CJ Villavicencio’s recent win in Matteo Guidicelli’s talent competition The Pop Stage was contested due to alleged plagiarism. Photo from CJ's Facebook page
Culture Music

Popstage winner accused of plagiarism says his piece was tribute to Huling El Bimbo musical

CJ Villavicencio won a million pesos and a management contract from Viva Artist Agency in a contest that purportedly promotes originality. But all sorts of accusations have come up after the announcement. By JAM PASCUAL
ANCX | Aug 05 2020

Cheaters never prosper, and when you copy an arrangement from the “Ang Huling El Bimbo” musical and pass it off as your own, you could stand to lose a million pesos.

CJ Villavicencio was recently declared the winner of Matteo Guidicelli’s talent competition The Pop Stage. His winning performance was a medley of a bunch of Eraserheads songs, including “Pare Ko.” But theater actor Jef Flores contested that victory, having posted a video showing compelling evidence that Villavicencio copied the arrangement of “Pare Ko” from the “Ang Huling El Bimbo” musical, by musical director Myke Salomon. The video has been going around on Facebook and is up on YouTube.

In the video, Flores makes striking comparisons between Villavicencio’s take on the song and a performance from the musical, from the backup vocals to the guitar riff, and elements of the musical’s choreography. “There is no other version of ‘Pare Ko’ like that. The only military version of ‘Pare Ko’ that exists was made by Myke Salomon, for ‘Ang Huling El Bimbo’ the musical.”

To be clear, contestants of The Pop Stage did not submit performances of original compositions and songs they wrote themselves. Like a lot of talent competitions like American Idol and The Voice, many of these contestants performed covers—sometimes to showcase their vocal skill without changing the instrumentation, other times putting a spin on the original piece’s arrangement. There were also dancing and beatboxing performances. However, many contestants also submitted original compositions: for example, “2AM” by Dia Mate and “Pangarap” by Martin Naling.

For Flores, the similarities between the “Pare Ko” part of Villavicencio’s medley, and Myke Salomon’s arrangement, are too similar and impossible to ignore. “The military sound is because in the musical Ang Huling El Bimbo, [the characters] are in ROTC. These guys”—he points to the backup dancer behind Villavicencio—”aren’t ROTC. They’re not in the military! So why does it sound like that? That’s plagiarism!” Flores states in the video that a drum beat in the medley was taken from “They Don’t Really Care About Us" by Michael Jackson.

In the video, Flores goes on to also call out Ken Jezer Umahon and Cedric Calingasan, credited for Musical Production, for stealing the arrangement. Reading the edit history of a status Villavicencio posted about his medley, Flores finds that when the status was first posted on July 27, there was no mention of the musical. The post was edited on July 30 to thank the musical “for the inspiration.” Between those three days, different people came to the comments section of Villavicencio’s medley (on the Pop Stage page) calling him out for plagiarism. The video also gives reason to believe that the Pop Stage page, whoever is running it, is deleting comments accusing Villavicencio of plagiarism.

The medley was aired on episode 12. The judges of the show gave different comments. Matteo Guidicelli remarked on the high production quality. Lani Misalucha stated that the piece fit Villavicencio’s voice. Jed Madela called the contestant charismatic and relatable. G-Force Ritz complimented Villavicencio’s moves. But at no point do the panelists or Villavicencio mention or credit the musical.

Lots of weird, absurd things about this situation. It is difficult to believe that a roster of talented panelists didn’t catch this, or that nobody from VIVA thought the medley was a problem when it first aired. The Pop Stage counts creativity and originality as big parts of their criteria, and that’s already pretty shaky, considering the fact that the winning performance was a mish-mash of covers.

Matteo Guidicelli hasn’t released any official statement. Lani Misalucha responded to a Twitter user contesting Villavicencio’s win: “Thank you for your comment. Yes we’re doing something about it.” Viva, when asked by ANCX, says it is only a sponsor of the project and not a producer. 

Before midnight of August 4, CJ Villavicencio, the winning contestant, took to Facebook to break his silence. 

“Over the weekend, my life has changed in an instant. I did not expect my victory to trigger so much negative comments and hate online. I was hurt and it also aches my heart to unintentionally hurt some people as well, especially the production team of Ang Huling El Bimbo The Musical.

“My final performance during the finals of The Pop Stage is an Eraserheads medley and was meant to be a tribute to my favorite artists and musical while also incorporating my own story and experiences. It is a piece that reflects my relationship with my friends, my role as a student, and my passion for music. It was also dedicated to all the students who endlessly strive in life.

“There was no intention whatsoever on my part to plagiarize. I am sorry if I caused undue distress, seemed disrespectful or if I have hurt the theater community. Honestly, the things that I’ve read slightly affected my mental health. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who messaged just to check up on me. Clearly, as an amateur and aspiring artist, I still have so many things to learn. I humbly ask for everyone’s understanding as I navigate this new world that I have recently entered. I am not a bad person. My intentions were far different from what people think. 

“I am grateful for the support of my new management and the people behind The Pop Stage. I am also deeply thankful to The Pop Stage judges, Popeyes and my supporters for this life-changing opportunity. 

“In this time of uncertainty, may we all have the heart to spread love among humanity. 😌🙏🏼.” 

Theater actor Topper Fabregas, who is part of the Ang Huling El Bimbo musical, made his sentiments clear on social media regarding Villavicencio’s explanation and called it a half-baked apology.

“Cj Villavicencio just offered a half-baked ‘apology’ for blatantly ripping off the work of ‘Ang Huling El Bimbo.’ Please don’t say ‘inspired.’ He photocopied the show and Myke Salomon’s musical arrangements,” wrote Fabregas on Facebook. 

“What’s more infuriating is that we haven’t heard a thing from the show, the show’s producers or even the host and judges (some of whom even caught AHEB during its theatrical run, do the math). 

”This is such a clear representation of how they value the work of theater artists.”