Of “Superstars,” “Megastars,” and “Living Legends na Buhay”

(To keep the momentum going, I’d like to share with you a story I wrote sometime in 2005 for the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s entertainment section. Titled “Imaginary crowns and scepters,” it revolves around how Filipino spin doctors, managers and studios have taken the name game to a whole new level to promote their talents and advance their careers. It seems every celebrity in the Philippines has a title, from the apropos to the downright laughable.

(A lot of celebrities have since exited the scene, but a lot more have also made their grand entrances. There are definitely more creative as well as absurd show biz titles out there today, but these were the titles (bansag in Filipino) that captured fans’ imagination seven years ago. I’m keeping the story’s original title. A word of caution: don’t take the titles you encounter in this piece too seriously, or you’re bound to go bananas. Enjoy!–AYV)

WHEN it comes to coining titles, possibly no other people in the world take the activity as seriously and as creatively as Filipinos do. We never seem to run out of catchy labels, whether referring to

VILMA: the Star for All Seasons (whynotcoconut.com)

someone’s achievements or station in life, or to another person’s appearance and idiosyncrasies.

It comes as no surprise then, that fans and spin doctors alike from the world of make-believe (a.k.a. Philippine show biz) continue to dish out titles-from the refreshingly original and apropos, to the downright silly-to depict artistas’ (celebrities) gifts and exploits or drum up achievements, real or imagined.

One title that is forever etched in the annals of local Tinseltown is “Superstar,” thanks in no small way to the dark and diminutive Nora Aunor, who continues to sport such a grand title although her show biz luster has waned considerably.

Even before superstar became a generic term, Noranians appropriated it for their idol. And rightly so, since no single word could better describe the plain but extremely talented performer’s tremendous impact on and contributions to an industry once dominated by tall mestizas.

NORA: the one and only Supesrtar (philstar.com)

For the longest time, a title-less Vilma Santos had to play second fiddle to her tsunami of a rival that was Nora. That was until Vilma slowly but surely clawed her way to the top a few years later, becoming the country’s undisputed “Box-Office Queen” for several movie seasons.

Such was Vilma’s feat, that she was hailed as the only woman in an all-boys’ club of big-time moneymakers composed of “Da King” (Fernando Poe Jr.), the “King of Comedy” (Dolphy) and the “Wonder Kid” (Niño Muhlach). But appellations based on statistics could prove fleeting, as Vilmanians were to find out.

A younger, more popular Sharon Cuneta eventually elbowed Ate Vi out of the box-office race. The latter’s drumbeaters had to think of a more fitting title for her. Thankfully, they didn’t resort to calling her “Eskinol Girl.” Instead, they came up with “Star for all Seasons”–and it stuck, being a fitting tribute to the longevity of Vilma’s career and the respect that she continues to enjoy from both her peers and the public.

Despite Sharon’s immense popularity, there could only be one “Superstar.” Sharonians were aware of this, so they did Noranians better by branding their idol “Megastar.” The mammoth label in no way pertained to Sharon’s famous heft, but to her unmatched “tri-media” prowess-in TV, recording and the movies.

ALMA: Loveliness a.k.a. the Tangga Queen (pinoyparazzi.com)

It took some time before Maricel Soriano, initially tagged “Taray Queen,” to morph into the “Diamond Star.” Although she and Sharon were contemporaries, their supposed rivalry was nowhere near as celebrated as that of Nora and Vilma, Vilma and Nora.

Despite her reputation as a ham actress, the lovely Alma Moreno became known as “Shining Star.” When wearing the tangga on prime time TV became the norm among dancing female stars, Alma, the exceptional dancer that she was, later ascended the dance floor as the “Tangga Queen.”

Which brings us to another “queen.” Before she was crowned “Queen of Talk,” the perennially controversial Kris Aquino reigned as “Massacre Queen” for her portrayals of true-to-life sensational crime victims in several “massacre movies” by director Carlo J. Caparas. She may lack depth as an actress, but for some strange reason, Kris, singsong speech and all, helped infuse much-needed blood to an ailing industry when her movies made, well, a killing of massacre proportions at the tills.

MARICEL: the Diamond Star (pep.ph)

For a time, Kris was also known as “Super Nova,” a reference, perhaps, to her supporters’ desire to position her as the next Sharon. They had to be kidding, right? “Tasya Pantasya” would have been more like it. And before Kris and “King of Talk” Boy Abunda lorded it over the talk show scene, there was the late Inday Badiday who reigned supreme as “Queen of Intrigues.”

Not a few stars of yesteryears were christened either by their studios or the movie press by virtue of their on-screen personas. The more popular ones: “The Great Profile” for Leopoldo Salcedo; “The Face that Refreshes,” Susan Roces; “Agent X44,” Tony Ferrer; “Palos,” Bernard Bonnin; “Alembong,” Lita Gutierrez, and “Galawgaw,” Nida Blanca.

Of more recent vintage, Robin Padilla became known as “Bad Boy of Philippine Movies,” and Rosanna Roces as “Flawless.” There couldn’t be a more flawed title to describe the coarse Osang.

Philippine show biz has also had-and continues to churn out-Hollywood clones (not entirely the artistas‘ fault): “Charlie Chaplin of the Philippines,” Canupling; “Elizabeth Taylor of the Philippines,” Amalia Fuentes; “Audrey Hepburn of the Philippines,” Barbara Perez; “James Dean of the Philippines,” Lou Salvador Jr., and “Elvis Presley of the Philippines,” Eddie Mesa.

Before several wags began tagging Bert Nievera as “Estafa King” for dashing off to the United States, leaving behind a trail of unpaid debts, the singer was known as the “Johnny Mathis of the Philippines.” Son Martin Nievera, of course, is “Concert King,” while his (Martin’s) estranged wife Pops Fernandez is “Concert Queen.”

SHARON: the Mega Star (mukamo.com)

Instead of contesting the “Concert King” tag, Gary Valenciano became known as “Mr. Pure Energy.” The classy Kuh Ledesma emerged as the country’s “Pop Diva,” while the soulful Zsa Zsa Padilla assumed the tag “Divine Diva.” No, this doesn’t mean she intends to do gospel songs.

Speaking of singers, long before Regine Velasquez became “Asia’s Songbird,” Pilita Corrales was the one and only “Asia’s Queen of Song.”

Because of Regine’s ability to summon up vocal pyrotechnics in a heartbeat, she has lately been referred to as “Birit Queen.” Her ability to hit high notes was briefly threatened by a more controlled, but equally intense, “Nightingale” in the person of the now semi-retired Lani Misalucha.

In fact, the music (and comedy) world has become a rich source of “royal” titles, as talent managers and record companies think up new ways for their talents to stand out in a very crowded field, indeed.

To illustrate: “Pop Princess,” Sarah Geronimo; “Prince of Pop,” Eric Santos; “R&B Princess,” Kyla; “R&B Prince,” Jay-R; “Queen of Soul,” Jaya; “King of Soul,” Janno Gibbs; “King of Rap,” Francis Magalona, and “Comedy Concert Queen,” Ai-Ai de las Alas.

Less Royal Of course, there are some singers sporting less royal titles: “Soul Siren,” Nina; “The Vamp,” Vernie Varga, and “Sentimental Songstress,” Imelda Papin.

The bold bandwagon also produced members of royalty: “Pene King,” Mark Joseph; “ST Queen,” Gretchen Barretto, and “Sisid Queen,” Assunta de Rossi.

“Pene,” of course, is short for penetration, which Mark did without compunction in several underground porn flicks. For young kids out there, ST is short for “sex trip,” a popular phrase coined in the late 1980s by the late movie scribe Oskee Salazar. “Sisid” (dive) was inspired by Assunta’s movie of the same title.

Finally, entertainers who tripped the light fantastic also wore imaginary crowns and carried invisible scepters: former beauty queen and onetime dancer Charlene Gonzales became known as “Dance Empress,” and ballroom stalwart Becky Garcia sashayed on TV as “Lambada Queen.”

ARTEMIO Marquez, Melanie’s father, is the Living Legend na Buhay! (pep.ph)

But what really took the name-game business to absurd heights was Mystica proclaiming herself as “Split Queen,” and dancer-turned-choreographer Geleen Eugenio declaring that she’s now “D’ Legend of Pop Dance.” Say what?

For all their chutzpah, title-makers past and present are no match to the irrepressible Melanie Marquez, who once announced in an interview how proud she was of dad, movie director Artemio Marquez, who was ailing at the time: “As far as I know, my father is the only living legend na buhay (who’s alive)!” It certainly beats “Mega Queen of the Super Divine Star” any day.

2 thoughts on “Of “Superstars,” “Megastars,” and “Living Legends na Buhay”

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