Night of the brightest stars: ABS-CBN Chief Content Officer Charo Santos Concio. Photo by @markednicdao for @metrosocietyph
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Belles, beaus and...nerds? An insider’s diary of the starriest night of the year

In anticipation of tonight’s ABS-CBN Ball, our resident film reviewer talks about the first time he was allowed into the rarefied company of the biggest stars in the country dolled up in their glitziest 
Andrew Paredes | Sep 14 2019

Here’s a secret to keep in mind when you’re watching Metro Channel’s coverage of the ABS-CBN Ball or feverishly refreshing your social media accounts for updates: The camera always makes everything look bigger.

I got my first invitation to the ABS-CBN Ball last year—coincidentally, also the year when the network first decided to stamp its name on the year’s glitziest gathering of stars—and the impression that struck me when I arrived at the Makati Shangri-La was how small, how much more compact everything seemed in real life.

From left: Director and head of narrative Ruel Bayani, COO of Broadcast Cory Vidanes, director and Maalaala Mo Kaya creative manager Don Cuaresma, and the author, now head of digital for Ruel Bayani’s business unit

After flashing my invitation at the registration table, I walked down the red carpet (still relatively quiet for early birds such as myself, but also disconcertingly short) and was shown into the anteroom of the Rizal Ballroom, where the evening’s festivities would be held. Even being one of the first arrivals, I found the room already packed with top executives and mid-level management from ABS-CBN’s many divisions. Despite the gowns, tuxedos and the champagne bubbling in flutes, the small talk kept circling back to work, making the early hours of the ball feel like a meticulously tailored version of a day at the office.

This is what the coverage inevitably misses because it’s not glamorous: the unflagging work ethic of the people who make things happen behind the curtain. But the anticipatory party atmosphere—or maybe it’s the booze—dulled the pressure a bit. Here, in the Makati Shang, the vibe felt less like being on your toes to impress and more like being fascinated with what you do. As an example: As I stood at the bar waiting for a glass of bubbly, director Rahyann Carlos introduced me to acting coach Ivana Chubbuck (who happened to be in town overseeing another of her acting workshops for ABS-CBN). When I mentioned to her that my job was conceptualizing and pitching soaps, she leaned into me and practically enfolded me in the intensity of her gaze: “Oh my God, that is so interesting! Where do your ideas come from? How do they determine which ideas get produced?”

At that moment, a comforting thought flashed through my head: Is it possible that, for all their drive and passion and unceasing fascination with their work, ABS-CBN executives are really just a bunch of…nerds?

Was it just last year? ABS-CBN Chairman Mark Lopez (second from left) with Dawn Zulueta, Anton Lagdameo, and Pat-P Daza. Photo courtesy of Metro Society

I’ve been monitoring the Star Magic Ball since its first-ever edition in 2007, which Rappler described as an evening full of looks “that were more JS Prom than celebrity red carpet”. In those early years, the Star Magic Ball was a glamorous diversion from the ever-precarious state of my finances as a freelance writer. There was always speculation about romances depending on who arrived with whom—or, more titillatingly, who left with whom. On some years, a simmering love triangle might even erupt in a brawl down at the lobby. But recently, as stars began to stay on their best behavior and designers started bringing their A-game, the ball has evolved into more of a fashion extravaganza, anticipated more for the looks than the shenanigans.

Despite the gowns, tuxedos and the champagne bubbling in flutes, the small talk kept circling back to work, making the early hours of the ball feel like a meticulously tailored version of a day at the office.

That’s what intimidated me the most when, on the fifth year of my return to ABS-CBN (after briefly working as an assistant creative manager in Star Cinema back in the late ‘90s), I found an invitation to my first ABS-CBN Ball at my cubicle. What the hell? Was I supposed to be wearing a tuxedo now?!

Here’s the thing: I may work in TV Production, but the people there are not exactly clothes horses. They’re more accustomed to wearing tee-shirts and cargo pants, battling the elements on location shoots. Besides, I’m not one of those people who relishes the chance to play dress up; having to close the top-most button of a shirt so I can wear a tie feels like hanging from a noose. And wearing a tuxedo made me feel like a turtle—I could feel the suit clinging to me like a carapace, an exoskeleton that I had to lug around. In many ways, entering the Makati Shangri-La, I felt like an impostor.

Imagine the star wattage: Bea Alonzo and Piolo Pascual catch up. Photo courtesy of Metro Society.

And true enough, as we filed into the Rizal Ballroom, I started out the evening acting stilted—behaving more refined than I usually was, terrified that a drop of soup would disfigure my new suit. I clapped politely as Martin Nievera sang “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, pondered the spectacle of Vice Ganda being solemn as he talked about the halfway house for abused and neglected kids Bantay Bata was refurbishing in Bulacan, was somewhat taken aback when Daniel Padilla launched into a Frank Sinatra medley.

’m not one of those people who relishes the chance to play dress up; having to close the top-most button of a shirt so I can wear a tie feels like hanging from a noose.

And then something strange started to happen. People began to screech in delight at faces unseen in so long, formal seating assignments were forgotten as cliques formed and longtime friends kibitzed. I myself was pulled into a freewheeling catch-up session with Janice de Belen, a friend thanks to our mutual long-standing amiga, her manager Popoy Caritativo.

I realized my experience at the ABS-CBN Ball has to progress the same way my friendship with Janice did: Initially, you feel intimidated meeting someone that you’ve watched from afar. And then, as you have more opportunities to meet and get to see them up close, you realize they’re actually just people. Warm, chatty, sometimes even ribald.

All dolled up: Korina Sanchez was a head-turner at last year's ball. Photo courtesy of Metro Society.

In the anteroom, at the start of the evening, I found myself in conversation with Atty. Jose Sison and his son Jopet. The unit I work in produces their Saturday afternoon legal procedural show Ipaglaban Mo, and so I had to swing by and say hello. By the natural alchemy of human interaction, the senior Sison was holding court in a corner with the one and only Eddie Garcia, who was then in the middle of a villain turn in Ang Probinsyano. Soon, with twinkling eyes and a devilish grin, Manoy was regaling us with stories of how he would get antsy in the middle of directing the Vilma Santos starrer Imortalon location. The reason? Back in the late ‘80s, before the era of cellphones, he would have to wait in line during breaks for the rotary phone so he could woo his partner Lilibeth.

Show biz colliding with politics: Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil with Senator Sonny Angara and wife Tootsy Angara. Photo courtesy of Metro Society.

Less than nine months later, Manoy would be gone. But I will always have last year’s ball to thank for giving me a memory with a showbiz titan that I will always treasure.

That’s the other thing I’ve come to realize about the ABS-CBN Ball: You never know what you’re going to get when a bunch of like-minded people come together and get a chance to let their hair down (even in the middle of their finest finery). And so I’m going to get ready for this year’s ball, thank the heavens I get to wear a looser barong...and resolve to be less uptight about the whole thing. I resolve to have a little more fun. After all, everybody there may be celebrities, but they’re also only people. It’s just the camera that makes them look larger than life.

 

Photos by Mark Nicdao for @metrosocietyph