Boy Abunda lays down the complicated journey to stardom

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BEFORE Boy Abunda became the country’s “King of Talk” he was Eugenio Abunda—a student who worked as a stage actor to support himself and to pursue his own dream of being in theater and show business.

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“Nag-audition din ako para maging artista,” he revealed with a laugh as we met him in his dressing room for this exclusive interview with The Manila Times, right before he did his nightly segment for late night news program Bandila.

While Abunda did not end up an actor, he did go on to become one of the most influential people in the entertainment industry not only as TV host but as a publicist, talent manager and celebrity endorser.

Fondly called “Tito Boy” by the industry, Abunda made a name for himself for asking the most insightful and contro-versial questions, so much so that celebrities are often more than willing to reveal their most kept secrets to him and him alone.

As they say in showbiz, “You’ve never truly made ‘it’ unless you’ve been interviewed by Boy Abunda.”

Then and now
How would the showbiz expert Boy Abunda compare celebrities then to the stars we have right now?

“More than the concept of being an ‘artista’ siguro it’s the changing times.

“How? For example it’s quite obvious how we are talking differently. The mode of com-munications have changed, people are communicating with each other in a ‘revolutionary’ way, so to speak. Because of the presence of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, accessibility to the stars are different.

“Because of social networks, you could easily communicate with celebrities; you could easily insult or criticize them. Is that good, is that bad? The answer is I don’t know—yet.

“Some actors say I’m not going to go on Instagram because I don’t want to be as accessible as others—because I don’t want to lose my mystery.

“So my answer is, the artist before and now are the same—an actor or a celebrity, someone in the context of movie stars and singers are people who are bigger than life. They are different, they possess charisma or an X-Factor, the ‘it’ All these are intangibles, plus most of them are beautiful or appealing. They have certain features that make them stand out either physical or something intrinsically different.

Abunda then pointed out the shorter shelf life of actors today.

“Why? Because now, everybody can be an actor. You record yourself crying, or laughing, or dancing, you become a performer—you just need to upload it. You know, the tran-sactional cost of social media has become so affordable to everyone.

“While television remains our main source of entertainment and information, I feel we’re at the crossroads of something. On one hand there is still the old platform of actors, which represents what it was before, and on the other hand there is this new era represented by the electronic or “techie” revolution. Where is it going to go, I don’t know.”

Almost famous
“When you do what we do and have been in the celebrity business for quite some time, you’d realize that there is no absolute yes or no. Everything is always changing. There is no tried and tested formula for success, and you couldn’t tell who will make it and who wouldn’t.

“I once turned down a 16-year-old kid and told him ‘magpataba ka muna,’ and he eventually became one of the biggest stars in the industry—his name was Piolo Pascual.”

Citing himself as an example, Abunda says the principal tools of fame are the intangibles.

“Age also didn’t prove to be a disadvantage for Richard Yap. He came into the business not when he was 17 or 18 like most aspiring artists do, but he is now one of the biggest stars.

“I may be a seasoned manager, a seasoned citizen of this business, but I still do not have the answer to all the questions. Fame remains a big mystery.

“But of course there is a system. It is good to subscribe to a system. Good that you go to an expert, to seek a professional manager. It is good to go to a professional organization that would be able to tell you what kind of landscape are you in. What kinds of shows are being done? Is it right to do a concert this month? There’s a little science to it.”

According to star maker, thus system will boost what an aspiring actor has to offer.

“That is your equity—the one thing that makes you stand out and sometimes most of these stars in the beginning don’t know that. Sometimes it’s even just the hunger, that they want to be in showbiz so badly. Sometimes it is the anger or angst—they call it ‘bubog’ nowadays as well as the ‘karga’ or their back story.”

Talent scouts vs. Reality TV
With the popularity of reality TV shows, have talent scouts become irrelevant?

This is Abunda’s take: “You know, Big Brother as a global platform is not really a talent search, but here in the Philippines, it’s the uniqueness of Pinoy Big Brother that has made many of those who enter the Big Brother house come out as stars.

“There’s also synergy here. Talent scouts are not necessarily lost. The talent scouts are even recruiting talents for reality TV shows!

“We are now in a phase, where the concept of being a celebrity—is also as interesting as how they were discovered.”

Abunda mentions how Charice was discovered through the Internet; or how Random Girl eventually became Zendee; or how even a devoted elevator lady from a mall in Pampanga has become newsworthy with thousands of hits on YouTube.

“Did they design their entry into the business? I don’t know but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. And is it the way now to be noticed? Maybe. Anyone who thinks they can be a star can do it.”

What has not changed according to Abunda are the motivations for wanting to join showbiz.

“Here in the Philippines,there’s only one reason—whether online, those who go to auditions or even those who come to this very dressing room. ‘Gusto ko pong mag-artista dahil gusto kong makatulong sa aking pamilya at mga magulang’.”

Technically, or ideally, Abunda notes the motivation should be you have a craft and you want to be an actor, or because you have a voice and want to sing.

“Let’s face it. Talent is used as a tool to alleviate the situation of someone,” he added.

Season of teleseryes
As Abunda enumerated the intangibles, The Manila Times asked him to rate the importance of talent, looks and determination in breaking through to show business. The seasoned star maker picked talent to be foremost.

“But again that is subject to debate. Now, it is the season of teleseryes.”

Singers and dancers he says will have a harder time making it in showbiz today.

He goes back to the trio of components and reconsidered, “Talent, looks and determination should be combined together. But strictly, from a manager like me and an interviewer who demands exact answers, I would choose determination. But I would give you a different word—tenacity.”

Tenacity he says was his biggest tool when he joined showbiz.

“I have a friend who said the hardest part of joining showbiz today is that everyone is good looking, everyone is so talented. You really have to do something to stand out. It has become so homogenous, so equal, that for you to jump out and get noticed is an entirely different talent in itself.

“How do you stand out? It’s something you really have to have inside you. When I do my lectures, I say you have to find your brand equity. Do not blend with the wall, blending with the wall will not get you anywhere!

“But if you look at our major stars, they really have something different, and it is not something you achieve overnight. You have to give it time.

“It’s a journey. It’s a combination of many factors: Good material, good machinery, a self that is willing to be somebody really big, because you have to be ready for stardom. You have to want it and you have to know how it is to be a star.”

His advice to those who want to join showbiz?

“Try it. Give it a shot. No one has the right, or no one can tell you if you can make it or not—not even me. Listen to your gut, trust your instinct.

“My advice is to go for it but seek help. Go to the experts and team up with someone. And then you have to have a really strong support system.

“It is also important to give yourself a schedule, say in two years’ time. If nothing happens, it’s not the end of the world. Go back to school or look for work elsewhere.”

He also cautioned against many people who just want to take advantage of one’s dreams.

“If somebody comes to you and says, ‘I’ll make you a star,’ magduda ka na. It’s your assignment to find those reputable people. Check their track record.

His advice to potential stars?

“I hope and I pray that as you become bigger artists you also become better persons.”

The biggest lie Abunda has heard through his many years in showbiz is, ‘Hindi po ako magbabago.’

“Fame changes people. Is it bad? No. You have to live with change. Fame is a difficult concept. As author Clive James said: ‘Fame is toxic. It can be destructive but fame can also be empowering. It can also be inspiring.’

The next best you
A declared and proud Noranian [a devoted fan of Superstar Nora Aunor], The Manila Times dared to ask Abunda: Who will be the next Nora Aunor?

“No one. There will never be a next Nora Aunor or Vilma Santos, or Dolphy or whoever.

“It’s a wrong concept to be the next ‘someone.’ You can only be the next best you. You can even be a better you. In marketing there is what we call brand equity, you cannot be another one. You have to be an original otherwise you would just end up to be a poor copy.

“We have to encourage our young talents to be who they are, and exploit or optimize their unique talents.

“For the longest time I couldn’t be a host according to a friend of mine dahil Waray ako, Bisaya ako, malaki ang ilong ko, or because I was gay [at that time, there was serious interviewer who was openly gay]. But here I am on TV, with my original nose na pango, my Visayan accent and I’m openly gay—because these are the things that define who I am. And sometimes what makes us stand out the most are our obvious weaknesses.”

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