by Donna Diaz Goff
Emily could hardly believe she was about to sing with her idol — the very same one who strongly influenced her to cultivate her talent.
Last October, PhilDev held a benefit concert featuring Lea Salonga at the historic Nourse Auditorium in San Francisco. One of the evening’s highlights was an opportunity to sing with Lea through CharityBuzz’s online charity auction to benefit the Philippines.
Georgina Lee, Cheerleader at PhilAmTHropy, thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to support PhilDev and at the same time nudge her friend to overcome her fear. “They’re auctioning off a chance to sing with Lea Salonga,” she told Emily on the phone. “If I win the auction, you’re doing it,” and then hung up.
Emily didn’t take her seriously until three days before the concert when she learned that they were actually going. The reality of it all caused Emily to panic. All her fears and insecurities began to set in. Her daughter Chey prodded, “You can do it, mom.” Hearing this from her own child pushed her to at least try. If she wanted her children to pursue their dreams, shouldn’t she show them how?
Emily began singing when she was 9 years old. Her mother took her to a show where she was awestruck by the young Lea Salonga’s singing prowess and confidence. “I want to be just like her,” she declared and sought to sing in front of a crowd every chance she could get.
When she turned 15 — when most teenagers become self-conscious and worried about being judged — she suddenly developed a crippling stage fright. She recalls that during a presentation, she froze for a few seconds as though she was put on mute. Thankfully, she got over that incident. But since then, being onstage has given her great anxiety. For years, she avoided singing publicly and sadly turned her back on what she loved doing the most.
Fast forward to October 5, 2013: The 1,800-seat opulent theater was almost at capacity for the concert. Emily hasn’t been in front of a crowd for over a decade and has never performed in front of an audience this size before. Neither did she get to rehearse the song with the star. You can almost hear her heart pounding when she was finally called on stage.
“Emily, are you here?” Lea called out. Then Emily Escanuela sheepishly emerged from backstage. Little did the celebrity and the audience know that this was a highly momentous event for Emily in so many ways: sharing the stage with the person who inspired her to sing, now a Tony Award winner…expelling her performance anxiety…and most importantly, rekindling her passion.
The amiable Ms. Salonga was ever so gracious in making Emily feel comfortable. Prior to their number, Lea encouraged the crowd to show their support for Emily. Their enthusiastic applause was heartwarming.
She started out shaky but gradually her voice blossomed. It was the musical director Victor Lirio, who selected the song “Reflection” from Disney’s animated film Mulan; yet it felt serendipitous with the lyrics: “When will my reflection show who I am inside?”
As she conquered her greatest fear, the crowd’s support also overflowed. The audience gave her an overwhelming response that she will always remember and for which she will always be grateful.
After the show, Emily was greeted with praises, congratulations, and requests for photo opportunities. Then a group of young girls approached her and asked for her autograph. It was Emily’s turn to inspire.
Pensive during her ride home, she told herself, “That wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.” Her special moment with Lea Salonga will serve as a reminder that when we embrace our fears, we open ourselves to experience something truly amazing.