Teen Singer Charice, Already a Hit with Oprah, Tries to Win Over Her Peers
Charice has already won over the mom market.
The teen wunderkind from the Philippines has been wowing audiences with her big voice and Celine Dion covers on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and other shows for the last two years. This week, she appeared on Winfrey's show for the fourth time.
But as she releases her self-titled debut album this week, Charice finds herself with a serious challenge as she tries to translate her success with an adult audience to her peers.
"I've been singing big songs, and this is the actually the first time they are going to hear me sing Justin Bieber-type of songs, Miley Cyrus-type of songs," the 18-year-old said recently in her heavily accented English. "I'm just excited for all the teenagers to hear my album."
Had Charice come along around the era of Dion or Whitney Houston, two of her idols, it would have been easier to make that move. Back then, big-ballad singers with towering voices dominated pop radio.
These days, it's the grooves behind the big voice that matter.
David Foster, the Grammy-winning mentor behind Charice, probably knows that better than anyone. A legendary producer who has made hits for Houston, Dion, Barbra Streisand, Toni Braxton and dozens of other top names, Foster understands his sound isn't what makes hits on pop radio anymore (though he still makes hits - he's the producer behind multiplatinum stars Josh Groban and Michael Buble).
"I knew if I produced the album, it would be adult-oriented. It would skew older. It would be maybe a quick, easy sale, but ultimately, it's very, very hard to skew younger after you start older, so we made a conscious decision to skew young first," he said. "I don't want to say that we crumbled under the pressure of having to go youthful, but I think we hit it square on."
Though Foster and his sister Jaymes are the album's executive producers, they left most of the music-making to younger writers and producers like Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, whose hits include Beyonce's "Halo" and Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love."
The album's first single is "Pyramid," featuring singer Iyaz.
"I just thought like, teenagers are falling in love ... they love this very catchy and very romantic words from all these young artists," Charice said. "That's why I thought that this album ... they are gonna love it, all the lyrics, all the melody and all the music."
So far, "Pyramid" is No. 2 on the dance charts, but it hasn't yet translated to pop radio. Foster is aware of the challenge it takes to make a hit, but he thinks Charice has a lot to add to the scene.
"There is a lack of organic music right now, and it's fine - it's just the phase that we're in," he explains. "I think there is room for some more musicality."
There's no denying Charice has that. During a recent interview, the diminutive singer belted out "Pyramid" on request, performed a stirring rendition of Houston's "I Will Always Love You" for an audience of four, then continued to sing - even on her way out the door.
Singing has consumed Charice - born Charmaine Clarice Relucio Pempengco - since she was a child growing up in the Philippines. Raised with her brother by a single mother, she sang in local contests and appeared on TV talent shows in the Philippines and in South Korea.
Fans posted clips of her on YouTube, and she became a sensation. Soon, she was invited to sing on "Ellen," then on "Oprah Winfrey," and linked up with Foster.
So far, her rise has unfolded like a fairy tale. But Charice knows there are hurdles, like trying to capture U.S. audiences.
"It's really, really hard ... there's a lot of great pop stars here. ... They're all talented," she said. "I don't know if Americans are going to love me because I'm from other country."
But Foster said it's only a matter of time before there's an Asian superstar in the U.S., and he believes Charice might be the one.
"Being a great singer is not enough, and she has the entire package," he said.
He adds: "She's a little bit like Michael Jackson in the head ... Michael Jackson was very soft-spoken and quiet and all that, but he was genius inside his head. He knew exactly where he was going, and she truly is the master of her own destiny."