MANILA, Philippines – Filipino-American teenager Kirby Asunto got the biggest break in her young career when she was chosen to perform the Philippine National Anthem during the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley fight in Las Vegas on Sunday morning, Manila time.
The 14-year-old from New Jersey joined a list of singers chosen by the Pinoy boxing champ to sing “Lupang Hinirang” during his high-profile matches, which included international Filipino superstars like Charice and Arnel Pineda, as well as lesser known singers.
It’s no guarantee that getting that prime spot in a fight watched by a worldwide audience can translate to a huge career.
Many of the up and coming singers who were given that break failed to capitalize on their exposure, such as TV reality search contestant Jennifer Bautista (Pacquiao-Morales II) and teenager Nicole Angela Judalena (Pacquiao-Diaz).
In fact, singing the national anthem in a Pacquiao fight can even hurt reputations -- as what happened to Martin Nievera, whose performance during the Pacquiao-Hatton bout was criticized by the National Historical Institute (NHI).
The NHI had cited Republic Act 8491, which prescribes that any person who will violate its provisions may be punished by a fine of at least P20,000 or imprisonment of not more than one year.
Perhaps because of NHI’s threats over “improper” renditions of the anthem, such as slowing down the tempo from the original march and belting out some notes, many singers have opted for “safe” renditions, resulting in mostly perfunctory singing, instead of impassioned performances.
Karylle, during the Pacquiao-Dela Hoya bout, was obviously nervous during her performance that she stuttered on the word “watawat,” while Charice (Pacquiao-Mosley) strictly stayed with the marshall tempo, which got the NHI’s thumbs up, but sounded a bit impersonal.
So how did Asunto’s performance on Sunday morning rank?
The teener performed admirably and stayed on pitch throughout the song, although undoubtedly she was upstaed by "American Idol" runner-up Jessica Sanchez, who earned praises for her Whitney Houston-inspired a capella rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."
Regardless of NHI rules, here are the best and worst performances of “Lupang Hinirang” during Pacquiao bouts.
Regine Velasquez (Pacquiao vs Fahsan 3K Battery, “Yanig sa Taguig”). The NHI will probably not like the powerful glory note at the song’s end and the slow rearrengement, but this was a vintage Velasquez performance. One of the few renditions that used a backing track, Velasquez employed good dynamics and showed off perfect pitch and when she brought the song to a soaring climax, it was difficult not to be moved.
Sarah Geronimo (Pacquiao-Morales III). Again, the NHI won’t approve of some of the belted parts, but Geronimo, showing off her powerful pipes, imbued her performance with strength of character that drew out patriotic feelings. It was a very confident a capella performance that indeed made you feel proud.
Kyla (Pacquiao-Barrera II). Kyla showed no traces of her R&B leanings in this understated version of the national anthem. But her simplicity was also very heartfelt.
Martin Nievera (Pacquiao-Hatton). Even without the scolding from the NHI, this rearrangement was overblown yet confused. Performed with a backing track, there were touches of Yanni at his most orchestral, then abruptly switched to uptempo. Coupled with Nievera’s attempt at the bel canto style of singing, the end-product was just a mess.
Zyrene Parsad (Pacquiao-Margarito). What is worse – belted out glory notes that’s against NHI rules or a rendition that is so bland that it doesn’t inspire anything? Parsad’s blah performance was hardly a rallying point to inspire love for country. It’s more worthy of some local conference but definitely not a prizefight in Vegas.
Jennifer Bautista (Pacquiao-Morales II ). Overall, an embarrassment. First there’s the slow arrangement, which we know by now is frowned upon by the NHI, and the karaoke-like backing track. She also attempted a glory note at the end but instead gave a long sustained off-pitch note. To make things worse, she ended her performance with a misplaced shout out of “Laban, Pacman!”