A strong debut

Niel Murillo of Cebu blew me away on the pilot episode of Pinoy Boyband Superstar. This kid should go far. He's great!
I’ve always been a big fan of boybands. When I was in the fifth grade, the first album I bought with my own money was the Backstreet Boys’ international debut album. So when I heard that ABS-CBN greenlit a Philippine version of La Banda titled Pinoy Boyband Superstar, I was excited. La Banda is a Latin American reality-based talent search created by music mogul Simon Cowell and produced by singer Ricky Martin, with an eye towards putting together the next Menudo. (If you don't know who they are, click here and here to find out.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch the Pinoy Boyband Superstar pilot as I was at Metrowalk for my mother’s benefit concert—which I’m pleased to announce was a success. Anyway, I decided to wait until both of this week’s episodes were available on iWant TV so I could catch up on the show. Now that I have, I think it’s safe to say that I found my newest favorite show.

I loved the format of the auditions. Instead of simply walking up to the judges and singing for them, the boys have to charm a roomful of girls first. The boys will only be allowed to perform for the judges if they get a score of 75% and above from the girls. Charm is key in the first round, which makes a lot of sense. After all, the success of boybands like One Direction was built largely on the charm of its members as individuals and as a unit. Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik radiated charisma on their own, which made them downright unstoppable when they became a group.

The four judges of Pinoy Boyband Superstar are Aga Muhlach, Sandara Park, Vice Ganda and Yeng Constantino. Theirs seems like a really good combination. I do believe they’ll be able to put their combined expertise to good use in creating a successful boyband.

As a heartthrob himself back in the day, Aga alone knows what it’s like to be a young man making his way in showbiz. He can relate to all the boys on a completely different level. Sandara, Vice and Yeng are all performers, but I do think Yeng has the most technical knowledge as far as music is concerned. I expect that’s what Yeng will bring to the table. 2NE1 star Sandara is the only one on the panel who has been part of a girlband, so in that sense, her perspective will be invaluable too. As for Vice, he’s judged competitions before, so he definitely has an eye for talent.

All the boys who took the stage this week definitely had that, as evidenced by the first one on deck.

Allen Cecilio, 17, “Yakap Sa Dilim”

He’s very cute, and he has a fraternal twin, which is cool. Allen reminds me of a cross between the Hashtags’ McCoy de Leon and Nikko Natividad. Allen looked comfortable onstage. When he danced, it was as if he was just busting a move in his bedroom as opposed to performing for 500 screaming girls. When he sang, his vocals were a bit shaky, but I think that was because of nerves. I’d advise Allen to drop his jaw a little more when he sings and work on his breath support to avoid being "sintunado," as Yeng said.

Also, I must say I enjoyed Allen’s song choice. I don’t think it was inappropriate at all. Boybands have sung about sex before, and it’s not as if today’s teens know nothing about the birds and the bees. Besides, Allen sang that APO Hiking Society hit in a way that was more sweet than sleazy. Overall, I love him. He’s cute, talented and he knows it, but somehow he doesn’t come off as cocky.

Alfonso Avila, 19

Alfonso is a good dancer but he’s a little over the top, which makes him somewhat painful to watch. Also, he’s cute and he knows it, which some may find a little off-putting. I know I did. Also, he didn’t interact with the girls as much as he should have, in my opinion. His time onstage was more about him showing off rather than winning the girls over, so they gave Alfonso the boot with 68% of the votes. Future contestants need to make more of an effort to connect with the girls to make it to the judges.

Ford Valencia, 21, “All of Me”

The girls gave Ford 83% and sent him on to the judges. I like Ford. He has what my old vocal coach would describe as a "full, round, warm" sound to his voice. He just needs to improve his diction a little bit. That said, I want him to do well in this competition because like my mother, Ford’s father also had a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. I want Ford to strike a blow for sons of stroke victims everywhere.

I’m glad Aga, Sandara and Yeng put him through. With respect to Vice, I disagree with him about Ford looking too old to be in a boyband. If my memory serves me correctly, Kevin Richardson was 20 when the Backstreet Boys were starting out. The rest of his bandmates were all still teenagers. I don’t think Ford’s age will be an issue.

Jormiel Labrador, 25, “Kiss”

When Jormiel lifted his shirt to show off his washboard abs, I was all, “Whoa, keep your clothes on, dude. This is a family show.” I applaud him for advocating a healthy lifestyle, but overall I found him a little off-putting. I agreed with Sandara when she deemed Jormiel too sexy for Pinoy Boyband Superstar. Although should they decide to put together a Masculados-inspired group, Jormiel would be perfect for it.

No lie, when Jormiel started singing, the word “Chippendales” popped into my mind—which is why I laughed uproariously when Vice said it seconds later. (Just so you know, the Chippendales are an all-male dance troupe best known for their sexy choreography and costumes.) Yeng voted to put Jormiel through, but the other judges outvoted her.

Niel Murillo, 17, “Mahal Na Mahal”

Niel is cute too. Aga thought he gave off a Richard Gutierrez vibe, but for me, something about Niel reminds me of my good friend Jon Lucas. Niel is a real musician—not only can he sing, but he plays the guitar too. He’s unassuming and shy, which I think only heightens his appeal. Niel auditioned for Pinoy Boyband Superstar to help his family, particularly his kuya, who was shot in the head four years ago.

Niel had me from the run with which he opened his performance. Anyone who’s had vocal training will tell you that runs are actually hard to pull off. You have to start well and end well, and Niel did that. I love the texture of his voice. It’s so rich and velvety. Niel is by far the best singer from the first episode. Like Yeng, I’m so looking forward to seeing more of him in the future. I like him not just because he sings well, but also because he wears his heart on his sleeve—which is a good thing if you’re a performer.

On to the second episode!

Tonio Banach, 15, “Hahahasula”

My first impression of Tonio was that he looks a little like Bailey May from Pinoy Big Brother 737. He had me in tears when he talked about his relationship with his mother. I like the way he charmed the girls with that gimmick. I wonder if that girl held onto the ring he gave her? Probably. Tonio’s voice cracked here and there during his performance (brave song choice, BTW), and as my old vocal coach would say, masyado pang kulob yung tunog niya—most likely because he was nervous. That said, I like his tone. When he sang a capella, I was impressed. Tonio has a good set of pipes; he just needs some guidance, which is why I can’t believe the judges sent him home.

Markus Paterson, 18, “Tadhana”

OK, I admit it, his smile went straight to my heart. Unfortunately, Markus picked an emotionally and vocally demanding song, and I don’t think he pulled it off. I actually think his pitch was slightly under throughout his performance. Also, this Up Dharma Down original has so much yearning in it, and Markus’ rendition was a little wooden. That said, he does have a nice enough tone and, as Sandara pointed out, he looks like a proper pop star. I hope he does better in the next round.

Miggy Campbell, 24

This guy looks familiar. Hehe. Too bad the girls didn’t put him through. I think Miggy deserved to at least sing for the judges. Malay natin, magaling pala siya kumanta. We'll never know now, will we?

Keanno Dela Cruz, 15, “Night Changes”

The girls didn’t put this guy through; luckily Sandara saw fit to throw him a lifeline. He says he’s a seasoned performer, but honestly, I wasn’t impressed with Keanno’s acting. I thought his face and eyes weren’t expressive enough. His singing wasn’t the best, either; his diction could use a lot of work and he was pitchy in spots. I don’t understand why the judges put him through when they sent Tonio home. I would’ve picked him over Keanno. I can identify with Keanno’s hunger to make it big in showbiz, though. He’s a dreamer, which I like.

Bjorn and Jayvee Mendoza, 22, “Pak Gayown”

I’m not quite sure how to feel about Bjorn and Jayvee, to be honest. They remind me of Jedward from The X Factor UK. They’re not vocally outstanding—their diction needs work—but they have a certain playful quality that makes them compelling to watch. Not my cup of tea, but they deserve credit for that mashup they did. If they arranged it themselves, that actually says a lot about their musicality.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the pilot more than I did the second episode. But overall, this week was a strong debut for Pinoy Boyband Superstar and I look forward to seeing the rest of the competition!

All photos and videos courtesy of Pinoy Boyband Superstar.


The old Julian can't come to the phone right now.

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