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Interview With Filipino Singer Charice Pempengco

Aired December 2, 2011 - 05:30:00   ET



ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voiceover): Oprah calls her "the most talented girl in the world"


COREN (voiceover): But four years ago, Charice Pempengco could only dream that she would one day become an international star.

PEMPENGCO (singing): -- anymore.

COREN (voiceover): It was this voice -

PEMPENGCO (singing): I would only be in -

COREN (voiceover): And YouTube clips like this one -

PEMPENGCO (singing): -- your way.

COREN (voiceover): That attracted more than 15 million viewers and catapulted the young Filipino to fame.

At just 15, it was her performance on this South Korean talent show that stole the heart of one of America's most well-known talk show hosts, Ellen.

ELLEN DEGENERES, COMEDIENNE, TALK SHOW HOST: Wait 'til you see - we had to bring her here all the way from the Philippines. Please welcome 15- year-old Charice Pempengco.

COREN (voiceover): Not long after, Oprah also had Charice wow her audiences with several performances, including this one.

PEMPENGCO (singing): -- always be -

COREN (voiceover): Partnering her with renowned music producer David Foster.


COREN (voiceover): All the buzz landed Charice a role on the hit TV series, "Glee" as Filipino exchange student, "Sunshine Corazon". Firmly planting her in Hollywood as well as in the recording studio.

Now, she has two albums to her name and has even made the U.S. Top 100 chart with this song.

PEMPENGCO (singing): Cold, never ever when you're close. We will never let it fold.

COREN: Hi Charice.

COREN (voiceover): This week on "Talk Asia", we catch up with the rising star to talk about her move into Hollywood and why she idolizes her mother.


COREN: Charice, welcome to "Talk Asia".

PEMPENGCO: Thank you for having me.

COREN: Four years ago, you were a young singer in the Philippines whose performances were posted on YouTube. Now you are this international star who has someone like Oprah as a mentor. Do you sometimes just wake up and think, "Wow, this is my life"?



PEMPENGCO: Yes, I still get overwhelmed. I mean, I think it happened so fast, but at the same time, of course, I worked hard for it and I'm still working hard for it. And it's just amazing. It's just a lot of blessings that just all of the sudden just came into my life.

COREN: Now, you have just released your second international album, "Infinity". Tell me about it.

PEMPENGCO: This is actually my favorite album. I mean, I still love the first album that I actually released, like, two years ago, but this one's, like, just way different than the first album because it has more dance songs and it has, you know, the top 40 hits. I just thought because it has more meaning.

COREN: On this album, you have worked with some of the biggest names in music - Bruno Mars, Nick Jonas, and Natasha Bedingfield. What was it like working with these people?

PEMPENGCO: Oh my, I haven't met Bruno Mars and Natasha Bedingfield, but yes, I met Nick Jonas. And he's - for such a young age, I mean, he just turned 19 - but he's such an amazing producer, songwriter. A lot of songwriters who actually wrote a lot of songs for Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and everybody - I just actually can't believe that these people actually worked with me.

COREN: You came from humble beginnings, growing up in the Philippines. Tell me, what was that like?

PEMPENGCO: Well, it was really a tough life. Not really easy, because my mom's a single mom. She used to be my vocal coach, but I really admire - she's definitely my inspiration and I look up to her a lot because, I mean, I decided to be a singer because of her. It was a tough life before, but now this whole thing that happened to me really helped me a lot.

COREN: In 2005, when you were 13-years-old, you performed in "Little Big Star", which is a singing contest in the Philippines. You ended up coming third in that competition.


COREN: But your performance was posted on YouTube -


COREN: -- some years later. And it had 15 million hits, which is quite extraordinary.


PEMPENGCO (singing): And I will always love you.


PEMPENGCO: I can't still believe it. Because, I mean, nobody knew about me. At that time, I was just like - when I actually thought - I mean, I wasn't really aware about YouTube before. But when somebody told me that, "Your video is on YouTube", I'm like, "What's YouTube"? And I looked at it and I'm like, "No way". Like, it was amazing.

COREN: Well, all that buzz caught the attention of the organizers of the South Korean talent show, "Star King", and they invited you to perform.


PEMPENGCO (singing): You're going to love me. You're going to love me.


COREN: It was that performance on "Star King" that caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres.

PEMPENGCO: Yes. It was, like, all connected

COREN: The famous U.S. talk show host. It is quite extraordinary, isn't it? I mean, she saw it on YouTube and she thought, "My God, who is this girl? She's got to come and perform on our show". So, in December 2007, she flew you out to the United States.


COREN: And got you to perform in front of her audience.


COREN: Tell me about that.

PEMPENGCO: I was really, really nervous.


PEMPENGCO (singing): If I should stay, I would only -


PEMPENGCO: It was my first time coming to America and I got my first standing ovation that time. And I cried, because I couldn't believe that I was actually in front of Americans and in front of Ellen. I was just like, "This is it, this is, like, definitely the greatest moment ever". But I didn't realize that there was going to be more.

COREN: Well, five months later, you appeared, then, on Oprah.



COREN: From Ellen to Oprah, and it was after that, that Oprah contacted music producer David Foster. And he said that she reminds me of Celine Dion when she was 18-years-old.

PEMPENGCO: Boy, that's a big responsibility.

COREN: A lot of pressure?

PEMPENGCO: Yes, a lot of pressure. I mean, because, well, since people heard it and then, definitely, they'd be like, "OK, got to check this girl out", you know? So, every time I perform, it's like, you know, this pressure that's always in my mind and everything. You have to do your best and show them you actually deserve this compliment.

COREN: Oprah invited you back to perform on her show, "Dreams Come True". And you sang Celine Dion's song "My Heart Will Go On". And then, via satellite, your idol appears, Celine Dion herself, inviting you to perform with her at Madison Square Garden in New York City.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: We have a viewer who is standing by in Washington D.C. She's a working mother with a seven-year-old son who also loves to sing. Hello, Washington? Washington, what did you think of Charice?


COREN: Tell me about that.

PEMPENGCO: I thought I was going to faint. Because they didn't tell me anything. They actually told me that day that it was just going to be a rehearsal. And they didn't tell me that it was actually the actual show. And then I was just - I had no idea what they were going to do. And they asked me what I wanted to sing. And I told them I was going to sing a Beyonce song. And they told me that, no, it should be a Celine Dion song. And I was like, hmmm.

COREN: Hmm, I wonder why?

PEMPENGCO: OK. So I sang "My Heart Will Go On" since that's the first song that I learned. But I didn't know that Celine Dion was actually watching via satellite that time. I was like, "Oprah, you're the coolest person ever".

COREN: September, 2009, you do join Celine Dion at Madison Square Garden in New York City. And you perform "Because You Loved Me", dedicating the song to your mom, who was in the crowd.


COREN: What was that like?

PEMPENGCO: Now I'm thinking about the people who were there. Oh my gosh, I was shaking on stage.


PEMPENGCO (singing): You were my eyes when I couldn't see. You saw the best that was in me.

CELINE DION, SINGER (singing): You were my eyes when I couldn't see. You saw the best that was in me.


PEMPENGCO: I was really shaking, but she made me feel comfortable. And we started singing. She was holding my hand like she was guiding me and everything. And we went to the side of the edge of the stage and just sang for my mom. And it was just - I thought I was dreaming. I really thought I was dreaming. And I really wanted to pinch my skin. I was just like, "Is this really happening?" Because, heck, I grew up listening to her. My mom loved her. And I sang with her. It's like a fairytale story.


COREN: Your father left when you were three-years-old. Do you miss him?

PEMPENGCO: It's making me cry. You know -





COREN: Your mother, Raquel - she is your role model, your inspiration. And she did introduce you to singing. Tell us, how did that come about?

PEMPENGCO: Well, I really wanted to be a dancer, actually. Michael Jackson inspired me a lot. And I was four. And I was on top of the table and she went home and she saw me singing and she told me that she was talking to my auntie. And she was like, "Charice can sing" and I remember I was singing a Celine Dion song, "My Heart Will Go On". I was four, but she told me that it wasn't English that I was saying. It was really blurry.

But she - so, that time, she started teaching me, you know, like, all the techniques about singing and everything. She taught me, like - I was four, until six, and seven I started joining amateur singing contests for a living. But she didn't want it. She didn't like it, because she didn't want me to, you know, just join singing contests because, you know, for the money and everything. She wanted me to be just a normal kid, but I told her that I really wanted to help her. So I thank her that she actually taught me. You know, this, you know, enhanced this talent that God gave me.

COREN: I mean, how has this fame and this exclusive club that you have entered - I mean, how has this changed your life?

PEMPENGCO: For me, I'm still me. But, of course, my life has changed a lot. You know, from the hard life - a really tough life, and now - that I actually gave stuff that I really wanted to give for my mom.

COREN: So you've been able to give your mom, what, like a house? Car?

PEMPENGCO: Yes. Yes. It was Mother's Day and I surprised her. And I surprised her - I gave her a key and we went to this - because when I was a kid, we went to this house, and she was like, "I want that house", when I was a kid. I just remembered that. And I bought the house and I gave her the key. And when she saw it, and she was, like, really shocked. She cried and I gave her a card, too. And my brother, too. And I just told them that they deserve it, because all the hard work that we did before.

COREN: Music producer, David Foster - he is somebody who's also played a pivotal role in your career. You have described him as being your second father. Tell me about that relationship.

PEMPENGCO: He is, he's my godfather. He's a great person. I mean, he's actually my mentor, too. He taught me a lot. Especially about my career, my English. He taught me a lot about my English, actually. He's not only a great producer-songwriter. You know, when you're actually around him and just hanging out with him, he's not going to make you feel like he's like, what, 16 time Grammy winner. He's really down-to-Earth person and I still can't believe that I actually work with him.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: International singing sensation, Charice Pempengco, came home with a heavy hear Tuesday night. The singer was forced to skip the "David Foster and Friends" concert in Singapore to attend the wake of her father, Ricky Pempengco. Charice immediately arranged to come home after news broke that her father had been killed. Rosary in hand, Charice faced media upon her arrival and thanked her fans for all their support.


COREN: Talking about your childhood, your father left when you were three-years-old. What are your memories of that time and how did it affect your family?

PEMPENGCO: Well, it was really horrible. That's why - that's why that time, I told my mom to stop working, because it was really hard. By the age of six, I was cooking rice and some stuff for my little brother. I was, you know, giving him the milk and everything.

COREN: So you were forced to grow up really quickly?

PEMPENGCO: Yes. I was doing the laundry. It was hard. I mean, I was really skinny and I couldn't do a lot of things, but I really wanted to help my mom. It took a long time and I told her that, "Nope, you don't have to work, I'm really going to do it". And she - every time I did all the singing contests and it was horrible, because you start from 10 p.m. - 10 at night and it was, like, finished, like seven in the morning. And I had to go to school.

She used to cry and she told me to stop and I said, "No". Because that was the only way that we could get a lot of money from it. I really sacrificed and everything, but at the same time, you know, it felt great - it was worth it because seeing my mom's face every time I win, and everything, it made me feel great.

COREN: Do you miss him?

PEMPENGCO: I actually don't know. I don't know. Maybe sometimes, when I see some kids, you know, with their families. It's making me cry. You know, maybe when I ask them, sometimes, like, "How does it feel to have a dad?" And, you know, they tell me this great answers, and sometimes I wish my dad was here. You know, maybe I do, sometimes. But, at the same time, I don't, because of what happened. It's hard. It's really hard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the airport, Charice went straight to her father's wake at the Divine Mercy Chapel in Muntinlupa. Charice stayed there for five hours. She declined to give any more interviews. Her father's siblings say Charice's gesture to be with them at this time is a step towards reconciliation.



COREN: Coming up, Charice tells us about life on the "Glee" set and her break into Hollywood.






COREN: Your big break into the United States came in 2010, when you were signed up to the hit musical TV series, "Glee" as "Sunshine Corazon". Tell me, how did this come about?

PEMPENGCO: This rumor came out before, that I was going to be a part of the show. And I was like, no, no. I mean, I love the show, I'm a "Gleek", but I never auditioned and everything. But that time, I actually - I was like, "Well, why not try it? Why not try to audition?" So I told my manager, I told my mom that why not audition for it? So, I auditioned. I went to Paramount Studios and Ryan Murphy was there. And Brad Falchuk. I wasn't expecting - I was just like, "Maybe they're not going to call me".

So I was in Europe and I was in my hotel room and I was checking my Twitter, and I saw, like, a thousand response and everything. And I was just like, "OK, what happening?" And I open it, and all of it - there was this article saying "Charice on Glee". And I looked at it and I was like, "No, there's no way". So, I saw that - it says that Ryan Murphy actually confirmed it. And I was like, "Seriously?" And then after, what, 30 minutes, they actually confirmed that I was going to be part of the show. It's just funny that I actually found out on Twitter first. But it was definitely one of the best moments in my life.

COREN: Well, the executive producer, Ryan Murphy, said then, "When that girl sings, Angels fly out". I mean, it must have been just a huge opportunity to be a part of the cast.

PEMPENGCO: Huge. Huge, huge, huge. I mean, I'm just very thankful to Ryan Murphy for giving me a chance to be part of it.

COREN: Now, I have to ask you - there was reported rivalry between you and Lea Michele and that you had signed on to do five episodes, but in actual fact, you only appeared in three. Is this rivalry true?

PEMPENGCO: I mean, Lea's a great - Lea's a great artist. And she's a great singer and actress and she'd nice. I mean, when I was there, she was nice to me. So I - I mean, I don't think there's a rivalry. Maybe people just think that because - they're just always going to be like that, because I play as her rivalry on "Glee".


PEMPENGCO: So I know how it feels. I'm all alone at the top. Also, I'm really short. So, even when I'm in a group of people, it feels like I'm wandering alone through a forest.

MICHELE: There's no way that she's singing in our auditorium, OK? She's the enemy.


PEMPENGCO: Some people just going to ask me, "Is it really like that in real life?" I'm like, "No". But about the issue about the episodes and everything, I don't know.

COREN: Would you have liked it to have continued?

PEMPENGCO: Of course. Of course. I mean, if they would give me a chance again, of course. Why not?

COREN: Because you have done a bit of acting, haven't you? You've got into - you've got into Hollywood. You appeared in the Chipmunk sequel.

PEMPENGCO: Oh, yes. Yes. The "Alvin and the Chipmunks". But actually, before that I did some - a little acting in the Philippines because I actually did, like, my life story there. And I played as myself. And so, no, when I did "Alvin and the Chipmunks" it was really fun.

COREN: You are such a busy girl. Is there time for a personal life?

PEMPENGCO: Yes. I've been shopping here.

COREN: And what about love life? Boyfriends?

PEMPENGCO: Don't ask me that. No.

COREN: No time for them?


COREN: You are only 19-years-old and yet you have crammed a lifetime into the past four years. What is next for Charice?

PEMPENGCO: Oh my. What's next? I actually want to be surprised. I always want to be surprised and just see what's going to happen next. But definitely next is going to be busy, too. Because I'm going to do my own tour early next year - Asian tour - definitely, Singapore's going to be part of it, Philippines. And then maybe do to the U.S. tour and hopefully do some more movies and everything. And I'm just really excited about what's going to happen.

COREN: Well, you no doubt have an amazing future ahead of you, Charice.

PEMPENGCO: Thank you.

COREN: A real pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much.

PEMPENGCO: Thank you so much.