BEAUTY AND THE FEAST
What can Ylona Garcia bring to the table? Youth, staggering talent, quirky imagination and limitless energy. She could very well redefine stardom and success for her generation.
Ylona Garcia is a feast for the eyes and inspiration for the hungry soul. Regine Velasquez-alcasid, Bianca Aranetaelizalde, Iza Calzado and Isabelle Daza illustrate why food is so in fashion.
In the midst of a setting that is somewhere between a decadent Caravaggio bacchanalia and a Game of Thrones wedding perches Ylona Garcia, perfectly still in an intricate embellished gown. As I recalled it in my mind’s eye, the sight of it all reminded me of the immortal lines from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “She sat like patience on a monument/ Smiling at grief.” And then, without warning, she suddenly exclaims, “I feel like a lechon! Let’s just put the apple in my mouth!” When one shot is done and it’s time to change, instead of merely walking back to the hair and makeup area, she grand jetés across the studio, as ethereal as a woodland sprite. And when everyone was taking a break for dinner and her friend and hairstylist Ethan David was teasing that she could probably sing all genres except hip-hop and country, she breaks into Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” nailing that lightning staccato that has some pundits calling Nicki the best female rapper ever. Ethan joins in and it’s raucous laughter all around. There’s an electric energy, a buzz in the air, a crackle of being on the edge of magic.
One minute, an evocative Renaissance beauty, next a rapid-fire rapper, and then just as suddenly, some kind of otherworldly fairy-like being. She also knew the lyrics to pretty much every song that came on that day, whether it was a current Billboard hit, an Oasis ballad, or an ’80s dance song. She has just won Most Promising Performer at the 2017 Box Office Entertainment Awards, but wasn’t able to attend the awards night. The award itself was brought to her on the night of the shoot, and when we tease her to make a speech, she cheerfully (and rather cheekily) obliges. Contributing Fashion Director Daryl Chang pipes in, “What’s the award for?” She quips back, without missing a beat, “Don’t you know?” She’s sassy, but she’s also got enough sweetness that you don’t begrudge her the spunky comeback. Or two.
When Ylona was on Pinoy Big Brother: 737, she was christened the “Daldal Darling” from Australia, and even after just a few hours in her presence, it’s clear to see that she most certainly lives up to the moniker. And though she wasn’t the big winner of the season, she and her love-team partner, Bailey May, were immediately cast as the romantic subplot in the monster hit On the Wings of Love. She quickly got a slot on ASAP and a Star Records contract, and launched her album My Name Is Ylona Garcia late last year. She was also cast in a thriller tentatively titled Bloody Crayons that is set for release next year. Though she sings songs suited to her age, she’s already showing a depth and range that bodes well for her longevity in the business. On the day of the shoot, I had come from a studio session with some music legends, and when I mentioned that I was headed for this interview, Buddy Zabala of Eraserheads, Cambio and now Moonstar 88 nodded his head and just said, “She’s good.” Succinct phrase from a musical genius does not come easy.
But a chat with Ylona’s dad, Peter Garcia, reveals that all this recent acclaim is not new; her star began to shine from a very early age. While she was still an infant, an old lady walked up to her parents and said, “What a lovely child. She’s going to be famous one day.” Another fortune teller told them that though we are all created by God, there are some people who are chosen to carry that divine spark, to be the reminders in this world of heavenly inspiration. “Hindi nga namin naintindihan ’yun,” Pete admits, “but when she started to do shows at around age 9 and got so many offers, my wife and I remembered those two incidents.” Director Lauren Dyogi liked her first audition and insisted that she relocate from Australia and join the PBB House. “It wasn’t that easy a decision to make, but we couldn’t pass it up, and since her mom has a job in Australia, I’m the one who stays with her here. Her mom misses her so much! Even at her age, she loves to sit on her mom’s lap. Nagugulat nga ang tao!” Daddy Pete is a photographer and I ask if he ever taught his daughter to pose. “I didn’t have to! Sometimes, when I would be taking photos of her siblings, she would last-minute run in front of them. She’s really funny—makulit, but super lambing!”
THIS IS THE VOICE
It was at the Christmas concert of Coca-cola when I first heard Ylona sing live. I thought she was lip-syncing because she was really power-belting and hitting the high notes that I just couldn’t imagine were coming from the tiny and thin-limbed young girl onstage. But someone said, “No, listen well, she’s singing live!” When I tell her this story, she breaks into a wide smile and says, “I hate to lip-sync! I always think that I won’t be doing it at the right time, or that I’ll be catching up with the music, so even if I haven’t rehearsed that much or know the song so well, I would choose to still sing it live, even if it would be uncomfortable because being uncomfortable is actually good.”
Of what her whirlwind show-biz career has taught her so far, she says, “It showed me, and this is something that also surprised me when I learned it about myself, was how strong I am! Because it’s not easy, but I really love performing. I love showing parts of myself, whether it’s from pain or happiness. In fact, I can’t even say that I have a dream project, I really just want to be able to try it all and do it all.” No plan B? “All I can say for now is that I want to perform as long as I can. It’s really all I can see myself doing.” I have to ask her, since she may be 15 and already a seasoned performer since she had been doing front acts for Filipino performers who go down to Australia since age 9, but she is still so girlish: Who is your favorite Disney princess? “Tiana! I find her the underrated princess, but she’s strong and even says, ‘I don’t need a man!’ Though she still ends up with someone in the end, which is nice.” And since we are on the topic of young love, I bring up her team-up with Bailey. In the last interview she gave, Ylona talked about the parental advice that she and Bailey were both given: to take a break from seeing each other. “Well, we’re young and we do have to listen to our parents, and I’m sure we’ll find our way to each other.” So when Bailey’s name comes up, she turns quiet for a few seconds. In her eyes, I can see thoughts spinning. “The thing is, I really trust my mom. She told me that I should wait till I’m 18 [to have a boyfriend], but I think I can push that back to when I’m 21. Eighteen is only three years away and that will be so fast. I don’t want to be distracted! There’s still so much I want and have to do.” Since she’s game to discuss her thoughts on love, I press on: Do you mean you won’t even date casually ’til you’re 21? Is your definition of a boyfriend someone to just hang out with or a potential lifetime partner? “Well, I don’t really know, I guess, since I’ve never been in love or had a boyfriend before!”
OF DAYDREAMS AND TIME TRAVEL
Ylona fell in love with the shoot backdrop. “Oh my! When I saw it, it just really gave me so many feels. Like, I want to travel in time and find out, what was the Renaissance? Or what was it like to really live that way?” She also credits her steady stream of magazine shoots with pushing her fashion dreams. “Doing them has really made my style evolve. I do love seeing everything.” Because she has busy days and jam-packed schedules, I am curious about her daydreams. “I daydream about food! Oh yes, especially chicken. I love all kinds of chicken. Once, I really wanted some chicken and for some reason that I can’t remember, I couldn’t have some, and I literally cried. When I was around 5 years old, we went to LA, and everything we ate was so good that I am excited to go back.” She rattles off her cooking specialties: “Yes, I can cook. I can make adobo, sinigang— oh and instant noodles!” She is homesick for Australian pies. “I miss pies! All kinds! Meat pies, shepherd pies, and all the sweet and fruit pies. That’s something I can’t find here.”
When her specially ordered dinner arrives, I insist that she take a break and eat, and she grabs my forearms and says, “No, let’s go on, there’s a connection here!” Though there are a dozen or so conversations going on at once when she does sit down to eat, she takes a second to be quiet, make the sign of the cross and say her prayers. It’s a rare moment of silence for the Daldal Darling. “Even if she’s working the whole day, even past midnight, she is that hyper,” reveals Ethan. He has been working with Ylona since she left the PBB House and the easy banter and constant laughter between them is infectious. “Our brand of krung-krung is the same and that’s why we get along.” Quick concurrence. “I am crazy and weird,” Ylona says unabashedly. “If there is something that I would tell girls my age, I would tell them, ‘You don’t have to be perfect because nobody is perfect.’” Nobody may be perfect, but some of us sparkle just a little bit more than the rest.