MANILA -- There’s an innate humility in Gerald Santos that speaks a lot about why he is where he is now.
He would go the extra mile in promoting his online concert, “The Great Shift,” happening Saturday, October 17, at 9 p.m.. He would agree to be a judge -- for free -- in an online amateur singing competition conducted in a remote, virtually unknown seaside town in Quezon province.
It’s not out of desperation but gratitude. “Sing to express not to impress,” he said.
He would agree to be interviewed about his struggles, from his days as amateur singing contestant to how he’d won a nationwide talent search competition, landing a deal as recording artist, had played in jampacked concert venues and becoming a multi-platform actor.
“Mas challenging 'yung nasa industry ka na. You have to deliver always. You have to maintain an image. Dapat parati kang maayos sa lahat ng aspeto ng buhay, sa pananamit, pagsasalita. ‘Yung i-maintain ang career mo, napaka hirap,” he said in an interview for Unisanin for Unisan Facebook page. He was judge of the singing competition joined by common town folks: housewives, farmers, fishermen, carpenters, laborers, the unemployed and students as young as 10 years old.
Perhaps because Santos knows how it feels to be up there in the limelight with all the adulations and great offers the same way he knows how it is to hit rock bottom. Or at least being relegated among the nearly unknown.
“Dapat i-continue mo ‘yung learning mo, pagpa-praktis mo. Narating ko kung nasaan man ako ngayon dahil alam ko kung papaano ang matalo at manalo. Huwag kayong masisiraan ng loob kung matalo kayo. Challenge ‘yun, take it as an inspiration para mas galingan n'yo,” he said, looking back to the times when he was still joining amateur singing contests.
“Mga 40 to 50 amateur singing contests siguro ang sinalihan. From 10 years old hanggang maging to 15 years old ako. Boses babae pa ako noon,” he said, laughing.
He recounted how he started singing when he was 7 years old.
“Parents ko mahilig mag-karaoke sa multiplex. Nagkakantahan sila lagi. Nakikisabay ako hanggang sa ako na lang kumakanta. Nakikita nila ako sa tapat ng karaoke, kanta ako ng kanta.”
His parents found out he can carry a tune. Well, almost all parents in their right mind would think that way, to encourage their kids but Santos used to have high-pitched voice that could reach those of Regine Velasquez and Whitney Huston.
“Simula noon pinapakanta na ako sa mga birthdays, family gatherings. Alam n'yo naman tayong mga Pinoy,” he told the interviewers and his virtual audience. “Kahit masama 'yung loob ko noon. Alam n'yo naman 'pag bata pero nakatulong ‘yun. ‘Yung kumanta in front of an audience.”
He realized: “Kaya malaking bagay sa mga parents na suportahan ang anak. Dahil sa parents ko, nag-pursue ko.”
When he went to grade school, his teachers found out he had the talent they can develop. They asked him to sing every Monday, during flag ceremony. “Palaki nang palaki 'yung audience ko. Nag-simula na rin ako nang pagsali sa mga amateur singing contests. ‘Yun ‘yung memory ko noong childhood.”
And boy, he won big time. Soon, their house in Navotas City had a wall dedicated to all the trophies and plaques he brought home from all those amateur singing contests.
“Pero nagbaha noong (Supertyphoon) Yolanda, nasira 'yung iba, naanod, iilan lang 'yung na save. Nakakalungkot.”
He realized those were just physical proof of his achievements but it’s the experience and training that mattered.
When he joined a talent search competition on national TV, it wasn’t easy at all. He remembered lining up at 5 a.m. only to get his slot to sing at 4 p.m.
“Ang haba ng pila. Mamumuhunan ka rin do’n. Nag-invest ako ng time. Pero nagbunga din. Nakapasa po ako sa first audition pa lang. Sinalang nila ako the week after and the rest is history,” he recalled. Gathering a fanbase, he was called “Prince of Ballad.”
“Nag champion ako, ang saya, akala mo 'yun na 'yun pero…”
He had a good career run for about five years but as the saying goes, if you’re up there, sometimes if you’re not cautious enough, the only way is to go down. It came to a point when there were no more shows on TV and offers outside came in trickles. So he tried musical theater and it taught him more about discipline, humility and perseverance.
For a couple of years, he toured schools and other venues in the countryside, playing the titular roles in musicals about Jose Rizal and San Pedro Calungsod. Some friends suggested, why not try the bigger league, not the closely-knit Manila scene but as big as “Miss Saigon.”
As we all know, in musical theater, he had played Thuy in “Miss Saigon” for its United Kingdom and European tour. When he came back from the tour, he found out he has increased his fan base. Besides those from his years as pop artist, he has followings among theater fans.
As a concert performer, he realized he can still fill big venues like Solaire.
But musical theater has become like home. Last year, he had acted with one of his biggest idols, Lea Salonga, in the Manila and Singapore run of “Sweeney Todd.” Santos played Anthony Hope, the young sailor whose vulnerability and innocence were like his, as how his co-actors observed.
As his way of saying thank you, he reprised his role as San Pedro Calungsod, spreading the good word to high school and elementary students. He toured it again nationwide.
In these trying times, his concert “The Great Shift” is a big gamble since it’s going to be online. Many have tried it the past couple of months.
His guests are former co-actors. Salonga and baritone Andrew Fernando were with him in “Sweeney Todd,” while Joreen Bautista was an alternate for Kim in the UK tour of “Miss Saigon.”
It’s also his first time to guest the 13-year-old champion singer Elisha Pontanares. She’s grand champion of Asia’s Best Singing Competition, second season.
Directed by Rommel Ramilo, “The Great Shift” also has multiple Gawad Buhay awards winner Jed Balsamo as musical director.
One of the beneficiaries is the Artists Welfare Project Inc. or AWPI, a non-profit organization of Filipino artists that helps local freelance talents displaced by the current health crisis. The other beneficiary is Good Samaritan Foundation, the social welfare arm of Mary Mediatrix Medical Center in Lipa City.
Santos will be performing OPM favorites, his original songs and some Broadway pieces from “Les Miserables,” “Hamilton,” “Follies,” “My Fair Lady” and “Miss Saigon.”
He will also sing new songs from two original Filipino musicals. As revealed by Ramilo to ABS-CBN News, these are “El Filibusterismo” by Gantimpala Theater Foundation and the yet-to-be-staged “King David The Musical.”
Not resting on his laurels, after “The Great Shift,” Santos will play the role of Christopher Lalan, the lone survivor in the SAF 44 massacre, for the indie movie “Escape from Mamasapano.”
Singer, performing artist, international musical theater artist and film actor, Santos continues to inspire his fans to go on creating and pursuing dreams. And that’s what people need nowadays.