Merriam-Webster defines icon as a person who is very successful and admired while Google tags it as a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something. Synonyms are idol, paragon, hero, heroine; celebrity, superstar, star; favorite, darling.
Nowhere in those plain and simple definitions stated that icons are supposed to be mature individuals who are uber successful and very well known all over the world. For me it simply means an individual whose life, ideals, personality, flair, talent or actions served as an inspiration to or elicited action or gratitude from others.
Recently, an argument arose when the official Facebook page of Miss Saigon UK tagged Rachelle Ann Go and Lea Salonga as icons who brought the house down with their duet of Movie In My Mind at the musicale’s 25th Anniversary Gala Show held last September 23 at the Prince Edward Theater. Yes, many naysayers agreed that Ms. Lea is an icon but Rachelle? NOT.
Okay. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of this argument. Rachelle has been in the business for almost eleven years, each one presenting challenges that she had successfully hurdled. Most she even had to face without much support from the very people who were supposed to take care of her. Each year she braved these challenges with much positivity, spending those difficult years improving herself as an artist and a person. She did not waste her time wallowing in self-pity but instead made sure that when that big opportunity came, she will be ready and prepared to take on the challenge and prove that she has so much more to offer than what she was allowed to show. She had paid her dues and many times dearly at that.
Hero, idol, paragon
Yes, she became a hero to so many artists who continue to struggle against an industry that had been putting too much premium on the money bag at the expense of the creative and talented. Fame was driven by how many screaming fans there were in the audience that drown out the artist’s lack of ability and justify mediocrity with popularity. Those who have honed their talent for years and have struggled to break into the industry were left to fend for themselves until they become popular enough to bring in the moolah. They had to contend with those who bring in the bucks through gimiks and praise releases, thanks to big time handlers and those holding the proverbial influential pens.
Rachelle never had it easy after winning a talent search. What made her story admirable was her staying power despite the odds. Despite the lackluster support from her handlers, she managed to beat the odds with her talent, professionalism, generosity, humility and positive take on things. Whereas weaker hearts would have thrown in the towel, she handled her career as if she was never lacking in opportunities. She treated her colleagues as if they were not competition. You’d think that her generosity with fellow artists would jeopardize her edge over them but no, she never thought of the situation as such and had therefore earned their admiration and respect in the process. And when small doors and windows began to open, she shared her blessings with others even more instead of holding on to these for her own benefit.
Now that, to me is nothing short of being a hero of the abandoned, belittled and overlooked. She stood her ground for almost a decade, refused to be sucked into the dirty politics of the business and vowed to inspire others to fight clean and never give up. If that doesn’t spell H-E-R-O or does not inspire would-be artists to idolize her as a paragon of strength, then I don’t know what will.
Celebrity, superstar, star
Overrated, some claim. Overrated is when you earn so much praises but with not much to show for it. And that surely does not apply in her case. A decade full of ups and downs, and overcoming them all point to one thing: STAYING POWER. Gold and platinum albums, critically-acclaimed concerts, shows and performances, and gutsy moves that have made her into a multi-faceted performer…I seriously doubt that you would not consider such an artist a celebrity or a star. And she even gets better as time goes by. Her almost two million Twitter followers (and counting) as well as her strong presence in social networking sites can never be undermined. Do I need to give more proof of her celebrity/star status?
Superstar…now there’s the rub, at least to those who question her worth. Naysayers will question her being considered as one. To them I ask, how many of her contemporaries have achieved what she has achieved particularly in the last couple of years when she bravely stepped into the world of theater without any formal training, taking on the lead role and got rave reviews in her debut? And after two musicales, once again put on her big girl shoes and walked into the Miss Saigon auditions armed only with guts, support from family, friends and supporters, and that critical thumbs up from no less than the Ms. Lea Salonga who believed in her right from the start?
In my book, what makes a superstar is one who never stayed in her comfort zone, wanting to do more to make full use of her God-given talents. That was what made Lea the superstar that she is right now…and what made Rachelle a superstar in her own right as she continues to do our country proud. Hers is a role that does not even get much mileage out of her awesome talent yet those few minutes on stage got the attention of the audience in a big way. That led to highly respected artists like the Blake Band (who calls her a Filipina superstar, by the way) and Scott Alan, to name a few, to take notice and showcase her in some of their endeavors. Now that is a mark of a superstar.
Oh and by the way, did I mention that she was named as one of the 15 Hottest Women in the West End? She was the only Asian who made it to the list which included big names in theater.
Ask anyone who had watched Miss Saigon and tried to meet the cast by the stage door after the show and you’d know that Rachelle is always flanked with so many people wanting to meet her. Undoubtedly she is a crowd-drawer of the show…a feat in itself again given the fact that she doesn’t really have as much exposure as the show’s other main stars. Based on media, social networks and audience feedback, her performance is awesome, leaving people wanting more of Gigi. She has successfully put her own mark on the character instead of cloning that which was originally played by Isay Alvarez-Sena. Needless to say, her poignant portrayal of an otherwise villainous role made the audience understand and even love the paradox that is Gigi van Tranh. That is what made her a darling to the people who have seen her on that West End stage…and I am not even referring to just the Filipino audience.
Come gala night, her duet with Lea reinforced the magic that she creates on stage as the two awesome artists blew away the audience. And why not? The mutual admiration and respect that these two women have for each other is not surprising at all. I am sure Lea can relate to what Rachelle went through before she found her rightful place in the business. Despite her exceptional talent and solid background and experience on stage, it was bagging the role of Kim 25 years ago that earned her the absolute nod in local showbiz. It was then that the bigwigs that control the industry took notice and opened doors for her. I see her paying forward the blessings and wisdom she acquired along the way to someone who epitomizes what she herself holds dear.
Lea and Rachelle share almost the same history. Their paths to international recognition run parallel though at different times. Yet their paths crossed as one brought the other up with her. Seeing them both on that stage that night was like watching the story of these two artists come together full circle.
So, yes, on that stage that night were TWO icons who deserved all the accolades they continue to get. Those 90,000 plus hits their duet got in Youtube in barely three days before it was pulled out and the raves it got were more than enough proof of that fact.
These two women personify grace, dignity and most of all, class. They are indeed a refreshing site in an otherwise competitive industry. One is overflowing with generosity in raising the other up, the other shyly acknowledging a mentor’s well-deserved praises. Their selflessness is what convinces me that they’ve got what ICONS are made of.
Catch a glimpse of a legendary icon and an icon of the new generation as they showcase their powerful rendition of a Miss Saigon classic duet here. Be sure to tune in to BBC Radio 2 to listen to the full performance on October 3 at 8pm.