Kiray’s bedroom on the third floor is a scene straight from Bikini Bottom, the fictional undersea town where Spongebob Squarepants lives. The bright yellow sponge is Kiray’s favorite cartoon character— even if, the comedienne admits, she hasn’t actually watched the eponymous animated show. “Paborito ko lang ’yong mukha niya, pero naa-annoy ako sa boses niya. Nakakairita!”
Nearly everything in the room is customized, starting from the hand-painted walls to the themed furniture. Shown here are Kiray’s bed and cabinet, gifts from two very special people in her life—her “Nanay” Maricel Soriano and “Tatay” Ogie Diaz.
Ask anyone in Punta, Santa Ana, Manila, where the actress Kiray Celis lives, and they will probably lead you to the right place: a bright yellow, four-story abode, only accessible through a narrow alleyway. At the gate, a piece of paper confirms that it is, indeed, the Celis Residence.
Unlike other celebrities, Kiray does not mind other people knowing her address. The 22-year-old comedienne and her family have lived in Punta for all of their lives, and on the day of our visit, the gate is ajar.
We are welcomed into the home by Kiray’s Mama Meriam, a fit woman with cropped hair and a love for Zumba dancing. We pass by the kitchen, where Kiray’s Papa Jonathan is preparing a big lunch of siomai and other scrumptious ulam. He’s a talented cook, says Mama Meriam, and it’s proven a half-hour later, when lunchtime comes around.
Within a few minutes, Kiray descends from the third floor, where her bedroom is located. Dressed in simple T-shirt and shorts, she greets the entire team warmly and joins us on the expansive sofa set, putting her feet up to make herself comfortable. This is, after all, her own home—not a rented apartment, but a home that is truly hers, one she bought with her own money. Before this, she and her family lived in a small place with only one bedroom. Now, they live in a house with five.
“Hindi namin akalain na ganito siya kalaki para sa family namin, na tig-iisa kaming kuwarto,” the actress-comedienne says as she looks around the living room. “Ang gusto lang kasi namin, sariling bahay. Pero more than ’yon ang ’binigay sa amin. This is too much for us actually.”
Not that it’s a bad thing. During our interview, Kiray appears relaxed, content—and happy, proudly and openly happy. And why wouldn’t she be? At age 22, she has built a spacious home for her family. For an actress who has been working since the age of three, that’s certainly something to be happy about.
Before she was known as Kiray, the young girl from Punta was known as Johanna—a name patterned after the names of her Papa Jonathan and her elder siblings Johanes and Jayson (who now goes by the name Jhopay). A younger brother, named Joemir, followed eight years later.
Because money was tight, the young family all slept in one tiny room, with barely enough space for a couple and several kids. But living in close proximity to each other made the family tightknit—to the point that they couldn’t bear to be away from each other for more than a few days. In fact, that was the reason why Johanna, then three years old, wanted to go on television—particularly, on the now- defunct noontime show Magandang Tanghali Bayan ( MTB).
“Wala akong pangarap mag-artista,” the comedienne explains. “Pangarap ko no’n, makabayad kami ng upa. At saka makabili kami ng bahay. Kasi pumunta no’n ng ibang bansa ang papa ko. Kasi sa sobrang close na naming family, hindi namin kayang maghiwa-hiwalay. Hindi namin kayang malayo. Si Papa ’yong kusang umuwi dito, kasi nga hindi na niya kaya.”
At the time, MTB had a segment called “Munting Miss U,” a pageant for girls aged five and above. Johanna, described by her Mama Meriam as “maliit” and “madaldal,” wanted badly to get on the show. So mom and daughter went all the way from Punta to ABS- CBN in Quezon City, where they joined a sea of other auditionees.
Though Mama Meriam believed in her daughter, her hopes began to sink as she watched other auditionees getting rejected one by one. But faced with a long commute home, she decided to stay on. She banked on her toddler’s charisma and sent Kiray to the stage.
Kiray remembers that fateful audition clearly: “Ang alam ko lang no’n, kumanta. Kasi naririnig ko ang kinakanta ng mga lasinggero sa tabi namin. ’Tapos, nakakabisado ko siya agad-agad. ’Tapos,
no’ng nag‑audition ako, hindi pa ’ko ’pinasa agad kasi three years old lang ako.”
But what Kiray lacked in age, the young Johanna made up for in uniqueness. The toddler got the judges’ attention with her performances of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Sixties hits, “Quando, Quando, Quando” (the English version of an Italian pop song in the bossa nova style) and “Love Me with All of Your Heart,” songs she had learned from her lasinggero neighbors.
Her repertoire surprised the judges— but in a welcome way. “Nagulat sila na parang, ‘Bakit gano’n ’yong kinakanta niya?’” Kiray recalls. “’Tapos, parang sabi no’ng ibang staff, ‘Sige, ipasok mo na ’yan, mukhang bibo siya,’ ganyan, ganyan.”
The bibong bata’s entertaining talent brought her all the way to the “Munting Miss U” grand finals. But she fell short of the crown when she threw a tantrum and refused to answer during the questionand-answer portion of the program.
Winner or not, the young singer had made her mark on the viewing public— and the MTB cast. She became a regular on the noontime show, and was also in the cast of Pera o Bayong (Not da TV), the movie based on MTB’s most popular segment, “Pera o Bayong.” She was also given a nickname: Kiray. Because of her popularity, the young Kiray was also given roles in Wansapanataym, the fantasy anthology for children. But unlike singing, which came naturally to her, acting was no easy task.
“Ang bobo kong umarte, hindi ako marunong,” Kiray laughs. “Kanta lang talaga ’yong alam ko. Kaya parang hindi rin talaga nagtuloy ’yong career ko no’ng bagets.”
At that point, the young girl focused on her studies at St. Paul College of Makati, a private Catholic school. Kiray’s tuition was paid for by a nun who had seen her on MTB.
“Pinaaral ako ng madre hanggang Grade 4,” Kiray says. “Hanggang sa na‑stop ako, kasi namatay siya. Pero bago ako makalipat ng school, bago ako makaalis ng St. Paul, may tumawag kay Mama. Gusto daw akong makita ni Direk Bobot, go-see para sa Goin’ Bulilit.”
By then, Kiray was 10 years old, far from the tiny toddler who once made the nation laugh with her hysterical, tiny-voiced renditions of jukebox hits. But at the go- see, Direk Edgar “Bobot” Mortiz only had to take one look at Kiray to come to a decision. “Walang ’pinagawa sa akin,” the actress recalls. “Pasok ako kaagad.”
Kiray was soon joined by other kid stars, including Julia Montes, Kathryn Bernardo, Nash Aguas, Sharlene San Pedro, and Miles Ocampo. Later, their group would be called Goin’ Bulilit Batch 1, the pioneers of a comedy show with a novel twist: almost all the cast members would be kids.
Bulilit Kiray didn’t know it then, but she had just reached a defining moment in her showbiz career. The future was bright for the charismatic young girl.
For four years, Kiray was a mainstay in Goin’ Bulilit, the kiddie comedy show that was by then considered a launchpad for young talents. The funny girl graduated from the show in 2009, and with her graduation came a realization— that she could act, after all.
In 2010, Kiray was cast in ABS- CBN’s remake of Mara Clara, which brought young actresses Kathryn Bernardo and Julia Montes to the fore. The show was a big hit. As Kathryn and Julia rose to stardom, Kiray proved herself a worthy actress, capable of roles that veered away from her former image as a comedienne.
In the years that followed, Kiray became a familiar face on television, playing nuanced roles in the teenage shows Growing Up and Luv U. She also tackled parts in the anthologies Maalaala Mo Kaya and Wansapanataym. The teen built a career upon a steady string of supporting roles, which allowed her to support her family. She felt blessed. But never in her wildest dreams did she think that she would soon become what every artista craves to be: a bida.
The year was 2015. Kiray was supposed to star in The Prenup, starring Jennylyn Mercado and Sam Milby.
“Sobrang saya ko, kasi sobrang crush ko talaga si Kuya Sam, sobrang crush ko,” she recalls. “Biglang all of a sudden, nag‑text sila sa akin na hindi na raw ako matutuloy. Ililipat daw ako sa kabilang movie.
“Sabi ko, ‘Bakit? Gusto ko nga si Sam.’ Sabi nila, ‘Hindi, mas maganda ’tong mapupuntahan mo, promise.’
“Then I realized na parang akala mo, kaya ka hindi natuloy kay Sam is malas ka na or parang hindi nakatakda, may mas maganda palang darating para sa ’yo— which is, ’yon nga, ’yong Love Is Blind.”
The romantic comedy Love Is Blind, a Regal film written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana, marked Kiray’s first-ever lead role in a film, with not only one but two leading men: Derek Ramsay Spongebob is not the only cartoon character Kiray loves. She also has an affection for Stitch, a mischievous blue alien and one of the lead characters in the 2002 Disney animated film Lilo & Stitch.
“Si Stitch, pinapanood ko na dati pa, no’ng bata pa ’ko,” Kiray says. “Favorite ko rin si Stitch, pero mas mahal ko si Spongebob. At saka, kung ipintura mo kasi si Stitch, napakahirap siguro no’n.” and Kean Cipriano. Kiray played Fe, a woman who gives a love potion to the man of her dreams, only to find that she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places.
It was a story written especially for Kiray, whose comedic interpretations of lovesick women had become a hit with audiences. But even when she had the script of Love Is Blind in her hands, she couldn’t believe that she had been entrusted with a lead role.
“Kasi buong movie, akin talaga. Kuwento ko pa. Tinanong ko sila, ‘Sigurado po ba talaga kayo?’”
Though the pressure was on, Kiray didn’t allow herself to feel it. The young actress carried on as usual, tackling the role as she would tackle any other. Her mindset at the time was “just go with the flow.”
“Kasi hindi ko magagawa nang maayos ’yong trabaho ko kung tatakutin ko ’yong sarili ko,” she explains.
The only things she prepared for were her kissing scenes with her two leading men, who also happened to be older than her. Kiray, a self-proclaimed “dalagang Pilipina,” felt so nervous to the point that she was shaking during the shooting. Then 19, she had only done one kissing scene before, and that was with Arjo Atayde, who was in the same age group as she was. Kissing one of her kuyas proved a challenge.
“Oh my God, hindi pa ako ready,” she recalls telling herself on the day they shot the kissing scenes.
“Awkward, lalo na paulit-ulit. Kasi, pag movie, ang daming anggulo. Sabi ko, ‘Diyos ko, Lord, ano ba ’to?’ Kahit parang paghandaan ko, pag may nakikita na akong lumalapit na mukha sa mukha ko, parang hindi ko na kaya... ‘Direk…’”
The actress now laughs at the memory. She adds: “Hindi ako nandidiri, but in a way, nagmumukha akong diri, kasi nga ninenerbiyos ako.”
It was also during this time that the girl who always wanted to be a bida realized that being a lead star was not as fun as she thought it would be.
“Nakakatuwa maging bida, pero lahat ng pressure, nando’n na, e. Pag hindi kumita, pag walang nanood, lahat ng pagod… Alam mo ’yong tapos na sila, packed up na ’yong mga kasama mo— ikaw, lahat pa ng eksena nasa sa ’yo? Nakakapagod, grabe.
“My God, ganito pala ’yong feeling ng bida. Mas masaya pa rin ’yong hindi. Mas mabilis, mas hindi pagod. At saka ’yong bida, sila talaga ’yong kailangang mag-promote nang mag-promote no’ng pelikula, e, ng show. Pero pag kasama ka lang, pag part ka lang, kahit hindi ka pumunta. Hindi ka naman hahanapin.”
And yet, Kiray persevered. She put in the hard work and the long hours, and psyched herself for her two kissing scenes with her hunky co-stars. It all paid off when Love Is Blind opened in theaters in 2016—and became a box-office hit. Suddenly, Kiray understood how good it felt to be a lead actress.
“Ang saya namin no’n. Lalo na ako, kasi ang pangit sa pakiramdam na may flopey ka na movie, na hindi kumita. At least ’yon, akin. I owned it. I claimed it.
Naging successful talaga siya.”
The film’s success was so great that Kiray was immediately offered another lead role, this time in I Love You to Death, a horror-comedy where she would be paired with Enchong Dee. Of all her leading men, Kiray notes that Enchong was the one who is “grabe humalik.” Their film enjoyed moderate success, in spite of the fact that pirated copies started circulating online, only a short while after it was released in theaters.
Still, it was a wonderful year for Kiray, who never dreamt that she could become a bida in two full flicks within the same year.
“Taon ko ’yon,” she says of 2016. “Kasi, sa tagal-tagal kong artista, sabi nga nila, ngayon lang dumating ’yong pinapangarap ng lahat ng artista—maging bida, maging unang pangalan sa poster, ’yong pinakamalaking mukha sa poster. Alam mo ’yon?”
Since 2016, Kiray has been blessed with an unending list of projects, which has allowed her to build her brand-new home in Punta. For the past two years, she has used her talent fee to purchase construction materials. And now that the house is up, the hardworking actress can finally sit back, relax, and indulge in a few luxuries just for herself.
“Mahilig kasi ako sa damit, e,” the actress openly admits. “Sobrang hilig ko sa damit, which is bagay naman kasi sa trabaho ko.”
But more than having a sizable wardrobe, Kiray revels in the fact that she can finally spend her money on whatever she wants. Before, she would turn over all her earnings to Mama Meriam, who manages the family’s finances. Though most of Kiray’s earnings still go to supporting her family, the actress now maintains a savings account of her own.
“Alam mo, ang sarap nga sa pakiramdam na hindi na ’ko nagpapaalam na ‘Ma, puwede ba akong bumili ng ganito?’ Kasi may pera na ’ko, e. Ang sarap sa feeling
na you can do whatever you want, you can go sa mga gusto mong pupuntahan, ganyan. You can buy anything.”
And there’s one more thing she can do, now that she has built a home for her folks: have a boyfriend.
“Sinabi sa akin ni Mommy noon na ‘Hindi ka muna puwedeng mag-boyfriend, bili ka muna ng bahay.’ Kasi takot sina Mama na parang pag nag-boyfriend ka, magbubuntis ka kaagad.
“Sabi ko, ‘Sige, promise, pag nakabili ako ng bahay…’ Wala naman akong balak mag-boyfriend, though. ’ Tapos, no’ng nagkabahay na, I met someone na parang hindi ko naman in-expect na gusto kong mag-boyfriend, pero parang meron.”
There’s a hint of kilig in the actress’s voice as she talks about that “someone,” a 23-year-old businessman who she says makes her feel happy and inspired.
“Iba kasi ’yong feeling na nag-boyfriend ka kasi gusto mo lang, at iba ’yong feeling na nag-boyfriend ka kasi mahal mo talaga. So, do’n ako sa mahal ko talaga,” she says, smiling widely.
“Medyo dalagang Pilipina kasi ako. Ayoko ng mga para lang magka-boyfriend ako, o, sige, ilaban natin ’to. Hindi gano’n. Saka hindi kasi ako sanay na may ’pinagmamalaki ako sa mga taong may boyfriend ako.
“Pero sa kanya, very proud ako. Pero ayokong sabihin ’yong pangalan niya kasi he’s a private person. Hindi rin naman siya artista.”
Lovelife, check. But what about home life? How has it changed now that Kiray and her family have a place to call their own?
“Actually, na-realize ko, ’yong mga taong mahihirap or maykaya lang, mas close sila sa pamilya nila. Kasi sa maliit na bahay, wala kang masyadong magagawa kundi makipag-usap sa mga kapatid mo. Magkikita’t magkikita talaga kayo.”
But living in a five-bedroom home is a different story. Kiray says that there are pros and cons to moving to a bigger home, which allows residents their own private space.
“Kapag magkakaaway kami, hindi puwedeng hindi ako bumaba ng kuwarto. Puwedeng hindi ako kumain, alam mo ’yon? Pero dito kasi, pag okey kami, ang sarap kumain, kasi sabay-sabay kami kumakain. Unlike kasi sa bahay namin dati, bilog ang table, ’tapos dalawa lang ’yong pinaka-max na puwedeng kumain. Ngayon, sabay-sabay na kaming nakakakain.”
The new house definitely has more pros than cons for Kiray, who can now rest easy knowing that the members of her family have a comfortable place to go home to after a long day, a place where they can eat and bond together as a family.
For the funny actress, the word breadwinner is a source of pride. And now that she has built a home for her loved ones, she’s hoping that someday she can build one for herself, too.
“Ngayon na naibili ko na ng bahay ’yong family ko, I want rin a condo or townhouse or a new house for myself, kasi I’m getting older… I mean, di ba? Hindi ko alam kung ano ang mangyayari sa life ko. Kung bukas, artista pa ba ako. Kung bukas, ano na ang mangyayari.”
Kiray knows how fickle showbiz can be. One day you’re at the top, and another day you’re a bit player, or if worst comes to worst, your star doesn’t shine anymore. But she hopes that in the next few years, she can continue with the only work she has known since she was three years old—making people laugh with her own brand of charisma and comedy.
“Sobrang mahal ko talaga ’yong trabaho ko,” she says. “So, I can’t imagine life nang hindi ko ginagawa lahat ng mga bagay all over again, simula pagkabata ko hanggang ngayon.” shoot producer irene mislang hair & makeup muriel vega perez stylist sidney yap assistaNt stylist arbenn sardual
Since Kiray entered showbiz at the tender age of three, she has been cheered on by her number one supporter— her Mama Meriam. The supportive mom describes her daughter as “mabait,” a tireless worker who serves as the main breadwinner of the family. On...
The Celis family is a tight bunch—a fact that shows within the four blue walls of their living room on the second floor of their home. Their reupholstered sofa set, which is a gift from Kiray’s “Mama” Vice Ganda, can easily seat all 11 members of the...
The Spongebob theme extends into the bathroom, which also houses Kiray’s collection of luggage and backpacks. The spick-and-span room is maintained by the actress herself, who admits to being “maarte” when it comes to comfort rooms. “Pag naligo ako,...
Kiray’s vanity table is filled to the brim with liquid lipsticks and perfume, but not much else. The table is bare of other makeup products such as eyeshadow palettes or blushes. “Hindi kasi talaga ako marunong mag-makeup,” Kiray candidly admits....
Kiray takes pride in having a new home that can comfortably fit all 11 members of her family—Mama Meriam, Papa Jonathan, siblings Johanes, Jhopay, and Joemir, sisters‑in‑law Jenie Evs and Jhen, and pamangkins Harshwish, Rizkwish, and Lucian. The big...
The rooftop deck has become the perfect venue for parties and family reunions. It can fit the Celis family and all their relatives, who all also live in Punta.