Lea Salonga: "To Succeed, Get Training"
Interview by Tinna S. Bonifacio
Everyone knows who she is. Tony award-winning star, singer and actress whose fame stretches from London's West End to Broadway in New York, Lea Salonga has left an indelible mark on the industry that has nurtured her since she was a child. Lea started her career as a child star, singing “I Am But A Small Voice” and playing the curly-haired moppet Annie in the stage musical of the same title. At age 18, she won the role of Kim, the bar girl in the Cameron Mackintosh musical Miss Saigon and put the Philippines on the theater map of the world.
Today, Lea—although a very happy wife and mother—continues to make her mark in the field of entertainment. Her latest project is an album, Inspired, released by Sony BMG. It is Lea's first studio album in over seven years.
Lea, who came to town to promote the album and do a couple of television appearances, took some time out of her busy schedule to chat and share the latest in her very busy career.
Welcome home, and congratulations on your new album.
Thank you. I'm really proud of the album. It was produced by Gerard, my brother, using live instruments. There's not one synthesizer on it. Not that I have anything against synthesizers, it's just that it sounds different when you have all these musicians playing live. The energy is very different, and it affects your performance. Personally, I think that this is my finest album on every level.
You work a lot with Gerard—on your albums and especially in your concerts. Is there a different dynamic when you work with a family member as opposed to working with people you don't know as intimately?
He's my brother, and we share a lot of things. We have the same musical tastes because we've listened to the same music together from childhood. We have very similar ideas of what is good in music and we have the same feel for what is musical and what isn't. On that level, we can communicate even without talking or speaking [to each other]. It's a gut feel that we both share. It's like being with your best friend. So in a sense, yes, that makes it easier for us to work together.
What have you been doing lately, career-wise?
I'll be leaving to do the role of Fantine in Les Miserables, then I come back in June or July for the Asian tour of Cinderella, which kicks off in the Philippines. I'll be traveling a lot.
Isn't that a problem, now that you have a daughter? How do you balance work and your family time?
I've been working since I was young, so for me, singing isn't just a job. It's my life. As for my daughter, it's totally fine. She's still very young, so she's very portable, just like a CD player. We bring her along wherever I go, and we have a nanny that travels with us, so it's not necessarily a problem. But once she starts school, I might have to stay put.
What about your husband?
Family support has been a big part of my success. Rob is very understanding, and incredibly supportive. Fortunately, there are no competitive tussles with him because he's not in the same line of work.
Your album is titled Inspired. Taking off from that, who are the people who inspire you, and whom you've learned from in the course of your career?
Well, there's my family of course. The encouragement I got from my family, especially my mom, was instrumental in my career. Then there were people like Tita Bibot [Amador] and Tita Baby [Barredo] of Repertory Philippines and Cameron Mackintosh, for obvious reasons. As for inspiration, definitely my husband and daughter.
What advice would you give to people who want to follow in your footsteps and become a singer?
Well, first of all, get training. If you can, get a voice coach. I myself have several voice coaches, one in London and one in Los Angeles, and they brought back the joy of singing for me. There was a time that I was not happy with what my voice was producing, and they helped me take care of that.
Is singing talent inborn, or can it be developed?
Recreational singing can be developed out of nothing. It's like golf. If you just want to be a Sunday golfer, you don't have to be Tiger Woods. You just have to learn the rudiments of the game, and that's enough. To sing professionally is a whole other story. If you want to make a living out of it, then you have to have something special to build on. That's where a voice teacher will come in. The voice teacher will help you learn how to use your voice properly. For a singer, ang boses, puhunan mo 'yan. That's why it's important to get the right training.
You've become a role model for a lot of people around the world. How do you deal with all that?
If people praise you, take it in, accept it but don't let it get to your head.
To end, has your career been everything that you expected it to be?
You know, when I first got into this, I didn't know what the trappings would be. It's been years now, and I've lived quite a bit and built up enough experience to be able to give advice to others. Which I don't mind, really. It's wonderful to share what I've learned with other people. It's flattering that others see me as a role model and a template on which to build their own careers. I'm happy to be doing so.