Written by James Edward Tambobong

Stepping towards that dark hallway seems so misdirecting but he still managed to create a tune filled with light and stunning colors. After many years of being a support backstage, the aspiring lad will be showered with applause. Perhaps it's now time to focus the spotlight on that person behind the red curtain.

Vicente Jao III–a rising Bicolano artist from Sorsogon City, Sorsogon who ghost-sang for the 2023 Summer Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entry Joven Tan’s “Kahit Maputi na ang Buhok ko” as the prominently multi-awarded singer Rey Valera. Despite what seemingly is a flourishing triumph now, Jao’s upbringing has not been really full of rhythm and harmony. In fact, music was his only ally during those hard times.

Regardless of his great singing potential, he was often bullied by his classmates way back in elementary and high school. Jao’s confidence slowly became hoarse when the people around him started doubting his talents and invalidating his dreams.

“I was once bullied because of my singing. Sinasabi nilang hindi ako magaling. Na-iinsecure ako sa pagkanta…na-trauma ako nung time na yon, ininda ko yung bullying,” Jao shared.

Yet after all those adversities, he still didn't doubt the power of his voice and made all of those criticisms as a stepping stone right under his feet toward success. This helped him in attaining the recognitions he is getting upon being revealed as the sought after ghost-singer of the newly-released film.

As he steps to the limelight of the frontstage, it was raining applause and praises–but unrecognized were Jao’s support system who had been with him behind the curtain.

Paving Spotlight: Family as Producer

Through budget and cuts, managing his resources–a complete supportive family paving Jao’s way to his dreams.

His passion in music started when he was young, way back when his lolo used to teach him how to play ukulele. He spent most of his childhood learning how to play instruments, especially guitar which served as his key towards being a member of Sorsogon Elementary School’s Rhondalia. This experience with his Lolo entangled him to music in which he also started singing.

At one point, when he was in 5th grade, he became their section’s representative for a singing competition which he was not prepared for because of a last minute backout decision of the supposed representative. Nevertheless, this did not stop him from bagging the award of best singer.

Years later, his love for music grows continuously which is why he pursued it in high school when he joined Integrated National Theater Arts Club (INTAC), performed in different events as a soloist and even became a member of a band of their batch. Moreover, Jao decided to enter his singing talent into the virtual world when he posted song covers from various artists. His parents, on the other hand, could not be any prouder of him and unendingly supported him by buying the instruments he needed.

Just when he thought these experiences were routinary, another family member reached out to him–his aunt who happens to be a producer at RJA Productions LLC invited him to Manila to record. At first, Jao was hesitant as his first project was a collaboration with three other artists Jep Gabon, Myko Mañago, and Shanaia Rollo who joined talent searches in the country and overseas.

“Pag-uwi ng Bicol, nagustuhan ni tita yung final mix nung song…hindi pa ako gano’n ka-bilib sa sarili ko kasi hindi pa naman ako hasang-hasa. Very new yung experience, kaya di ko in-expect na magagalingan si tita,” the ghost-singer uttered.

Now that he is on his way to achieve another milestone, Jao cannot help but to be grateful for the best line of defense he has and the most supportive people providing him lessons and resources he can use for his journey–his parents and aunt, but above all, his grandparents who were not able to see him shine.

Shining Spotlight: Self as Writer

As the playwright of his own storyline, he only injected positivity throughout his ugly experiences that served as a trail to a shimmering aisle where he stands today.

"My most memorable experience is 'yung pinursige ko yung instruments. Pinakanatutuhan ko ro’n ay if you really want to pursue something that you love, simulan mo mula bata palang. Dahil pinursue ko sya mula bata palang, hindi na naging mahirap para sa’kin,” he mentioned.

His persevering side didn't stop right there and continued when he treated Original Pinoy Music (OPM) as something to lean on despite all of the troublesome situations he is encountering everyday. He also highlighted that OPM became his friend in times when he felt alone and taught him to love its melody and power in reviving happiness within endeavors.

The Rey Valera ghost-singer is currently taking Bachelor of Science in Economics at Bicol University which as he described “is not an easy task.” Most of the time, he would face an internal conflict upon experiencing an existential crisis, but still music is there for him despite taking a whole different pathway.

Hence, when he heard about the ongoing audition for a role in the MMFF 2023 entry, Jao immediately sent a video with full confidence upon hearing other people say he sounds like the prominent classical singer. Apparently, it took three months for the results to come out–thus, it was pure ambivalence for Jao, but mostly, thrilled.

On the 28th of August, the movie director Joven Tan approached him through chat offering the job for a ghost-singer for RK Bagatsing. Apart from this was a request to send a voice message of him singing “Malayo Pa ang Umaga,” which he was hesitant to do at first because of lack of space to perform the song.

“While doubting, sinabihan ako ng roommate na h’wag mag-overthink at magpasa nung vid. Voice recorder ng phone ko, pinatong ko sa lamesa. Wala akong speaker at iba pa. Yung ginamit kong speaker for minus 1 ay yung phone ng kaibigan ko,” he narrated. Despite the hurdle in the situation, he succeeded.

Enlightening Spotlight: God as Director

When he sometimes loses his way, he turns back to Someone he knows who can understand him–confess his actions, consult his decision, but above all, ask for the right directions.

“Masasabi ko talagang hindi birong achievement itong film. Itong achievement na ito, hindi ito nakuha nang basta basta lang. Dumaan din sa struggles, may mga doubts and personal conflicts. Minsan gusto ko na rin mag-give up,” the student singer shared.

According to him, there were times that he went through different conflicts and personal problems, so he turned back to God and asked for guidance. Moreover, when times are not in his favor leading to hopelessness, he just leans into music and his faith that something good is going to happen—well, he isn't wrong at all.

For instance, when he was experiencing a personal crisis due to self-doubt during college, God paved the way for Jao’s victory during LitViMusDa 2023 as first runner-up and the golden opportunity of being a ghost-singer.

“I just have to let things be. Hindi ko pinangungunahan 'yung mga bagay. Kung ano dumating, darating. Kailangang sabayan ang agos ng buhay. Hindi mo kailangang bigatan ang sarili mo sa mga bagay na hindi mo naman kontrolado,” he added.

He asserted that if something is destined for you and will make good things happen, just let it be and it will flourish into a once in a blue moon opportunity that God has directed only just for you.

In the end, those vibrant spotlights that never cease to concentrate its beams to an unknown talent will possibly introduce a rising artist and will let him step into a bigger stage where he rightfully belongs.

Jao’s story just proves that no matter how many hardships you go through life, there is always music to lean on. He highlights the importance of the values of humility, faith, and self-belief when put in a difficult situation. Above all, Jao always emphasized the essence of knowing your people–choosing those who will radiate trust in you.

In a stadium filled with thousands of audience, there he is in the dark hallway creating stunning picturesque scenes through singing. Now that Jao enjoys his flourishing prominence now, he still gratefully looks back at the people who he thinks deserved to be in the spotlight–the people who have always been with him behind the curtain.