A year before I left the Philippines to work in Seoul, Korea, my team and I were the official tabulators of one very popular singing competition created by the the Viva Television, which was our audit client.
It was March 1, 2003, a Saturday, and it was the finals of "Star for a Night", a yearlong singing competition hosted by Regine Velasquez, known as Asia's Songbird. My team - Kathy, Bom, John and Jameson - assembled at the 28th floor of our Makati office around 2:30PM as we intended to be at the ULTRA stadium in Pasig City by 4PM, where the live show would be held and aired during primetime over Channel IBC-13, another audit client of mine.
Although the show wasn't going to start until about 7PM, ULTRA slowly filled up with the fans, friends and families of the contestants hours before.
Working as official tabulators for a live show wasn't my first rodeo, so to speak. I previously led a team to tabulate scores for a modeling competition, which was a glamorous break for us as our work as auditors always involved being buried under accounting records and financial documents all day long. Watching models compete in swimwear, casual and long gowns was more than a break we needed; it was a treat.😄
Although some of our audit clients were fun to work with, my Viva Team, which was led over the years by my senior associates Chiara, Joyce, Selyn and Concon, always had fun as the atmosphere was always 'showbiz', not to mention that Viva's Ms. Tess C., Boss Mike S. and Irene J. were very professional and accommodating. We appreciated the way they made our work easier.😊
The night before the finals, during the dress rehearsals, I was already at the venue to survey our tabulation area backstage. After checking our assigned workspace, I took a seat at an almost-empty hall to watch the contestants rehearse.
All of them were good, but I was surprised that during Sarah Geronimo's turn (she sang Celine Dion's To Love You More), she fumbled, earning a scolding from the musical director who was in front of the stage watching and listening to each of them intensely. I later learned that it was probably the arrangement of the song that caused her trouble during rehearsals. But as we now know, she aced her final performance, even strategically dropping her white shawl at a certain point in the song to add drama.
As I had anticipated the final show would run until late evening, I instructed my team that, once they and their laptops were already settled at our designated area backstage, they would drive to the nearest McDonalds to get us burgers, fries and drinks as our stand-by dinner. We didn't want to starve in the middle of the show. So, that night, when our tummies started grumbling, my team simply brought out our take-outs while listening to the performances backstage. It was more than a happy meal.😆
I remember minutes before the show, I was asked to join and meet the judges who were huddled in one conference room, minus Ms. Sharon Cuneta, who was yet to arrive. She was to be the chair of the board of judges. Although I would have loved meeting her, the other judge I was thrilled to really meet was Mr. George Conseco, the composer of immortal OPM songs and most of the theme songs of Viva Films.
When I entered the room, the judges were seated by the long table and being briefed by Viva's staff. I can't remember the name of the assistant director who introduced me to the judges, but I simply shook hands with each judge as they were seated by the table. But what I remember in my meeting with Mr. Canseco, who was wearing a light-brownish, gray jacket, was that he stood up from his seat, turned around to face me, and shook my hand.
I would have understood if he did not even stand up, considering he was already seated and more important, he was already a legend in the music industry. He didn't have to stand up just to shake my hand. Seated or standing, the honor was all mine. 😎 And although I had my film camera in the right pocket of my brown jacket, I didn't think it was appropriate for me to even ask for a photo. As official tabulators, we needed to be independent, although I now ask myself (and regret😥) why I didn't ask for a photo after the show. Mr. George Canseco died of cancer the next year.😭
The finals night breezed through without a hitch. The performances of the contestants were impressive, but unfortunately, only one could win. ULTRA was jam-packed with some fans even sitting on the floor in front of us. Ms. Irene, the partner-in-charge, and I were seated on the first row on the left facing the stage, and we could see everything. I was able to snap a few shots from where I sat but since it was a film camera, the resolution of the photos was bad.📷😂(Regine performing with the contestants)
As Ms. Regine Velasquez was performing with all the contestants for their final number, it was time to review the final tabulated results. I dragged Miss Irene from our front-row seats to our tabulation area to finalize our work. After the team verified and reviewed the final scores, it was time to place the winner's name in the envelope that we would hand over to Regine on stage. For other tabulation work before 'Star For A Night', I already came up with the idea of using the firm's logo-sticker to seal envelopes containing official tabulation results, which I first used for KBP's Golden Dove Awards years before.
That night, after Miss Irene and I initialed the paper containing the name "SARAH GERONIMO" and the words "GRAND CHAMPION" below it, I used the firm's logo-sticker again (which I sourced from Ms. Rocky S.) to seal the envelope and the fate of the winner. I initialed in green ink; I couldn't remember what pen Ms. Irene used though. The 'envelope' is actually a three-fold paper with a golden cover (that I sourced from everyone's favorite bookstore) that was then sealed with a sticker after folding them together. To open, one only had to break the sticker-seal and read what's written on it. No pulling out of paper anymore. It's the same type used at the Oscars now, but not the ones they made in 2003. As I was already using the three-fold envelope with sticker-seal in 2003, I guess I was way ahead of the Oscars. Or shall I say, PwC-Manila was way ahead of PwC-Los Angeles, which tabulates Oscar votes. 😆
Miss Irene and I then went back to our seats with the 'golden envelope' and waited for the cue to hand it over to Regine. The stage was not that high, and we just took a few steps from where we sat to navigate the dimly lit path. After giving it to Regine, she then turned it over to Sharon Cuneta who was already on stage with Boss Vic Del Rosario.
I had a sense from the audience that they expected Sarah Geronimo to win because she probably performed the best, superbly interpreted a tricky song, and looked like a real star on stage wearing a Rajo Laurel gown.
As Sharon was about to rip open the seal of the 'golden envelope', I watched the contestants as they sat with Regine and waited for the announcement. And since I knew whose name was in the envelope, I watched Sarah, who was seated at the rightmost side. She was motionless and quiet, not interacting with anyone, but with her head bowed. She must be praying, I thought. This was moments before she learned that her prayers were answered.🙏
When Sharon read the envelope, the whole ULTRA went crazy, and since I had a good vantage point to where the contestants' families were seated, I saw Sarah's father run to the stage to hug his daughter, forgetting to bring his wife with him. I guess the director's plan was to bring the winner's parents to the stage after the announcement as I saw the floor director chastising a stagehand for forgetting to bring both Sarah's parents to the stage. Her mother was left behind. The stagehand probably forgot to do his job from all the excitement.😝
As euphoria and cheers were filling the stadium, and as Sarah Geronimo was being celebrated onstage, we left our seats and headed to our area backstage. After about three hours, our work was finally done.😍
(Regine and the contestants eagerly awaiting the announcement. Notice Sarah G. at the rightmost side with head bowed down in prayer.)
It was now about 10PM and we needed to grab something to eat before we all headed home. 🍴
This was 20 years ago this month. She's now a huge star with millions of fans, and my Viva audit team members have all soared in their professional careers in different parts of the world; as have I, modesty aside.😎
But I wonder what happened to that 'golden envelope'. Did she save it? Had it framed? Or it got lost in the night's excitement?📩📨✉
I wish I could ask her when she comes to perform in Victorias City this weekend for my hometown's Kadalag-an Festival.
So, this was the night when Sarah Geronimo's life and fortune changed forever.👩
And I had a front-row seat (and a 'golden envelope') to that memorable night.😍
(Boss Vic, Regine, Sharon and Sarah after the announcement)
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The blurry photos above were from my film camera. I just had them cropped and filtered to try to enhance the resolution.💚
These are screenshots below, however, are from Youtube. I hope Sarah saved the 'golden envelope'.😀
#SarahGeronimo #SharonCuneta #Regine Velasquez #VivaTV #StarForANight #music