smash hit

When we peer at Alden Richards through a cam­era—aug­mented by the fil­ters of prime­time tele­vi­sion, big brand en­dorse­ments, and sud­den, sweep­ing fame—who are we re­ally look­ing at?

Scout - - FRONT PAGE - Pho­tog­ra­phy by RALPH MEN­DOZA Styling by REX ATIENZA In­ter­view by APO ES­PAÑOLA

THERE’S A CON­CEPT in an­i­ma­tion called the “un­canny val­ley”: as a char­ac­ter in­creases in hu­man like­ness, so do the feel­ings of fa­mil­iar­ity and em­pa­thy to­wards it. Mapped out as a graph, that emo­tional re­sponse is a line on an up­ward tra­jec­tory. But the “un­canny val­ley” is the sharp dip that the line takes right be­fore the point of or­di­nary hu­man ap­pear­ance: it rep­re­sents the dis­com­fort peo­ple feel to­wards a sub­ject that ap­pears al­most—very close to, but not quite—real.

Un­canny val­ley is where I am nowa­days as a ca­sual fan of AlDub, the tele­vi­sion su­per­cou­ple and so­cial me­dia phe­nom­e­non that sprang from the Eat Bu­laga! seg­ment “Ka­lye­serye.” And un­canny val­ley is where I am es­pe­cially with re­spect to Richard R. Faulk­er­son, Jr., screen name Alden Richards, male half of AlDub.

I’m un­easy that AlDub grows ever closer to en­cap­su­lat­ing the non­com­mit­tal ir­ta­tions of mil­len­nial ro­mance. I’m un­easy that its quirks have be­gun to re ect my­self and my friends with in­creas­ing ac­cu­racy. Most of all, I’m un­easy about Alden: the more that he plays him­self on TV six days a week, the more I’m con­vinced that he is ex­pertly con­ceal­ing his true self from pub­lic scru­tiny.

So when I was told I was get­ting a one-on-one in­ter­view with Alden, I set out on a mis­sion. I had con­sid­ered mak­ing a goal of things rang­ing from the in­nocu­ous (like get­ting him to put his arm around me for a sel e) to the tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der-wor­thy (like con rm­ing the true depth of his dim­ples). But th­ese could be done quickly, with a lit­tle au­dac­ity, and a lot less in­ves­tiga­tive will than I was hop­ing to de­ploy. No, my mis­sion was go­ing to take full ad­van­tage of the fact that I was go­ing to be within his or­bit for one full morn­ing.

Hence, on the day of the in­ter­view, I ar­rived on set de­ter­mined to solve the puz­zle that was Alden Richards.

Ka­lye­serye is a les­son in genre-bend­ing. I’ve been watch­ing it for months, and I still don’t know how to ex­plain it. Even Alden him­self is loath to call it just one thing—in his words, “It’s a lit­tle act­ing, a lit­tle im­pro­vi­sa­tion, a lit­tle re­al­ity.” He re­veals that “Ka­lye­serye” is largely un­scripted: the cast re­ceives a gen­eral idea of the day’s sto­ry­line and ll the episode with their own im­pro­vi­sa­tions (though, Alden ad­mits with a grin, “I search for pick-up lines”). Aside from that, he says, “Just be ready for spon­ta­neous changes and [the] spon­ta­neous ac­tions of oth­ers.”

“It’s just the magic of Ka­lye­serye,” he adds. “It has never been done, and when we do it, it’s like we’re just play­ing.”

True to tele­serye form, Ka­lye­serye is in­deed rife with drama, pas­sion, con­vo­luted sto­ry­lines, and moral lessons. It is also full of spur-of-the­mo­ment com­edy, thanks to the tal­ents of Wally Bay­ola, Jose Man­alo, and Paolo Balles­teros as three el­derly sis­ters. And, most of all, it heav­ily fea­tures the will-they-or-won’t-they ro­mance be­tween Alden and “Yaya Dub,” played by Maine Men­doza.

Reel or real? There’s the rub. On the July 16, 2015 show, Maine broke char­ac­ter and be­came vis­i­bly us­tered by Alden’s hand­some mug on the split-screen, be­cause who wouldn’t? The rest of the Eat Bu­laga hosts caught on, teas­ing Alden and Maine, and as view­ers felt the sec­ond­hand kilig, AlDub was born.

But what has tan­talized au­di­ences more than any­thing is the pos­si­bil­ity of the love team’s af­fec­tions be­ing more than just for show: over time, Alden has dropped the pre­tense of talk­ing to “Yaya Dub” and now prefers to call Maine by name. Their fel­low hosts joke about the cou­ple’s grow­ing close­ness on and off-cam­era. Can­did pho­tos of them to­gether are shared on­line hun­dreds of thou­sands of times. Ar­dent fans in­sist that Maine and Alden are keep­ing a blos­som­ing ro­mance un­der wraps.

I guess it can be said that I’m only one of mil­lions sud­denly in­ter­ested in the pri­vate lives of AlDub: if there is an on­screen Alden and an off­screen Alden, I’m de­ter­mined to nally tell the dif­fer­ence.

Pic­ture the pan­theon of Philip­pine celebrity love teams. Among oth­ers: Clau­dine and Rico. Jolina and Marvin. Judy Ann and Wowie. An­toinette and Ding­dong. Kris­tine and Jeri­cho. Bea and John Lloyd. And some­day—I’m call­ing it—Maine and Alden. AlDub is the 2010s’ an­swer to love teams past, and is a nat­u­ral de­vel­op­ment in the his­tory of the Pi­noy love team. It ex­hibits the nineties’ cheesi­ness and G-rated co­quetry, along with the real-life mys­tique and in­trigue of the aughts, but ltered through this decade’s cul­tural cor­ner­stone: so­cial me­dia. The vol­ume and tenac­ity of the AlDub fan­base is a thing to be­hold—last year, at the peak of Ka­lye­serye, mil­lions of fans broke Twit­ter records on a daily ba­sis.

Alden is well aware of the sea change that so­cial me­dia has brought to his life as a celebrity. “It made the world even smaller,” he says. With a smaller world comes greater op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­spire: he nar­rates an en­counter with a 60-year-old widow liv­ing in Or­ange County, Cal­i­for­nia, who be­came a fan of Ka­lye­serye af­ter mourn­ing her hus­band’s death. “I didn’t know the story yet, then I met her. She was shak­ing, stut­ter­ing… she didn’t know what she was go­ing to say to me.” Alden muses, “It’s re­ally lifechang­ing for me to be an in­spi­ra­tion to peo­ple, to change their lives, make them feel not alone, make them feel happy.”

But he knows, too, that there’s no pleas­ing ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially not on the In­ter­net. “They al­ways have some­thing to say,” he says, “and at the end of the day, it’s up to us [whether] we’ll get af­fected by that. But with me, I’ve learned how to not lis­ten and to not pay at­ten­tion to it. You’ll go crazy with the bash­ers.”

Yet Alden’s In­ter­net per­sona is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, the sum of what­ever he de­cides to share in 140 char­ac­ters. To­day, I’ve de­cided to push my luck by un­cov­er­ing a lit­tle more. Af­ter nar­rat­ing the emo­tional en­counter with the widow, I at­tempt to probe, ask­ing, Do you con­sider your­self an emo­tional guy?

“I am emo­tional,” he agrees quickly. “What you see is what you get… I mean, what­ever Alden is, what­ever you see on Eat Bu­laga!, that’s me.”

So you’re not wor­ried, I ask, that peo­ple will con­fuse the Alden you’re por­tray­ing on­screen as you are in real life?

He shrugs. “It’s re­ally up to them. They de­cide. They will be the judge of that. I will not tell them what to be­lieve, be­cause I do the things I do be­cause I like to do them. So if I’m gonna be judged in a neg­a­tive or pos­i­tive way do­ing that, it’s up to them. I will not tell them what to think.”

Laugh­ing, he adds, “Judge me.”

It’s dif cult to put a verb to how the AlDub phe­nom­e­non found its way into head­lines, hash­tags, and house­holds in 2015. I could say it ex­ploded, which im­plies the in­stan­ta­neous­ness of a dropped bomb, but it was ac­tu­ally a lit­tle more grad­ual than that.

Alden would know just how grad­ual. He did, af­ter all, ar­rive on the scene as a GMA tal­ent way back in 2010, and saw mod­er­ate suc­cess, with such high­lights as the teenage se­ries Tween Hearts and the prime­time soap

Carmela (co-star­ring no less than Mar­ian Rivera, the net­work’s big­gest star). AlDub, then, though seem­ingly sud­den, was ac­tu­ally a break­through long due for him, and it nally cat­a­pulted him into MMFF lm, EDSA bill­board, McDon­ald’s ad-level ubiq­uity.

Even with a hot­ter spot­light on him, how­ever, Alden’s boy-next-door im­age has re­mained mostly un­changed over the years. Sit­ting across from him in his make-up chair, I sin­cerely won­der how much of it has to do with his youth­ful ap­pear­ance: he is all soft fea­tures and gen­tle round­ness, hand­some the way your rst crush in col­lege was be­fore col­lege tough­ened him up. (Alden is 24.) There is also an ir­re­sistible mis­chief about him: he talks about be­ing roughly han­dled dur­ing fan en­coun­ters, and jok­ingly, I ven­ture, Is Alden Richards ready to get hurt? “Dou­ble mean­ing?” he grins, adding, “Of course. Al­ways ready.” There’s a greater self-dis­ci­pline cen­ter­ing Alden, who waited pa­tiently for his big break, found suc­cess in spades, and yet, is aware of how eet­ing it all might be. Now, Alden and Maine’s in­ter­ac­tions on Eat Bu­laga have gone from the heady thrills of the chase to the re­laxed ban­ter of two peo­ple cer­tain in each other (though from where that cer­tainty ows, we can still only guess).

In re­sponse, the na­tion seems to be sweat­ing out its col­lec­tive AlDub fever. In a Jan­uary 15, 2016 piece in In­quirer.net, mar­ket­ing ex­pert Josiah Go an­a­lyzed AlDub’s wan­ing view­er­ship, cit­ing data from Kan­tar Me­dia:

ALDEN RICHARDS

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