Friday, September 8, 2006

Idol Country

It was back in Marianas when I first had a taste of American Idol. No, not the first season but the second one: the one where Reuben Studdard took the title. It was the season where "non-Idol materials" (e.g. fat, nerdy, unpopular, and bordering on ugly) such as him and Clay Aiken first appeared...and actually won. It was also the season where almost everyone had talent. Well, almost; close, but not quite.

Year after year, season after season, American Idol has got us all glued in front of our cable TVs and downloading and listening to scores of mp3s from all seasons. I even remember voting via phone and SMS for both Camille Velasco and Jasmine Trias, just to show my support for the Filipino talent...though Jasmine didn't exactly own up her obviously Filipino lineage. I was in San Antonio TX that times when I actually TiVo'd the first two episodes of AI3 so I'd be able to replay it again and again 'til my ears bled. And then there was season 4, and it was almost the same thing for a whole lot of us. And don't forget the "localized" Idol competitions like--in my company's case--Pioneer Idol (where there were "two seasons"...the second being Pioneer Idol DUETS), or the PhilAmLife Idol, or Earth&Style Idol, blahblahblahIdol. Give me a company with a singing competition, and you've got yourself a "mini" Idol franchise. Ah. Freemantle Production's really got us big time.

And then, with all the Idol franchises sprouting in practically every corner of the globe (Freemantle's really "we're in the money" [remember that John and Marsha quip???]), a new franchise emerged. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for ABC5's official franchise of Freemantle Production's Philippine Idol. And we're not talking a "cloned" Idol production here, or anything on the league of Pinoy Pop Superstar (with a Regine-ish ear-shattering accent on POP) or Star in a Million. This is THE American (er, Philippine) Idol at its most original...or so we anticipated--replete with the "'official' stage", the requisite state- (er, nation-) wide search, the three judges, the supposedly-snazzy host, and of course, the long--no, LOOOOOOONG--queues to get an audition.

The talks about the auditions finally surfaced after about one gazillion "Philippine Idol: Malapit na!" teasers were flashed on TV and even print. Apparently, there will be an audition in Luzon (which is THE main audition), Vizayas and Mindanao...and you can actually have a "Fast Track" pass to these auditions: that is, by pre-auditioning at any SM malls. Supposedly, if you passed these "Fast Tracks", you're entitled to a priority number which would make you a demi-god, and not have to queue up for the main auditions to be held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Made me reminiscent of the miseries of enlisting to a single friggin' subject--usually elective and communications classes--back in college at UP: the queues (or the REALLY early morning [try 4 fucking AM] queues/camping that would rival the pre-1800 number scheduling with the US Visa interviews), the bullheaded enlisters/registration committee members, and of course, the "enlistment priority number". You'd come in REALLY early, literally camped in AS building, #4 in the queue, only to be told five hours of waiting later that the EPN to be used were "last three digits"; and since your student number's XX-08379, you're fucked up big time because the asses that arrived ten minutes before that EPN announcement was made were lucky bastards because their studenent numbers--all six of them--end with a 012, 009, and 035. Fuck Fast Track.

As if the "palengke" approach to the auditions (if you don't get that, picture this: SM mall, you onstage, 500 other wannabees listening in, together with about a few thousand passersby who are either shopping or just killing time, your voice blaring in the mobile system, and a couple of non-professional judges) wasn't enough, the auditions' requirements themselves were hysterical. Among many other over-the-top specifications such as copies of birth certificates, police clearance, and the works, the age requirement was what killed my hey-I'm-almost-REALLY-feeling-this-fever excitement: they had an incredible age limit of if talent ends on that age. Dammit. I'm two years overaged.

My officemate friend Chrissie, amidst all this Idol Fever, came up to me and told me that I should join the Philippine Idol...not just because of my talent, but also because she's dead sure that I'll be getting lots of votes from: (a) friends, (b) officemates, (c) then-dates, (d) students, and (e) "fans". I just laughed and told her that I knew I may have the chance of getting into the finals, but that my age was going to be a major hindrance. My voice lessons teacher Agnes likewise told me that I was "seasoned" enough to join this supposedly-prestigious talent and popularity contest. When I told her about the darned age requirement, she just snorted, told me to fake my birth certificate, and proceeded with choosing my audition song as if I was actually going to push on with falsifying my official documents just to wedge my way in this contest. Wow. I bet other people wouldn't think twice.

As I sulked in the office corner of my bedroom, connected to the net, I visited a forum related to the Philippine Idol competition (how desperate was that?!). Apparently, there were other "oldies" like me that share the same sentiments about the restrictive age limit. Upon reading further in the forum, someone--bless her naiveté--tried to console us oldies by saying, and i quote, "It's OK, [username], American Idol naman started with the same age limit with the batch of Justin and Kelly. Every year naman, tinataasan nila ang age limit by one year. Tingnan mo this year, the AI winner Taylor Hicks is already 30 years old! So, just hang on...darating din ang time mo." I almost had a coronary. I couldn't help it; I dropped her a note. I said, "[username], sweetie, I'm 30 years old now. Two years from now, when the age limit has been raised to 30, I will be 32...which makes me STILL overaged."

Sigh. OK, fine. You children enjoy the limelight. You'll turn 30 soon. And when you do, I'll be doing my Celia Rodriguez laughter. But until then, I'll be holding my breath...and rolling on the floor laughing my ass off with the William Hung equivalents.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Tagaytay Chronicles

Take a group of college friends and their boy/girlfriends, husbands, kids, yayas, relatives and mix 'em up with 4AM pickup points, sunrise hunting, boat riding, volcano hiking, burnt clutch and brakes, a jamming session, pigging out, pictorial sessions, and hot coffee all in one day, and what have you got? A riot.

First things first. A background on the group "Astrokids".

Astrokids is a misnomer for a non-astrological group of friends from UP Diliman's College of Public Administration batch 1997. Or, OK, maybe just a *teenie bit* astrological. It all started with PA 132 under Haidee Arandia, where me and my friends would sprint out of that 530-7pm class just to catch the last few segments of the then-familiar telenovelas of Thalia. Right after we catch it on RPN9 in a half-colored, half-black and white TV in my boarding house in Pook Dagohoy, we would all convoy to one of the fishball vendors over at Vinzon's Hall (or around the area) where we would devour scores of fishballs, kikiam and squidballs, and gulp bottles of Mountain Dew and Pepsi. 'Twas in one of these street foodfests where Nolet blurted out her now immortal quip, "Sarap 'to ah!", which now pretty much describes how "delicious" and enjoyable our youths days to be exact. Right after these foodtrips, we'd most often head up to the UP Observatory right by the outskirts of the Narra Dormitory. In here, where we'd most likely be the lone group, we'd just hang out, look at the stars, pretend to "own" or "represent" one (mine's actually the brightest one, "Sirius"!!!), and whine and talk, and just be ourselves...a couple of college kids trying to make a difference in our--and other people's--lives...all but tiny specks of dusts under the vast universe of that evening sky above us. So, why Astrokids? Oh, c'mon. If you still haven't figured that out by now, I don't even know why I'd bother explaining.

It's been so long--way too long--since the Kids were complete in any get-together. If my memory serves me correctly, it had been during the Yuletide season when we were all together as one big riotous family. And in-between, there had been sporadic dinners or meetings or impromptu gatherings...but never the whole group in one crazy bunch.

With this in perspective, and what with the impending arrival of her cock-a-doodle-doo boyfriend Ed--who we all love to tears, mind you!--Carissa (aka Ogis/Manuk) organized a "drop everything, we're going to Tagaytay this Saturday" get-together some time Monday or Tuesday of the very same week we were going. And knowing how most--if not all--of our long-planned and carefully-organized get-togethers were botched at almost the last minute, I had an almost certain feeling that this one *was* going to push through. And, of course, my blog entry titled Baguio or Bust is but a testimony to the Astrokids' knack for spontaneity (or notoriety for planning way ahead of time and cancelling a day or two before the planned event ever materializes). So, a long and seemingly-unending email and SMS exchange later, we have finalized our itinerary: meet up at 5am with our respective rides (in three convenient-for-all locations, mind you), catch a glimpse of the Tagaytay sunrise at 545am, have *really* early breakfast at Breakfast@Antonio's, go swimming/boating/hiking to Taal Volcano via the Tagaytay Yacht Club, have late lunch (must I say *feast*) at the Olaes residence, do a tour of Tagaytay Highlands, go to Bag of Beans, buy pasalubong, and then head for home by 8pm.

At 9pm Friday, while watching Smallville DVDs in the condo, Floyd and I were busy stuffing 30 one-peso pandesals with corned beef hash for my family recipe, paradadas (aka corned beef hash french toast). After coating all 30 with egg and dry-frying 'em all, I carefully laid every single piece in a large Tupperware container lined with 2-ply papertowels, and got ready for bed. At 420am, I was up preparing breakfast and getting ready to leave. By 445, I panicked about being late, so I called Carissa. I was relieved...turned out, Alet was late, so they can't leave her house yet to pick us up at Starbucks-Waltermart. So we took our sweet time. When we got to the pickup point, we still stayed for a good 10-15minutes before the caravan arrived. A few pleasantries and kantiyawans later, we were rolling off to South Super Highway...with the sun already rising on the horizon. Now that's two X-marks on our To-do checklist.

By 630am, we were rummaging through shelves of the Treats convenience store by SLEX. We all sat outside to have a quick caffeine-rush, do some readjustments in our itinerary, freshen up, and smoke. I brought out my paradadas Tupperware and offered it to the seven others to munch on. Now, you better believe me when I say that all 28 corned beef hash-filled pandesals were gone faster than I can finish reciting the ingredients to it...and 'twas only onions, tomatoes, corned beef and potatoes that I had to say, and not my secret seasonings. What's funnier was that we found out that Alet and the people in the other car brought corned beef for food as well. No wonder Libby's, Palm, Argentina, and Purefoods are getting wealthier.

We arrived at Antonio's around 8am. Guess what one of their specialties is. Yep. Corned beef hash. It was hilarious I had laughing fits for ten full minutes...which was even aggravated by an incident with the head waiter regarding the playing of an audio CD (read: I was asking him if I could play my Bossanova CD [that time Sitti Navarro] on their CD player, considering it was just our group and another small yuppie-looking group. He responded by saying that they don't have fresh ones at the moment, and that only the dried variety was available. Turns out, he thought I was asking for SILI. Anggandaaaaah [borrowing Ricky Reyes' "twang" to say that]). 'Twas my very first time to eat at Antonio's. I've tried the other restaurants that belong to their chain, but in my honest opinion, Breakfast@Antonio's doesn't really measure up to all the hype. I mean, the waiters don't exactly make you feel comfortable and important, the food isn't exactly tasty (I'd trade Jolly Jeep any day for a warmer smile from Manang), and the price is just ridiculous. Well, yeah, there's the ambience: the breath-taking view of Taal. OK. Fine. I wouldn't mind shelling out some extra moolah for the fresh and inviting breeze of Nature's breath, which one never gets in the Makati CBD.

Dozens of photos later, we headed to Tagaytay Yacht Club. En route to it, Loony blurted out the quotable quote of the millennium, "Coco Lumber...Hhhmmmmm (as if it were the most juicy delicacy)". She's famous for that: unexpected quips and hirits (like, "Yuck, Ben, wala kang puwet!!!" [and now that my ass is nicer, thanks to the Jessica Simpson lunges, who's laughing now, Loony?? Hahaha]). And with Brownman Revival on the CD changer, we traversed the zigzaggy road down to Taal. Merely 10 minutes of driving to go, we got a frantic SMS (wait a can an SMS be frantic???!) from Twix saying that the brakes of their then-downhill van don't seem to be working...and their van's the one with all the kids as passengers! We had to come back for them, helped them park at the far corner of the curb and set up a pseudo-camp in the very same location. Seeing that the only answer to the brakes problem was to wait for the mechanic that they called in, we stepped out of the van/car, found our corners and shades, and started doing our thing--reading, texting, direthe works. But after a while, Floyd pulled out his guitar and the trusty 1001 song/chord book...and then we all started singing--from Carpenters to Lilet to Mike Hanopol to Kenny Loggins to Cyndi Lauper to Sampaguita to APO Hiking, we sang it....for the next one and a half hour that is. By the time the mobile mechanic arrived and finished the repair job, it was already past 10. Crab, a couple of days later, was apologetic that she caused this unplanned delay/detour and prevented us from going to Taal earlier. Big baloney. I think, in retrospect, the highlight of the "fun" part was concentrated on that almost two hour detour. We bonded, kid around, laughed a lot, sang like crazy. Wasn't that what we wanted to achieve anyway? So, Crab, no apologies.

We wasted no time when we got to the Yacht Club. In less than 30 minutes, we managed to park, change clothing, grab our gears, rent a boat and head off to the foot of the famous Taal Volcano. The ride along was awesome, what with the unsalty water (it's a lake, remember?) splashing violently on our faces--and the heavy splashes menacingly following Alet whichever side of the boat she sat (and needless to say, wetting her immaculately clean denims)--and the postcard-worthy scenery (oh, wait a minute, those ARE in postcards!). When we got to the bay of the foot of the volcano, we were literally swarmed by the locals, i.e. to peddle their services with horseback riding up to the top of the mountain. But at 600 bucks just for a lousy 40-minute ride, we all decided to trek the dirt road going up the mountain...but that didn't stop the peddlers to walk ahead, around and behind us to keep offerring their horsies, and in the process demoralizing us that the road ahead, no matter how long we've taken, was so long and winding we weren't even an *eighth* of the way! Bastards. Just when I thought all the sales-/psycho-talk weren't going to cut it, I--being the tail scout of the group, making sure everyone's well accounted for in the trek--noticed Alet huffing and puffing and not looking at all good; and then I remembered: she has a heart condition! Without even waiting for her to think about it, I bargained with the nicer manongs for a one-way horse ride for her up the mountain; and up she went, leaving me nothing but a great view of the horse's ass. On the way up, the Yacht Club caretaker caught up with me, and we talked a bit. Apparently, it had been more than 40 years since Taal last erupted. "Great," I thought, "now would be a perfect time for it to resume its active status, with me and all my friends and the rest of the perhaps-50 other visitors at the summit". I shuddered a bit, inspite of the scorching sun. After a while, I realized that I was on Tretinoin treatment...which means absofuckinglutely NO sun for me. So I took off my shirt--exposing my glorious body of flabs and pox marks--and made a ninja-like mask of it for my face. We reached the top barely 30 minutes since we started walking, beating the "normal" trek time of 40-45. We were delighted, if not relieved, to just see the cottage at the top...especially the bottles of mineral water that were sweating of its own dew. After fifteen minutes of resting, bitching, drinking, laughing, storytelling, and of course picture-taking, we started with our descent. In less than 45 minutes, we were back at the beach front, and later on at the other side of the lake where the Yacht Club was.

We headed to the Olaes place immediately, most of us itching to just shower and change into fresh clothes. Few minutes later, we were eating like pigs unleashed in a muddy pen filled with corn husk...only in this case, there was no mud, and instead of corn husks, there were loads of great home-cooked meals. To this day, I still wonder how and why my gastrointestinal tract survived my "kasibaan" with nilaga, corn on the cob, fried fish, ripe mangoes, nuts, more corned beef, and fresh buko juice. But, hey, even if my stomach did haul up (or down, whichever is less graphic) my many orifices, I'd still eat those foodies anyday. Burp.

Not wasting any more of the remaining daylight, we ran off to our respective cars for our convoy up to Tagaytay Highlands...but not without grabbing some more of those yummilicious corn on the cob that were freshly boiled as our baon. Our first stop was the chapel ('twas Sunday and we all realized that we weren't able to hear mass), and then walked to the clubhouse. And of course, with every single step and with every little movement, one of us would grab his/her digital camera and/or camera phone (as was in my case) and take snapshots of us to keep those beautiful memories remembered.

It was a riot--as always--in Tagaytay Highlands...especially the pictorial sessions with the whole group. At a certain point, I cringed at the idea that we were such photo hogs...and then dismissed the thought as silly, as we hardly do these bonding activities together anyway. With our camera's memory sticks almost full, we called it a day/night, and headed back to the Olaes residence to grab a quick dinner, reshuffle the car assignments, and then headed back to Manila. But before we did that, of course, I did another helping of the kasibaan foodies. Ehehehehe. And then we parted ways with some of the Kids who have kids as they still have work the following day. The rest of us still went to Bag of Beans to visit Ed's cousin who, apparently, owns or manages the place. It was getting cold, and we were mostly tired and sleepy, but we still enjoyed a cup or two of their famous coffee and hot chocolate (for me). And, of course, took pictures...again. ;)

When we headed home, I rested my head on the neck rest of the car and closed my eyes. When I opened them, thinking I just closed 'em to rest my tired eyes, we were already traversing Roxas Boulevard! Holy smokes, I slept the entire trip home. I was REALLY exhausted. But it was well worth it.

I was on half-day the next day due to a bitch of a migraine...and the dreaded diarrhea. Need you ask why?