During the 1st Live Gala Night of GMA-7’s Protege Season 2 last Sunday night, the Top 20 contenders (10 guys, 10 girls) were formally introduced to a nationwide audience. Divided into five regions with four members each, they were accompanied by their respective mentors – actors Roderick Paulate (for Mega Manila), Philip Salvador (for Mindanao) and Ricky Davao (for North/Central Luzon), multimedia icon Jolina Magdangal (for Visayas) and actress/TV director Gina Alajar (for South Luzon). Starting this coming Sunday (August 12), the showbiz wannabes will start competing for the nods of the distinguished Board of Judges (Joey de Leon, Bert de Leon, Cherie Gil and Annette Gozon-Abrogar) and the all-important sms votes of both the TV and live audience during Performance Nights. There will be weekly eliminations up until the final showdown where only two winners (one male and one female) will be declared the best of the lot and win lucrative (and exclusive) multi-million peso contracts with GMA-7 plus a 2-BR condo unit (each) at Suntrust Properties.
Here is my early assessment of the Top 20.
Let’s start with the male competitors…
Since this is an all-around artista search, I handpicked first the five guys who come across as the most good-looking. It is already a given that – to make it this far – they should already know how to sing, act and dance. Otherwise, it would break the objective if they can only do one (or two) of the three talents.
Andres Vasquez, 21, from Taguig City has the manly looks and charisma that should easily set him apart from the still teenage buoyancy of his fellow proteges. Being one of the oldest has its downside, though. Fighting for votes can be an uphill task so he’d better turn on the extra youthful factor to win the support of prospective fans 4-5 years his junior.
Jeric Gonzales, 19, from Laguna has the advantage of a good singing voice that has already been proven in the past when he front-acted in one of David Pomeranz’s concerts here in the Philippines. Coupled with his handsome face, this tall newcomer can give extra focus on his acting and dancing skills to push his chances to stand out even more. But caution is advised against showing an air of superiority too early in the game.
Mikoy Morales, 18, from Roxas City elevates cuteness to an entirely different level. With his chinky eyes and disarming smile, he can effortlessly grab the limelight by simply projecting a wholesome (and well-bred) persona that can make the young watchers shriek to their hearts’ delight. And lest I forget, the boy can also sing and dance. But can he act just as well? He can be a cinch to star in Koreanovela remakes if ever. We shall see…
Mykel Ong, 20, from Batangas could be the most “labor-exposed” in the group, having worked as an OFW in an assortment of menial jobs in Australia before he finally decided to finally come home and try his luck in the biz. Although he may initially register as someone who is relying on his killer looks more than anything else, he has proven to his mentor that he has the goods to deliver come crunch time.
Vien Alen King, 19, from Quezon City stood out during the Mega Manila auditions with his singing and acting chops. This one-time joiner of Eat Bulaga’s Mr. Pogi search doesn’t lag behind in the looks department as well. He really reminds me of the late Marky Cielo who won Starstruck years back. So if he can prove his dancing feet while carrying a tune in front of a hard-to-please audience, then an all-around performer he can quickly become.
Being in the lower half doesn’t mean that a Protege’ is plain-looking. It’s just that I need to divide them in two at this point to come up with more targetted initial impressions.
Bryan Benedict, 21, from Cebu, is the group’s gym buff who has the unique background of having grown up in a ‘silent’ family, i.e., both her parents are deaf-mute. One of two near-skinheads among the boys, his attraction with the show’s audience could be mixed, depending on how his personality will shape up in the weeks to come. He should learn to speak more and be expressive.
David John Llamas, 19, from Cagayan de Oro is the other near-skinhead. This guitar man may not have the most physically appealing face among the 10 males, but he definitely makes up for it with a more relatively engaging personality that should make him shine even more than the ones in the traditional ‘guwapo’ mold. Let’s see if he can ace the competition with this plus factor.
Glenn Roy, 18, from Tarlac and Japs de Luna, 20, from Nueva Ecija may strike most as common-looking dudes. But cut these duo some slack because they breezed past the other (more good-looking) auditionees of North/Central Luzon because of their quick wit and presence of mind in handling spontaneous situations thrown their way. They think fast, and could score high in the various trainings and workshops if they keep on highly-guarded modes while slowly growing on the judges and the TV watchers in no time at all.
Finally, there’s Ruru Madrid who, at 14, is the youngest Protege. This Zamboangueno has a mind of his own. Never mind that his lanky frame belies an inner sensitivity and adult-thinking head that makes people sit up and take notice of what he can offer. What he lacks in built is easily offsetted the moment he speaks and never lets go of your interest.
Let’s go to the female Proteges’ now…
Initially, the young ladies register as a generic-looking bunch. But after a close scrutiny, I was able to cut the 10 in half.
Apple Vega, 20, from Dipolog City can be mistaken for a beauty contest joiner upon first look. She has distinct Pinay features that can convince any talent scout to shape her potentials for the same. But the beckoning of Protege is stronger. Let’s see if she really has the stuff showbiz dreamers are made of.
Elle Ramirez, 18, from Rizal is the ‘crush’ of majority of the male hopefuls because of her beautiful face and vibrant ways. It would be safe to say that she can use this advantage to the fullest if she plays her cards right. If only the sms votes come from predominantly male supporters, then she may already have half the competition in the bag. But then again, the female fans are more eager beavers in this regard, so we’ll see what fate lies ahead of this Mega Manila charmer.
Shelly Hipolito, 16, from Nueva Ecija has been lured by the klieg lights of showbusiness ever since she started getting noticed in her province as a pretty young thing who could be a future star in TV and movies. She should be thankful that her parents are now fully supportive of her inclusion in Protege. Will she be smart enough to further her cause in the reality search?
This girl, Thea Tolentino, 15, from Calamba is one bright ingenue who transforms quite dramatically once she is fully made up for stage performance and the like. Sans cosmetics and styling, she comes across as just a simple girl who can do acoustic singing. But the moment she is dolled up and all, the results show a 180-degree turn for the better. The camera loves her. Hopefully, the judges will love her as well.
The only Protege of mixed-race in the Top 20, Zandra Zamora is an 18 year-old Cebuana who has gotten the best features of her Austrian father and Filipina mother. This Megan Young-deadringer is also one of the tallest among the girls. Do I sense a future participation in Bb. Pilipinas and the like? Not a remote possibility. But that should take the backseat for now as she is more keen on drawing enough support and approval in her bid to become a young actress.
Onto my lower half among the girls. Let’s start with Arny Ross, 21, from Cavite who is the most academically credentialed. She has already finished her college degree and for one year, has parlayed this achievement to work as an Executive Assistant in the House of Representatives. But resign she did. Her dream is far from spending hours in front of a desk. And I do believe that she has the polish to stand out, and GMA-7 can see this by now. But will a relative maturity work against her favor?
With a showbiz-sounding screen name like Kelly D., she may already have half of her right foot inside the Protege door even before she entered the quarters. A 15 year-old from Pasig, she claims to be the ‘mother-like’ sister of her four brothers and has used this detail to advance her chances among the Mega Manila finalists of the artista search. Add to that her guise as a guitar-strumming acoustic singer, then she may just get the needed attention to convince the decision-makers of her glowing potentials.
Mitch Capili, 15, from Bohol is another teener who is seriously attracted by the call of showbiz for both personal and familial reasons, i.e., she wants to win the contest and in the process help her parents and siblings in getting a more comfortable life in the province. Not a bad stimulus to work hard for money and fame, but can she withstand all the intrigues of the world she wants to be a part of? The same question can be asked from Reese Tayag, 16, from Tarlac. This Protege has the looks. But does she have the emotional firmness to carry her through weeks upon weeks of nonstop training and polishing? It ain’t easy, my dear.
And lastly, there’s ‘cry-baby’ Steffi Pacheco, 16. This Davaoena is so sensitive about so many things that it takes her the simplest of triggers to cry buckets of tears. Could that be an asset? I say yes and no. Yes because it can aid in her acting. No because she has a frustrating habit of covering her whole face when doing so. I will reserve further judgment after another week of watching her behavior inside the quarters.
So who will go full steam ahead after the first Performance Night? All five teams are initially required to come up with musical numbers where they are expected to deliver the song and dance routines with flair and enthusiasm. I won’t be surprised if majority in my preferred half takes the lead. But if someone else steals the spotlight from them, then I say…bring it on!
If we go by looks alone, anyone among my Top 5 guys and Top 5 girls would make solid winners. But there is more substance to the game than meets the eye (candy). The journey has just started and I doff my hat to whoever will shine the brightest and bring the reality search to its feet a few months from now.
You can watch the Live Gala of Protege every Sunday night at 8:30PM. And if you are just as interested to see their normal demeanor inside the quarters, then catch Inside Protege from Monday-Friday at 10:30PM. Only on GMA-7. 😉