HER WAY: Rose Fostanes made an autobio of X-Factor

Posted at 01/15/2014 11:47 AM

She’s a lesbian, middle-aged and overweight, with a snub nose, jowls, an accent waiting for a cleaver, and enunciation problems. But she has a diva’s full chest tones and soaring notes, bigger-than-life gestures and the ebullient charm of one who lives to serve and love.

On Tuesday (Wednesday morning in Manila), Israel poured love back on Filipino caregiver Rose Fostanes, crowning her the country’s first X-Factor winner.

Fostanes won the contest in pure Pinoy melodrama style, singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”, a somewhat dangerous sing-a-long staple in videoke-crazy Asia. The theme song of every rebel, with or without a cause, the exclamation point to a season’s repertoire that had plumbed every facet of her life struggles.

Some awkward adlibs, the trademark “p” for “f” — all easily overlooked in a powerful performance that scorched past the lush orchestra sound and filled every corner of the arena.

“My Way” is dangerous not just because impatient singers or displeased listeners have been known to shoot hapless performers. It’s a compressed biography of every person’s life, alluding to a string of slights and sorrows.

It’s also that great aspirational song: Paul Anka penned it for Frank Sinatra, the baadest of the Rat Pack, those rowdy, brilliant, troubled singers who scandalized America as much as they bedazzled.

For almost three minutes, “My Way” allows every downtrodden soul the ultimate dream — giving the a cruel world the dirty finger and getting away with it. And, if one is good enough, getting applause for it.

Life is a soap opera. It’s too easy for “My Way” to degenerate into cheap melodrama. Rose — like most Filipinos, she sports a nickname; Osang, a word made famous by another defiant woman — is 47 years old and has spent 20 years working as a caregiver around the Middle East. Her life’s dream was hobbled early on because she lacked a star’s looks. Like millions of Filipinos, she took care of the family by working long hours in strange lands.

Osang waddled into her audition in jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt, belly almost dwarfing the bust.

With her first song, she set her terms.

“This Is My Life” is a torch singer’s favorite, where every stanza can be punctuated by little sobs.

Osang did not prowl the stage; she has always rooted herself on that private space, a stocky tree with surprisingly graceful arms. She gave no sobs. She growled at times but for the most part told the story straight, the perfect strategy for a singer whose voice needs no adornment save for that exceptionally expressive face.

By the second round, X-Factor Israel viewers knew Osang was no stereotype, that she would always serve up surprises.

With a heart “going doog, doog,” she ditched standards and sizzled with country-blues cover of Lady Gaga’s “You and I”. Big Mama, hot goddess at 4’11 and god knows how many pounds, hitting the loins dead on. All the way to that rhythmic spoken afterglow, “You have to move, you have to fight; you have to make your best.”

Now, that’s a line that belongs to a song. Even with slightly fractured English, Osang has the gift of gab. Short sentences suffused with unintentional irony, or long riffs with perfectly timed pauses; when not singing, she dishes out sidewalk poetry.

Baby doll. That was a signal. Auditioning, Rose said she was alone. Eventually, she came out to the Associated Press as a lesbian with a butch partner of 30 years. “We have the same dreams, we share property and a bank account,” she says. “She is my soulmate.” Mel seems to be as gentle and dignified as Osang and got to see her baby doll become a star.

I’m a big fan of musical reality shows. But I haven’t yet seen a singer turn a season into an autobiography. This was what Osang did, making her performances the distillation of those little tales.

She barely reached the armpits of her gorgeous groupmates in the preliminary rounds but she stalked out like a queen in the slow-rock anthem, “Purple Rain”. That must have been a nightmare for her rivals.

Osang squeaked through the judges house, emerging from that cocoon as a star.

The producers must have really loved her because with the first live show they had transformed her into a chic dynamo in silver lame and a black overcoat.

The makeover was just enough to highlight Rose’s world-weary, kind face as she sang of transcending insecurities. That almost spoken word in the last chorus of Christina Aguillera’s “Beautiful” was a statement of self and a call to arms for everyone — woman, man, transexual — who has ever faced rejection.