She was so close to becoming a mainstream performer when she became a runner up to Angeline Quinto in the 2010 reality TV search, Star Power. But she readily gave up her dream when she realized that she had more to learn to become a worthy artist.
Five years later, Monica Cuenca is all set for the spotlight, now given a second chance to break into the entertainment industry in a major way.
Come June, Monica will star as Dorina Pineda, the star of the Nerissa Cabral classic, Bituing Walang Ningning, which will be staged as a musical for the first time. The exciting production is a collaboration of Resorts World Manila, Viva Communications Inc., and Full House Theater Company Entertainment and Productions Inc.
The 20-year-old Cebuana was chosen to play Dorina—an iconic character previously played by Megastar Sharon Cuneta and Popstar Princess Sarah Geronimo for film and TV, respectively—besting thousands of other hopefuls in rigorous auditions.
On March 18, the new artist was introduced to the press by the musical’s producers led by Viva’s Boss Vic del Rosario and RWM’s Kingson Sian at the Newport Performing Arts Theater at RWM, Pasay City.
In an interview following the presentation, Monica openly shared what her life was like before this big break, which surprisingly is quite similar to Dorina’s rags to riches story.
“I grew up in Cebu City where my family comes from. My dad died when I was four from heart attack and my mom passed away in 2004 from cervical cancer. I then moved to Ormoc to live with my mom’s sister for 11 years,” Monica began.
Since then, she learned how to be self-sufficient at a very young age by selling puto cheese and siopao while competing grade school and high school. Dorina in the movie would sell sampaguita garlands.
Growing up, she started to use her talent for singing as a way to earn money at birthday parties, weddings and even wakes and burials. Of course, she joined talent competitions like Little Big Star-Cebu and Star Power, but never really broke into showbiz even if she showed much promise.
Admittedly, Monica found Star Power to be a very challenging competition with tough opponents led by winner Angeline Quinto. Then 15 years old, Monica decided to return to Ormoc after the competition.
She recalled, “Sabi ko po sa sarili ko, ‘Lord, binigay mo sa akin yong pangarap ko pero pinakita mo sa akin na ganito pala mangyayari sa buhay ko na hindi ko pala kaya. Mas mabuti pa to go back to where I used to be.’”
The second chance
Deep inside, Monica knew that the time would come when she would be ready to see her talent through. And once she knew that she has matured enough and that her singing had improved, the Cebuana decided to fly to Manila as soon as she heard about the Bituing Walang Ningning auditions.
“Ito na ‘yon,” Monica said to herself. “I always believe that whatever opportunity comes your way, you should grab it kasi minsan lang dumaraan sa atin ‘yong second chances.”
She added that she had always been interested in exploring theater and acting, but what she saw in the Manila auditions was beyond her expectations.
She shared, “Pero pagdating ko po sa Resorts World, maraming nag-audition, maraming magaganda at magagaling. May mga anak ng artista.”
As always, Monica put her faith in God first, and while she saw the other applicants listening to their audition piece, “Bituing Walang Ningning,” she listened to Christian songs and prayed.
Heaven answered her plea and Monica landed her breakthrough role as Dorina on top of an exclusive movie and recording contract with Viva worth P1 million, and an artist contract with Full House Theater.
Boss Vic’s thoughts
In a separate interview with Boss Vic of Viva, the company’s head honcho and star maker told The Manila Times that he saw in Monica what he previously saw in Sharon and Sarah. “I’m staking my reputation on her. I launched Sharon, I launched Sarah and usually, it comes in threes,” he enthused.
“Dorina basically launched Sharon when she did Bituing Walang Ningning, and Sarah for TV when she did the TV version. The material requires a new artist no and I think she [Monica] deserves it,” the producer further noted.
Asked why he decided to take such a risk for the musical adaptation, Boss Vic replied, “We wanted talents that are good but undiscovered. We felt that Dorina should be somebody who is not experienced and shows a lot of innocence. We decided to take a risk and hopefully, people will like what we saw in Monica.”
Further proving his trust and confidence in the new artist, Boss Vic added, “In a matter of time, siguro a year from now, with this exposure and mainstream recording, she will be one of the biggest stars in showbiz.”
Relaying Boss Vic’s thoughts to Monica, The Manila Times sought the newbie’s feelings. Ever so humble, her answer was, “Parang sinasabi ko sa sarili ko na naka-jackpot ako. Kung baga sa roleta, nakuha ko ‘yong grand prize. Nagpapasalamat ako sa tiwala nya sa akin na sobrang laki. Kaya ayaw kong i-fail si Boss Vic sa mga expectations niya sa akin. [I’m] blessed na maging part ng Viva.”
Joining Monica at her grand launch were her co-stars in the upcoming musical, Mark Bautista as Nico Escobar, the love interest of Monica; and Cris Villonco as the equally unforgettable antagonist, Lavinia Arguelles.
Bituing Walang Ningning: The Musical will open at Newport Performing Arts Theater in June. For more information, call 908-8833, or visit www.rwmanila.com.