Working student from Sultan Kudarat tops reality contest

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It has been a long, winding road to Cuneta Astrodome for Laarni Lozada, the big winner of the second edition of the ABS-CBN reality talent search “Pinoy Dream Academy.”

Lozada, who hails from Sultan Kudarat, vied for the grand prize against Bugoy Drilon of Camarines Sur.

On Sunday night at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City, the 23-year-old Education student from the Philippine Women’s University was declared the show’s second Grand Star Dreamer. Last edition’s winner was Yeng Constantino.

Just like Constantino, who took an FX shuttle to get to the PDA auditions, Lozada also endured numerous trials before reaching the grand finals and winning P1 million and a house and lot.

In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer Monday, she recalled that, at a very young age, she worked in the palengke (wet market) and farm in her hometown of Isulan so that she’d have money for school.

“Sanay akong magsaka (I’m used to working in the farm). I was only in Grade Five then,” she recounted. “I have six other siblings. Life has always been hard for my family.”

At age 15, she moved to Manila to continue her studies. “Even at that young age I knew that I had to leave our province if I wanted to give a better life to my family.”

While enrolled at the PWU, she also worked part-time as wedding singer. “I also sang in a restaurant and in school functions.”

She was a regular singer for PWU’s Bayanihan Dancers. “They get me whenever they needed someone to sing kundiman (traditional Filipino love song) for their shows.”

PDA headmaster Ryan Cayabyab described Lozada’s journey as “interesting,” as colorful and melodramatic as any local telenovela.

“The last time she saw her mother was three years ago,” Cayabyab related. “She has gone through so much.”

“Laarni is very volatile,” mentor Jose Javier Reyes related. “During the early part of the contest, she kept crying. I told her that she can’t be too emotional in show biz. To her credit, she’s like a sponge. She absorbs everything we teach her. She’s a graduate of the school of hard knocks.”

Counselor Randy Dellosa said that he helped Lozada “manage her intense mood swings and sensitivity to criticism.”

“She started as a cry-baby, but by the end of the show’s three-month run, viewers saw that she’s become a fighter,” Cayabyab noted.

Lozada acknowledged that she had learned a lot from the mentors. “Apart from musical training, they also taught us how to handle ourselves, by making us interact with industry professionals like Direk Joey [Reyes] and psychologists like Dr. Randy.”

In a lot of ways, Lozada and Drilon’s stories are reminiscent of fellow provincial singing champion Nora Aunor who traveled from the railroad tracks of Naga where she sold samalamig (iced sweet drinks) to singing glory in the 1960s-1970s talent search “Tawag ng Tanghalan.”

“Both Laarni and Bugoy are basically simple people,” mentor Reyes described the top two contestants. “They represent the dreams of ordinary Filipinos. They give people hope.”

Drilon, according to Reyes, “is a simple probinsiyano. He’s a farmer’s son. He used to work as janitor in a school in Camarines Sur.”

Drilon, who’s 18 years old, told the Inquirer that he worked as janitor in the cafeteria of Unibersidad de Santa Isabel to cover his tuition as a student of Food Service and Institutional Management.

Reyes related that Drilon, who’s also a member of the church choir, practiced singing by serenading the family’s carabao Guppy.

“They’ve really changed a lot throughout the contest’s run,” Reyes said. “Bugoy told me that when he went home to Camarines Sur recently, his carabao Guppy didn’t recognize him. Susuwagin siya! (The carabao was going to attack him!)”

“Guppy now has her own baby, Gupita,” Drilon said.

Counselor Dellosa described the contestants’ 13-week stay in the Academy as a “journey of self-discovery and personal growth.”

According to Dellosa, one important lesson that the aspirants learned was coping with the pressures of competition.

As the grand finals drew near, the Top 6 contestants felt the heat, Dellosa related. “Stress built up. Tempers flared and their fierce determination to win tested the strength of friendships.”

Dellosa noted that the Top 6 generally have “the amazing capacity to be fierce competitors … and yet remain closely bonded as friends.”

In two shows over the weekend, the Top 6 finalists—Drilon, Lozada, Van Roxas of Cebu, Miguel Mendoza of Alabang, Cris Pastor of ParaƱaque and Liezel Garcia of Dubai/Puerto Galera—competed for various prizes including P1 million and a house and lot.

The big winner was determined through text votes among the network’s viewers, both local and international (through The Filipino Channel).

Pastor landed in 6th place with 36,481 text votes; Roxas in 5th with 112,065; Garcia in 4th place with 247,346; Mendoza in 3rd place with 253,412; Drilon in 2nd place with 549,760; and Lozada in the top slot with 651,696 text votes.

After the show, mentor Reyes said he got emotional when he met with the aspirants backstage.

“I cried because these kids have grown so much,” Reyes explained. “I’m proud of them.”