MANILA, Philippines -- The Peninsula Manila kicked off its search for the hotel's new lounge singer on Tuesday night with the first live performance of its Sing@Ning talent contest.
Twenty pre-selected aspirants took to the stage of the hotel's Salon de Ning for the first elimination round, doing lounge covers of rock hits from local bands like Rivermaya and Wolfgang. They were accompanied by a three-piece band composed of a pianist, a drummer and a guitarist.
Sing@Ning musical director Onyl Torres said the arrangements were the result of their collaboration with the contestants as they wanted to test the hopefuls' musical creativity. They also limited the song selection to those with English lyrics to assess the diction of the contestants.
The 20 contestants were judged by a three-man panel composed of The Company's Moy Ortiz, veteran singer Pinky Marquez and director Floy Quintos. Apart from their voice, the judges were also strict with diction and how well they do their spiels.
Ortiz explained that they are looking for someone who will fit the image of Salon de Ning, as part of the prize package for the winner is a three-month contract to perform at the five-star hotel venue.
Torres added that the Peninsula would like to break the stereotype of a hotel lounge singer, typically a chanteuse in a gown, singing standards with a pianist. That's why the contest was opened to include male singers as well.
Three male contestants, in fact, made the Top 12, and all three received outstanding comments from the judges.
University of the Philippines student Rafael Gutierrez, who did a spare, almost cabaret version of Hale’s “Waltz,” was praised by judge Marquez. “You are an example of keeping it simple and you were telling the story. …I don’t have hair in my body but you made it stand,” she said.
Quintos was ecstatic in his comments for Garrett Devan Bolden Jr. and Renz Ruther Robosa.
“You are so tiny but when you start singing, (expletive),” Quintos said of Robosa, who gave a jazzy touch to Bamboo’s “These Days.” “It’s a performance that just blows me away. It was just so joyful and technically you know what you’re doing.”
Also receiving loud applause from the Salon de Ning crowd was Bolden, whose silky R&B voice lent itself well to Bamboo’s sexy “Much Has Been Said.”
“Whatever it is you’ve been through in life had certainly made you a better singer,” Quintos told Bolden. “Actually at certain points I found myself almost teary eyed. You were making me discover the song along with you. And your technique, you are sure of what you’re doing. You’re never tentative. You’re miraculous.”
The female contestants, however, still dominated the Top 12.
And if the hotel is looking for the right singer for Salon de Ning, Ateneo graduate Joselle Feliciano had the look and style down pat, with her breezy rendition of Rivermaya’s “214.”
“You’re very sophisticated. You belong to this place,” Quintos said. “Graciosa ka, which is very rare in the entertainment scene where everyone just wants to be loved. You have elegance and élan which I find a very attractive quality and very rare.”
Fellow Atenean Abigail Sulit also earned praises for her take on Bamboo’s “Peace Man.”
“You did not show nerves. Ang tapang mo,” said Ortiz, who also cited her “very clear voice.”
“You had a good time on stage, you were always smiling. And like Direk Floy was saying, if you have a good time on stage, we have a good time out here. It’s very infectious. It was a wonderful performance,” he added.
The Pen just might see an Ateneo-La Salle rivalry at Salon de Ning after Lasallian Ana Almenario also made the cut with her blues-lite version of “Goodnight” by Barbie’s Cradle.
“With the vocal performance, it was very soulful. That vocal performance did not feel generic at all. You showed your impressive range, commendable vocal improvisation. You know what you can improve on? The eye contact. Look at the people, don’t look at the floor,” Ortiz said.
“You have the package,” Quintos assured her. “Look at us.”
The other Top 12 finalists are April Delos Santos, Shane Anja Tarun, Joji Anne Altamera, Paola Mariz Portillo, Shayne Marie Malto and Lynly Aspera Lacdang.
The second round of live performances will be held on October 9, where the contestants will be asked to perform a ballad.
From 12, only six will remain for the next round before the finale in November.