Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why I'm Happy Rose Won X-Factor Israel!

Rose Fostanes, the Filipino Caregiver (kind work for the "help") won X-Factor Israel.  I stumbled onto her presence via You-Tube, while I was watching other Filipinos singing in competitions all over the world--from American Idol to the British version of the Voice to Australia's Got Talent. 

Why?  Yes, I enjoy seeing other Filipinos express their talent on the world stage; yes, I love a good song by a great voice; yes, I love seeing people go for their dreams.  Especially underdogs like Paul Potts, the opera singer on Britain's Got Talent.

In the 1980s, when I was a college student, I spent a summer in the Philippines.  Like many young people, I spent a lot of time in bars and inhaled an obscene amount of San Miguel beer.  In those bars, there was a lot of live music.  With all of that music, there were a slew of singers who blew the roofs away.  I heard singer after singer who sounded just as good, if not better, than the singers I heard in the United States. 

I still get emotional when I hear the song "Honky Tonk Woman," remembering a large Filipina in a Manila bar rock the joint like I'd never seen a joint get rocked before.  I had a blast.  In the back of my mind though, I thought it a pity that these amazing voices would never be known outside of the Philippines. 

Rose Fostanes is such a voice.  So was Arnel Pineda or Charice--singers who were discovered because of the wonders of You-Tube (helped along with Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah highlighting them on their shows). 

I enjoyed that Summer in college where I visited the Philippines, where I was born.  I thought of all of those grand voices who would never be heard, and I know it colored my world view, my creative endeavors. 

I logged onto You-Tube occasionally to see how Rose was doing on X-Factor Israel.  I thought she was the best voice on the show, but the best doesn't always win (think of Adam Lambert or Jessica Sanchez on American Idol).  She was a foreigner in Israel.  At 47, she was singing against people half her age.  At 4'11'' she was the shortest person on stage (and looked miniscule standing next to host and supermodel Bar Rafaeli).  She was not svelte.  She was the only singer who didn't sing at least one song in Hebrew.  Later, she came out as a lesbian.  In another setting, Rose may have been the maid to any one of the judges or contestants on the show.  (There are roughly 20,000 - 30,000 Filipinos working as domestics in Israel--and a lot more working in the Middle East)

With all of these things going for her (or against her), I thought she would do well, but not win.  After all, Rose was competing against home grown talent: a charming boy band, a cute young guy who sang Hebrew ballads, and a lovely pop singer with a dazzling smile. 

Then my facebook newsfeed went afire with the announcement of her win.  I checked at least two news outlets to make sure this was true.  I was happy for her, truly happy.  I know the Philippines, a country that has been suffering from a spate of bad news (a devastating typhoon, pork barrel scams by local politicians, a brewing altercation with China) made her win a win for many Filipinos struggling to get by. 

Her unknown voice became heard.    The Underdog won.  Who can't appreciate that?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books

I was thrilled to be asked to write a review for Los Angeles Review of Books.  It can be exciting and scary writing a review.  I'm asked to bring my best critical thinking skills--which is good!  However, sometimes a book can be a real stinker--which is bad.  Fortunately, that was not the experience reviewing Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.

From the review:

Fortunately, Levithan did not write a mere “It Gets Better” novel. Thank Gawd! “It Gets Better,” a ubiquitous phrase to discourage gay youth from committing suicide, was uttered by every LGBT ally, including President Obama. It was a pat message telling young queers to hold-on-and-things-will-look-up. What was missing in the messaging was this: it only gets better if we make it so. This kiss in Levithan’s novel is a defiant act, one that has actual strength.

The Power of a (Gay) Kiss
The full review can be found here.