MANILA, Philippines - It?s a late Saturday night and Studio 2 of ABS-CBN is a beehive of activity.
A TV producer barks orders while assistants scurry about like they just had their third cup of coffee. A floor director cracks jokes as he signals the audience to move down a few steps down. A musical director in a bright yellow suit explains something to his band members as they fiddle with their instruments.
?Buboy, energy please,? says the director.
Buboy is Cesar Montano and he?s hosting, for the first time, a musical game show that will test contestants? ability to recall a song?s lyrics. The show, ?Singing Bee,? is a franchise whose American version is hosted by former N?Sync member Joey Fatone.
The show?s producer clarifies that this is different from a rival network?s own sing-the-correct-lyrics music contest. This new show has, aside from a live band, four elimination rounds: ?To Be Continued? which will ask contestants to fill in a word of a particular line in a song; ?Jumble Bee,? in which a song?s title is mixed up on a video screen; ?Showdown,? and ?Final Countdown? which will have the finalists filling in longer blanks in a song.
The show, which premieres April 19 and runs five nights a week, will have six contestants, two of them celebrities, vying for the chance to win P1 million.
It?s the first night of rehearsals and Cesar is practicing his spiels like he?s learning a new song. He?s trying to contain his excitement, but anxiety and a bit of tension show as he runs through his lines.
?Excited ako, kasi music e, kantahan. At hindi naman ako ang kakanta so ayos ?to,? Cesar says during a break, inside his dressing room.
The 45-year-old actor, director and sometime singer (he recorded the album ?Subok Lang? in 2001 which reportedly went platinum) gamely talks about his first brush with music, a circumstance that would play a significant role in his life.
?I was 10 when my mother gifted me with a guitar for my birthday,? he recounts. ?Self-taught ako, dahil halos lahat ng barkada marunong mag-gitara, maiinggit ka. Pag nagtipon-tipon na ?yan, kantahan na sa kanto.?
The street corner was not far from where Cesar lived on Havana in Sta. Ana, Manila. It was a short distance from Plaza Hugo, where all his friends would congregate especially during school breaks.
The first song he learned to play on the guitar was Loggins and Messina?s ?Danny?s Song.? The rest, he says, were similar classics in the folk-rock-country vein. ?Mga kanta nina Jim Croce, John Denver, Cat Stevens, America, James Taylor and of course, the Beatles.?
By the time he graduated from high school in 1980, Cesar says he had learned enough songs for him to try his luck as a folk singer.
?Sinubukan ko lang, natanggap naman, pumuwesto ko sa Shakey?s San Marcelino near Adamson and St. Theresa?s. Ganado ?kong kumanta kasi maraming inspirasyon,? he laughs. The gigs, which lasted for a year, earned him P50 a night with free beer and meals.
Cesar is in his element as he recalls the songs of his youth. ??Father and Son? ni Cat Stevens. Yung mensahe sa anak, take it easy, huwag mong madaliin ang pag-aasawa, mag-enjoy ka muna, talagang totoo, tama.
On a recent trip to Bohol, Cesar was riding his mountain bike, listening to his iPod, when an Elton John song came on. He sings the lyrics, ?So goodbye yellow brick road/Where the dogs of society howl??
It brought back fond memories. He says he was in grade 6 at Sta. Ana Elementary School and hanging out at Plaza Hugo, admiring a Christmas art installation by another resident, the sculptor Ed Castrillo. ?Gumawa siya ng belen na kasing taas ng puno. Wala munang basketball sa plaza, ang mga bata naglalaro sa gitna tapos may belen du?n. May nililigawan ako nu?n, si Salti. Exaltacion kasi ang full name. Paborito ko yung ?Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? tapos, isipin mo, may isang first year high school student na taga-roon, ginitara yung kanta, napalingon ako??
But his all-time favorite is Carole King?s ?You?ve Got a Friend.?
?Nowadays it?s hard to look for a real friend ... sad to say, minsan hindi mo pa nakikita yung kaibigan na hinahanap mo sa partner mo sa buhay. I?m not saying it?s happening to me; I just hear stories. If you find it in your spouse, napakaswerte mong tao na meron kang kakampi. Pag mali ka, ipagtatanggol ka niya sa harap ng ibang tao. Pero pag dalawa na lang kayo, sasabihin sa yo, ?Pare, mali ka.? That?s a real friend.?
Cesar goes on and on and is obviously having a nice time, when a production staffer knocks on the door. It?s time to tape the maiden episode of ?Singing Bee.?
On the set, a group of dancers is referred to as The Honey Bees. The band is called Band-Bol-Bee. ABS-CBN president Charo Santos-Concio pops up to have a look-see.
Just before the cue, Cesar takes a deep breath and quips, ?Let?s rock ?n? roll!?