Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Whole New Lea: Singer/Actress Lea Salonga On Life After Disney, Fashion, and the Beast?

Photo Credit: Allen Zaki

Some know her as a Broadway extraordinaire, others have seen her on The Voice Philippines, but if you were a child in the 90's, then odds are you remember Lea Salonga as the singing voice behind two very famous Disney Princesses, Jasmine and Mulan. Those memories are of course, pun intended, magical! However, Salonga is more than just a multiple Disney Princess alum, but a mother, wife, and big believer in manners. She has accomplished a lot since her flying carpet and sword wielding days. From, taking on Broadway in the new musical Allegiance, to getting involved in multiple charities such as I Can Serve, a breast cancer advocacy group, Salonga has a full plate on her very talented hands. That's why interviewing this lovely lady was more than an honor. It turned from me loving my job for having this opportunity, to sitting there goo goo eyed over everything she said. It could be because she has that pull on people, but learning more about what's behind the famous face, is what made her more real. I use the word real because when you grow up knowing her primarily for her Disney characters, you end up thinking she will be just as fantastical as her princesses are. Sure, she has the grace and certain virtues of Jasmine and Mulan, but the real Lea, the one I spoke to, is deeper, more opinionated, and overall a woman who can conquer the world. It just turns out she found her real life prince doing so as well! 

You began your career at the ripe young age of ten and since then have accomplished everything from Broadway, to Disney, and even recently being a judge on the The Voice Philippines. Are there any dreams, work wise, that you still would like to one day check off your bucket list?

Oh goodness, I don't know! I've been blessed with a lot already that it seems to ask for more would be an act of hubris. I'm very pleased and content that I honestly have no idea how to top that.

How about thrill seeking goals like sky diving or swimming with sharks? I completely support your decision if you don't want to swim with sharks. (laughs)

After seeing those tampon commercials, I've sworn off swimming with sharks completely. (laughs) But I'm not a thrill seeker (which rules out skydiving or shooting the rapids), and am perfectly happy with video games or eating great food with great company.

I totally agree! Food is always awesome! Speaking of being happy. If you would have never had a career in acting or singing, what do you think you would have ended up doing?

I don't know... once I determined that this would be my career for the rest of my life, a Plan B just didn't seem to fit. It's all or nothing. And that "nothing" is something I haven't contemplated.
Photo Credit: Allen Zaki

One of my favorite quotes of yours is "If you ain't got nothing nice to say, just shut the f*** up." During a time where social media pulls reigns, do you think it is harder for people to keep their negative thoughts to themselves or at least filter what they say? After all, there is such a thing as stating ones opinion in a respectful manner.

It should stem from real-life good manners, in that if you have nothing nice to say to anyone on earth -- to a celebrity, a relative, a co-worker -- it would be best to exercise prudence as well as forethought before saying something that could hurt them. The thing about this whole internet anonymity business is that you think that when you lash out and what you lash out with will not be without consequences. Many celebrities shrug it off, chalking it up to one of those things you deal with as someone in the public eye. I tend to exercise my right to "Report for Spam" and "Block" as frequently as needed. People can really be so rude and mean. As we say in my country, "walang pinag-aralan" which literally means, "wasn't taught anything."

Public criticism can make the life of someone in the spotlight very difficult. How have you handled the lime light all these years? No beating up paparazzi I hope? (laughs)

Oh goodness, I'd need to improve my right hook before using it on anybody. (laughs) But seriously, I've been in this business for much of my life that I tend to not take it very seriously. This is my job, not my life.

A lot of people who have grown up in the entertainment business, have been getting a lot of flak lately because of their risque actions and causing a media frenzy to document their alleged shameful actions. As someone who started so young, you transitioned into an adult career and life quite well. How do you feel when you see those struggling in the public spotlight? Do you think it is harder for people to grow up in the business now, then when you had to? 

I usually shake my head and wonder what happened along the way to turn them into monsters. I blame the parents; it ultimately falls on them.

You of course found your own prince charming and have an adorable little girl, which looks like you by the way. Do you consider them to be your happily ever after? What has been your favorite aspect of being a mom and  wife? Has it given you something that your career never could?

It gives me a different type of fulfillment, a way to balance my life and put things in perspective. Having a child will do that; when you have to wipe a kid's bottom, you realize that you're not exempt from stuff like that. And I've wiped that kid's bottom a lot. She's 7 now, and thankfully much more independent.

Photo Credit: Allen Zaki

 Yes, I definitely think wiping a baby's bum is a reminder towards staying humble. (laughs) Speaking of your child, has she ever watched any of the Disney films you were a part of? If so, did you gain total cool mom points for it? (laughs)

Yes, she has... but I think the Cool Mommy points come from being able to visit Disneyland for free, and for getting the other princesses' autographs. My husband seems to think I'm cool too because of all that!

When you voiced Jasmine you were teaching millions of girls valuable life lessons, such as to be oneself, to go against the crowds and stand up for what is right. Do you ever try to instill any of the lessons learned from Jasmine into your daughter? 

I try to. But she's pretty together already that there's not a lot that needs to be said. She's very unique and cool and funny, not to mention incredibly smart and well-spoken. She's a great kid.

Pertaining to Disney, many associate you with Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, but you were the singing voice of Mulan as well. It is an honor to play one Disney Princess, but you were lucky enough to land two. How did that feel?

Amazing. It's a kick to get to do one, but I got to sing for two and it's such a treat. However, it does get confusing when I have to do recordings for Jasmine and Mulan for TV shows or toys. I have to keep in mine how each one sings, and they're a little different.

Between the two of them, which was your favorite to play and why? Or do you hold Jasmine and Mulan to the same standard of admiration?

I love them both, but Mulan is close to my heart because it's an Asian girl-power story. There aren't a lot of girl-power movies made, so for one to be set in the continent I come from is a big deal.

Princess's aside, what about their other half? Out of all the princes in the Disney movies, which one do you think is the hottest? Don't worry I won't tell your husband. (laughs)  Aladdin is nice and all, but I would go for Ariel's Eric any day. I mean have you seen those big blue eyes? (laughs) 
Disney Princess Mulan
Photo Credit: Disney

I love The Beast. There's something to be said about falling in love with someone's heart rather than their appearance, and it was his transformation (the internal, not the external) that makes me weep whenever I catch the film now. That's more interesting to me than the handsome boys.

So true! That's actually why I respect Belle so much. She saw more in him than his appearance. 

What should we expect to see from you next? Any more character voices or stage shows we should look out for? 

I hope so! They're always fun to do.

Would you consider playing Jasmine if they brought Aladdin to Broadway. Which I think they need to do already! (laughs) I would buy tickets to watch a flying carpet. 

Nope! I'm sure there's a girl out there with killer pipes and a midriff to match that would be perfect for the Broadway production. But, I have to say, the Aladdin they cast (Adam Jacobs) is HOT.

I recently saw that you sang for the Adoption Advocacy Campaign. Are there any other charities or campaigns that you love to support?

I also support I Can Serve, a breast cancer advocacy group.

Let's get into fashion. I'm sure women everywhere want to know your stylish secrets
Who is your favorite designer?

A few... Diane von Furstenberg, Monique Lhuillier, Rajo Laurel... clean lines, but without losing the girly part. I've also enjoyed wearing BCBG.

Where do you find the best bargains?

I tend to shop only a few times a year, so everything pretty much pays for itself after a few wearings. I tend to look for quality rather than cost; the cheaper stuff will disintegrate while things that are made well and crafted well tend to last longer.

What is your fashion or beauty guilty pleasure?

Weekly mani-pedis, plus a twice-yearly trip to my aesthetician to clean up my complexion.

If you could describe fashion as one food? What would it be? 

Oh goodness, I can't!!! Fashion is many things, so it's more like a high end buffet: go to the stuff you like, but open yourself up to trying different things, too.

Have you ever had an embarrassing wardrobe moment which you look back on and laugh today?

I've had zippers on dresses open... but the sweetest one for me was in high school. The zipper on the back of my school uniform was open, and one of my male classmates walked behind me and zipped it up. 

What is one beauty product that you cannot live without?

A few... Wen cleansing conditioner (in cucumber), Obagi foaming cleanser and toner. Those things are always, always in good supply.

Your skin glows so perfectly. What is your secret? Or should we be very jealous because it is naturally that way? (laughs)
Lea wearing Monique Lhullier with Connie Chung at the Miss Universe Competition.

Genetics was kind. Both my parents look much younger than they really are.

When thinking back of all the red carpet looks, which was your favorite ensemble?

This beautiful black Monique Lhuillier dress... it was comfortable, sexy, and glamorous.

What is your biggest style pet-peeve?

When something doesn't look smooth or falls over my shoulders when it isn't meant to.

How does the style in the Philippines vary from that of the United States? Do you find yourself dressing differently while in each or do you stick with your personal look?

We tend to take cues from the US and European style books, so I don't think there's much of a difference anymore. I love wearing tuxedos, so I do, no matter where I am.

Ooh Tuxedos! That's very Diane Keaton! Love it.

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