Art by Gica Tam
Culture Spotlight

What it's really like to be inside the Kris Aquino universe

My brief and illuminating moment inside a world that revolves exclusively around the woman her people alternately refer to as KCA, Madam, Queen. 
Melanie Romana | Feb 15 2019

I waited six months to score an interview and shoot with Kris Aquino. It was at the height of the popularity of her YouTube channel. My persistence in badgering Nicko Falcis, then Kristina Cojuangco Aquino Productions (KCAP) managing director, a professor of some of my friends at UP, proved fruitful. KCAP was a small venture that spearheaded Kris’s brand in the digital space, launching a series of videos that were making the rounds of social media. The business, run mostly by Nicko’s former students, helped produce the quick witted, no-holds-barred content that was entertaining for viewers, and impressive for content creators as the endorsement deals started pouring in.

I was granted a window in the sacred Kris calendar but it was clear from the get-go we would have no say on the shoot—it would be her choice of photographer, glam team, clothes. Which is a common practice in publishing, what with celebrities oftentimes insisting on their own “people.” It is, of course, also common practice that we, as a publication, insist on our creative vision. On good occasions, there is a compromise. On others, we must completely oblige.

On the shoot day, I arrived a little too early for a 3PM call time, only to find out that I’m actually about three hours too early. A distressed representative from KCAP will tell me that hair and makeup was running late. “Madam” wasn’t feeling so good this morning, and apparently my interview was squeezed into her schedule alongside a brand endorsement shoot, one that required a library of shots of Kris with the product. 

But you know it’s Kris Aquino, so you just ride along—meaning you get there on time, try to wear something decent, make sure your makeup is put nicely, and that, for the love of god, your kilay is on fleek. Because you’ve seen her snarky humor pounce upon the unguarded—like when she spent a few minutes explaining to a man on camera that his makeup, the last time they taped, was off. 

Ano ba nilagay mo sa face mo n’un,” she asked. 

“Powder din po kaya lang it’s, I think, two tones lighter compared to my original skin tone,” the helpless man replied. 

She laughed at him, and rambled about the importance of getting the correct shade of foundation, before moving along to talk about Potato Corner’s new sweet potato fries.

Team Kris

She likes me?

Whereas my fear was that she would look at me head-to-toe and chomp me alive on-cam like she did with the man with the wrong shade of powder, I was surprised to find I would be met with the exact opposite. 

When cameras weren’t rolling, she wouldn’t look me in the eye, not really, as I sat there in front of her for a good amount of time while her frantic camera crew set up equipment around us. I moved my head left and right trying to meet her gaze, but her attention was diverted to every other area around the room: “Pakikuha ‘yung hypoallergenic flowers? Can someone please bring me hot water with lemon?” 

I’m sweating and nervous and there are dozens of people around the room who are going to watch, record, and listen to my interview. And before we begin, she doesn’t bother for a short introduction. It’s not so much the intimate one-on-one I hoped for, a la lunch with Megan Markle for Vogue. With Kris, you get an entire community: her assistant Jack, her makeup artist RB, and hairstylist Jonathan. There’s the reliable Bincai who helps with the house and her sons. There are her stylists Kim and Boop Yap. Her family is there too, as well as the millennials running KCAP, her film crew, other business relations, and some other people I can’t quite place. And as the world moves around her, I am just another character in the world of Kris Aquino—the bit player with all the boring questions. 

She calls the shots

No one else calls the shots in a Kris Aquino shoot other than Kris Aquino. “KCA has sole discretion which shoots to participate in and can even excuse herself and charm the clients to reschedule accordingly,” says Nicko Falcis, when asked via email. “In fact, she always emphasizes that it always has to be her making the deal or excuse, so stakeholders/owners will fully understand and will be patient with her.” Nicko and Kris, of course, have famously parted ways. Last September, Kris took to social media bewailing the loss of tens of millions of pesos to a trusted business associate she did not name, until a case of qualified theft amounting to PhP1.2M was filed in October against Nicko Falcis.

According to Nicko, when it comes to shoots, everything needs to pass through Madam. “KCA [Kris Cojuangco Aquino] is very controlling, opinionated and headstrong—everything must be approved by her—from outfits, to food choices, to venues and even accessories,” says Nicko. “Before, during the iflix launch, where she was supposed to wear the red shade color of the brand, she chose to be in an all-black outfit, because that's her choice. Also, before, I had to kneel and beg her to continue shooting the Samsung Digital Appliance Webisode featuring their Washing Machine, as she refused to do it without calling Ariel (detergent brand) first to get clearance, threatening that she can just return the money and be at peace with it, while everybody was outside already waiting for her.”

Watching how her team moved mountains for her, two things astounded me: 1) how everyone in the room seemed to light up around her, constantly mouthing praises in singsong, and 2) how much she seems to expect all that. Everyone laughs on cue. Are astonished on cue. Gasps on cue. When she has a question, it feels like there is a prize for the first person who can answer. When she is tired, someone will bring a chair so she could sit. If she wants water in a specific temperature, it will be handed her just so. Her team knows how to please the queen, and appease the queen.

And it takes a village to make the queen happy. It takes an entourage to keep the Kris Aquino enterprise rolling. When Nicko was still in KCAP, there were a total of nine Project Managers—which included him—variously tasked with business development duties, and media and finance management as well. “Right now, as far as I know, only four people are under KCAP as employees,” the ex managing director wrote in an email, replying to our question on how big the KCAP staff is. “The rest [of the work] are outsourced when there's a production requirement.” 

This does not include Kris’s personal entourage, directly employed under Kris Aquino the Talent and not under KCAP. These are her Chief of Staff; the home manager; her personal nurses; and personnel manager. This group includes three drivers and three security guards, one gardener and three household help. 

At the Crazy Rich Asians premiere.

The height of generosity

Remember when Crazy Rich Asians star Chris Pang thought she brought an 18-member entourage to the said film’s set in Singapore? 

Whether there were 8 or 18, during those pre-Kris-versus-Nicko days, most everyone thought how swell it was really to be part of the Kris entourage. Just going by her Instagram posts, we knew how she would lavish her team with praise, and shower them with perks. Some of them have even become stars in their own right, if you can call it that, with some having Instagram followers that go beyond the 100k mark. Her exposure can mean your exposure. She will support your growth and career, encouraging Nicko then to “broaden his lifegoals,” and writing the foreword for makeup artist RB Chanco’s first book on beauty. You get to travel with her. Be treated to the best meals. She will extend her generosity to your family. You will be lavished with gifts. Her Cartier necklace gift for Yaya Bincai, for example, was said to cost more than Php200K. Then, of course, who could forget that time she gifted her friend Boy Abunda with a brand new Hummer. 

“KCA is a very emotional, sensitive, and intelligent boss, but an ultimate utilitarian—she’s very generous when she wants, so she can also be very demanding,” says Nicko. “Kris will be generous and supportive to you as long as you need her—she will always say that since she loves you, she will take care of you and use all of her power and influence to help you.” 

Does that commitment come with a cost? “The queen must be protected at all costs. She always admits that she’s high maintenance, so we need to support her in all ways possible. That just means that I adjust to her hours, answer all of her messages 24/7. You have to give up your ego, accept the fact that she is the Girl Boss, and you should be happy and proud of that. I did that, I did all of that and I was happy, productive and fulfilled. But I also had other responsibilities [outside of KCAP], and she said this best, ‘You treated me like your other businesses.’” 

It came to a point, according to Nicko, that she wanted all of his attention and focus on her, “including my work dedication.”A sacrifice that he could not make. 

Nicko and Kris when they were still singing each other praises.

Heart to harsh

A week after my interview with Madam, which I thought went well, a source from a competing title would tell me that Kris herself would tell their editor that my interview was…”blah.” That the competing titles had questions that were so much better.

Shocked, disheartened and embarrassed that she would share this information to a competitor, I suddenly wanted to back out from writing the story. I would understand if she had shared the disappointment to a friend, or if she ranted to her makeup artist, perhaps. But to send a text message to a competing title out of the blue? Harsh.

Kris Aquino is an open book that she herself has thrust into the spotlight. She’s been asked all the questions and we’ve read all the answers, or heard her share them through her vlog (which I watched religiously at that time). So in my interview I asked her things I wanted to know personally: what she’s learned from her sons, what’s the best thing about her job, what’s the best thing she learned from her mom, from her dad. If she could have dinner with one person in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Setting my bruised ego aside, I wrote the story anyway, not realizing I myself was already under the spell of the queen. When it came out and she was publicly happy about it, I can only describe the feeling as absolute relief—that I could go to sleep at night knowing that Kris Aquino was happy with me. If I had written something a little bit more honest—like what it’s like to wait for Kris Aquino for three hours behind her grand piano—maybe she wouldn’t have been so amused. Maybe I would’ve gotten a public shaming. Maybe she would have asked me never to step in Philippine soil ever again. 

 

Photographs courtesy of Nicko Falcis.

Others from Kris Aquino's Instagram.

 

 

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