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Sam Mangubat, Pauline Agupitan: How the Batangueños Fared in the 2017 It’s Showtime’s Tawag ng Tanghalan

In the end, when Noven Belleza, the farmer from Negros Occidental, was announced as the winner of the 2017 It’s Showtime Tawag ng Tanghalan, it was impossible to begrudge him the title. His medley of anthemic Air Supply songs in the second round of today’s finals at the Resorts World Hotel was a game-changer and, ultimately, a game-winner.

Sam Mangubat of Santo Tomas in Batangas, eventual runner-up to Belleza, arguably outperformed Belleza in both rounds. The young Batangueño has the edge in the visual department and is blessed with almost elfin good looks. Moreover, he can not only sing but also strut comfortably across the stage, making him the overall better performer.

Where he could have done better was in his choice of songs, something that Simon Cowell could not stop insisting on in the American Idol competitions of old. Mangubat made no secret of the fact that he was targeting millennials, and so chose a Bruno Mars medley. Perhaps, this was where Belleza ultimately outsmarted him.

True, millennials are so much more in tune with technology than older generations. On the other hand, what percentage of the public actually willing to vote in the competition belongs to the age group? In contrast, Belleza’s choice of Air Supply standards would have reached out to more age-groups and, therefore, a wider audience.

That Belleza sang the medley almost as though it was Russel Hitchcock himself in the auditorium was probably the overriding reason for his victory. Even I sat up from the sofa in total admiration. And if the reaction of the judges was any indication, the long commercial break notwithstanding, there was always going to be just one winner of the competition.

On the other hand, long term, perhaps Mangubat’s strategy of targeting the millennial market niche may eventually serve him in good stead. In the same breath, perhaps Belleza sounding too much like Hitchcock’s clone may also be his ultimate undoing. The music industry has always been particular about artists being different, so there may be limited value to sounding like an already popular singer. Opportunities that come similar to that of Arnel Pineda with Journey are really more the exception rather than the rule.

Meanwhile, Pauline Agupitan of Lodlod, a barangay here in Lipa, was arguably the best singer among today’s six finalists. That she was outvoted and failed to make it to the final Round of 3 was down to the competition’s format. My own personal guess is that she would have won hands down in the Tawag ng Tanghalan of old, when a voting public was not a factor in winning the competition.

Since I am an It’s Showtime regular, I knew about Agupitan before today. Back when she first joined, the vocal range was already outstanding, albeit in the early days she seemed much too dependent on it and often shouted out rather than sang lyrics.

In time, though, she learned the more subtle side to singing and how to be more selective in raising the decibels. What has always struck me about this young lady from Lipa is how effortless she can be with the high notes.

Today, she was outstanding! Despite being the first of the six finalists to sing, and despite some wobbles early on, her soulful performance brought the judges to their feet. I was reminded of the legendary Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. She was that good!

Noven Belleza may have brought home the two million peso prize, but I rather suspect that Batangueños Sam Mangubat and Pauline Agupitan will ultimately have better singing careers. That Batangas had two finalists among the six, and one ended up almost winning, this makes me very proud indeed.

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