawag ng Tanghalan,” which began in 1954, produced many of the early singing stars in the country, according to Manila Times. It continues to enjoy viewership to this day as a segment in the noon-time show “Showtime.”
In addition to locally produced shows, the Philippines also has its own versions of popular talent shows like “The Voice,” “X-Factor” and “American Idol.”
Exposure to these shows not only develops young Filipinos’ affinity for music but also their instinctive dreams to become future singers or celebrities.
While many Filipinos see such contests as an outlet for their talent, others also see them as their ticket out of poverty. In some cases, parents with limited opportunities train their children to become good singers for a shot at a better future.
Filipino singer and television personality Jake Zyrus (then known as Charice) once shared with Oprah that he signed up for over 80 contests as a child to help support his family.
“I really want[ed] to help Mom,” he was quoted as saying. “When I’m joining singing contests, and I won some $50, she was, like, ‘Okay, we’re going to have some food for one month, and we’re very happy.'”
Born with a silver mic
While Asians, in general, love their karaoke, Filipinos take it to an entirely different level.
In the Philippines, the karaoke machine has become a staple appliance for those who can afford it. Family bonding time on weekends? Karaoke. Friends arriving for an unexpected visit? Karaoke. Little Junjun wants to show Lola his hidden talent? Karaoke.
Those who don’t have a “Magic Sing” at home still won’t mind shelling out a few thousand pesos to visit a karaoke place or rent a portable machine for gatherings, because it is true that no Filipino party is complete without a karaoke showdown.
It doesn’t even matter what type of gathering it is. Whether it’s a birthday party or a funeral, expect an impassioned Tito to belt out a passable Air Supply ballad or a convincing Sinatra ditty. Since each family has its own “pambato” (champion), don’t be surprised that someone’s Tita has already queued her song code for a Whitney Houston belter without even looking at the karaoke song list.
Musician David DiMuzio, who has worked with numerous Filipino artists, noted that Filipinos take their karaoke seriously and mostly practice songs from powerful vocalists of the ‘70s and the ‘80s such as Bryan Adams, Michael Bolton and Whitney Houston, among others.
“Filipinos generally just gravitate towards that music, and that’s the music that they practice singing again and again,” DiMuzio said in a YouTube video. “Whatever you practice is what you become good at.”
Even the Pacman does it
Though being bombarded with singing contests or karaoke sessions doesn’t necessarily make for a good singer, such exposure to music does instill some confidence behind the microphone, and sometimes, that’s all one needs to get started.
A case in point is Manny Pacquiao. While not really known for his singing, the boxing legend can hold his own with a mic (as shown in this video with singer Dan Hill).
“I like singing, I love music. But I don’t think music loves me,” Pacquiao admitted in an interview with TMZ.
We’ve also seen a number of amateur singers blow up on social media from their impressive renditions of international hits. Zendee Tenerefe earned social media stardom after belting out Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Jennifer Holliday’s “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” at a karaoke kiosk inside a mall. Meanwhile, Maria Aragon earned online fame after recording her own version of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”
Both viral stars attracted further international attention after being featured on the “Ellen Show.” Ellen DeGeneres, who has invited numerous Filipino singers on her show, even took to Twitter to write: “I’ve learned 2 things about TV. It’s always easier with vodka & some of the best singers are from the Philippines.”
Slaying at international ‘Idols’
Further reinforcing the stereotype is the fact that Filipinos have consistently wowed audiences at international singing contests. It is almost a guarantee that an upcoming performance at “American Idol” or “X Factor” is worth a watch when a contestant is revealed to be Filipino.
Among the most captivating performances that viewers never get tired of rewatching online are those from the 4th Impact on “The X Factor UK,” Jasmine Trias and Jessica Sanchez on “American Idol,” Marlisa Punzalan on “The X Factor Australia,” Peter Rosalita and Angelica Hale on “America’s Got Talent,” Mig Ayesa on “RockStar: INXS” and Marcelito Pomoy on “America’s Got Talent: The Champions.”
Singing doesn’t cost a thing
Out of the multiple other possible reasons, our favorite is the Filipinos’ inherent positive disposition, stemming from the idea that Filipinos have developed their singing talents in an effort to stay optimistic while coping with their problems.
That, or there’s something magical in the lumpia.