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?
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: