It’s 5:30 p.m. on Saturday April 27, and the staff of Asian Central Store are preparing for tonight’s show.
Pinoy New Talent Singing Idol, a nation-wide contest sponsored by Filipino broadcaster TV 5, has included Whitehorse in its 2013 season tryouts, and the local grocery/restaurant is the event’s headquarters.
Tonight’s event will be the first of five monthly tryouts, after which the local winner will head south to compete against finalists from eight other Canadian cities. The national champion wins a round trip for two to the Philippines; an exclusive record contract with Viva Records; appearances in TV 5 programming; a condo in Manila and 50,000 pesos (about CAD$1,200) spending money.
By 6:30 p.m. Asian Central is packed. There’s approximately 50 people seated in the main dining room. The karaoke machine plays a reel of extreme sports wipeouts as a young woman softly croons along to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” by Gloria Gaynor.
Trays of fried milkfish with mounds of steamed rice and bowls of pork bone soup come steaming out of the kitchen carried by a waitress, who sidesteps a pair of wild-eyed toddlers with the grace of Ginger Rogers.
The show still hasn’t started and Ailene Gayangos, the store’s owner, looks anxious. “We’re waiting for one more contestant who was working until six, ” she says. “That’s pretty much life in the Yukon, eh?”
The judges – all Caucasian –smile politely from a plastic banquet table facing the stage: Elayne Sayney, Dennis Pederson, Dennis Beaudoin, Mollie Roy and Whitehorse’s Mayor Dan Curtis.
At last Gayangos gets the nod to start, passing the mic to MC Ernesto Peron.
“Singing contests are a staple in the Philippines,” Peron says. “We have them in every nook and cranny of the country of all our 7,107 islands. That’s 7, 107 at low tide.”
The first contestant, Rene Boy Minguito, steps to the microphone dressed in a grey cardigan with white shirt and bowtie. His song is “This is the Moment,” written for the Broadway production Jekyll & Hyde and recently performed by Susan Boyle and Donnie Osmond on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.
“This is the Moment” is perfect for a singing contest. It begins slowly, building with each “this is the moment,” and nearly reaches a climax before ripping you back down, and building you back to another “this is the moment,” all over again. If properly executed, the final refrain pops like a cherry bomb.
Minguito knows his way around his selection. At first, there are just a few hoots from a group of ladies at a table closest to the stage. Then a few teenage girls begin shouting and clapping in the back corner. He throws his right arm wide, with a final, “this is the mooooooment…” as the room bursts into applause.
Marichu King is up next with a smoldering rendition of “Stars” by Grace Potter, a song about a woman who can’t look at the stars because they remind her of an ex-lover. It’s got a longish guitar solo in the middle that can spell sudden death for those with low stage presence. King carries it well. The room glitters with camera flashes as she walks off the stage.
“I didn’t expect the judges to be all Canadians,” she says laughing. “I thought some would be Filipinos, so I was really nervous.”
Next up is Jerda Mae Bungay, a teenager who has been singing since she was a child. Her song is “Stand Up For Love” by Destiny’s Child. Like any song touched by Beyoncé Knowles, it’s full of flying pitch changes and soulfully drawn out vowel sounds, the kind that make church in the American south at least an hour longer than church everywhere else. She nails it.
The last performer is Jennifer Trinidad. She’s chosen “Saving All My Love For You,” a Whitney Houston power ballad. It’s soulful but not too tough. She leaves the stage beaming.
“This was kind of a new life experience for me,” she says. “But it felt like singing for family. These are my family here.”
After each contestant sings one more song it’s up to the mayor to announce the winner. There’s some light banter: “Queen is the greatest band that ever lived,” he reveals, and then reads the results: Minguito, bow tied master of the moment, is crowned champion.
He accepts his $100 gift certificate to Asian Central, a special box for accessing various Filipino television channels, and a bouquet of flowers.
“I am feeling great right now,” he says. “It’s my dream to be a part of this contest.”
PNT Singing Idol 2013 Whitehorse qualifying shows will take place every third Saturday of the month until August at Asian Central Store, located at 210C Ogilvie Street.