Rachel Alejandro: The Nino Alejandro I know
MANILA, Philippines – Social media has given just about anyone and everyone a voice these days. Social media users comment freely and give their two cents on any topic, be it politics, religion or other people's personal lives – including things about which some probably know very little.
We were bombarded by support. For a good few weeks after, everywhere I went acquaintances and strangers alike – even construction workers I met on the street – stopped to tell me how incredible they thought Nino was, and congratulated me as if I had made it into the show myself.
A fan even took a photo of the TV screen and posted it on my Facebook wall, even if it was actually an extremely unflattering shot of me crying my eyes out as Lea Salonga praised Nino's performance.
You can't please everyone. As expected, soon after we started to hear and read comments here and there that they felt Nino was being favored simply because he is an Alejandro – Hajji's nephew and Rachel's cousin, that he has been in the industry for a long time, and should "give chances to others."
I am not writing this blog to convince any of you who care enough to continue reading beyond this point to believe otherwise. All I ask is that you indulge me a little and let me tell you a story. Allow me to share what I know about Nino Alejandro, the boy and the man, through the eyes of someone who has seen him grow up to become the son, husband, father and most of all, the performer that he is today.
Nino was practically tone-deaf when he was a kid. Yes, believe it or not, this guy who can now play any rhythm section instrument wasn't born with musical ability. He just loved music so much that he practiced singing nonstop and took music lessons. He grew up in Palo Alto, California but by the time he was 15, he convinced his dad to allow him move to the Philippines and live with me.
I was then 18 and at the height of my popularity. My song "Nakapagtataka" was number one on the airwaves. After a 5-year stint in Los Angeles, my dad had also decided to return and when we became a tandem of sorts, and together our careers soared to new levels of success. (READ: Rachel Alejandro: Music is in our DNA)
Meanwhile, young Nino was just an average singer at best. He was a plus-sized baby, then a plump toddler who eventually grew into a good-looking though chubby teenager.
While he worked on improving his vocals, he struggled with dieting and keeping his weight down. There was even one point when he fainted because all he would eat were bananas and rice – the notorious Rice Diet. What were we thinking? With a slower than normal metabolism and predisposition to obesity, the minute he went back to eating his usual portions, he ballooned right back.
Even when he became a regular on ABS-CBN's Sa Linggo Na Po Sila as a member of the boy band Voice Unlimited, few noticed Nino. It would seem that he was cursed with forever being in our shadow. Being an Alejandro hadn't made anything easier. On the contrary, it only made it harder.
At the age of 22, Nino fell madly in love and gave the relationship everything he had – mind, body and soul. His parents had been together almost 25 years by then, and he never considered even for a second that he wouldn't be blessed with the same.
He and the girl fell on hard times and though Nino fought to keep the love alive, in the end he found himself alone. He was working the graveyard shift as a radio DJ for Love Radio but even with the additional income, life was less than comfortable. He blamed himself for not being successful enough for her to stay.
With his career stunted in the Philippines, Nino began working for many months at a time as an entertainer in Japan. Apart from singing until the wee hours of the morning, he also had to sit at a table, talking and drinking all night with customers in the clubs. The more he got them to drink, the more tips he got. He was still young at this time, and didn't think too much about his health.
Years later, Nino accidentally found his niche when he began performing every Saturday night with his own live band in Capones, a bar in Makati. It was at this point that his voice started getting stronger by the day.
From being a so-so singer, we were shocked to discover that he had steel-like vocal chords that could give even an international superstar a run for his money, as he rocked out to Jon Bon Jovi, AC/DC tunes and the like.
To think it all started out as a joke. Who knew that glam rock would suddenly be considered cool by the yuppie crowd?
One night a week turned into almost nightly gigs around Manila's bar circuit. Nino Alejandro and The Force or NATF, the name he gave his band because he is such a Star Wars geek, was all of a sudden very much in demand.
What maybe many of you don't realize is that having gigs most nights of the week, playing two, sometimes 3 sets a night is usually not enough to sustain a family. Ask anyone in a band who has to share a small talent fee with 4 other guys.
By this time, Nino met the love of his life (at Capones!) and got married a couple of years later to Michelle, who has always encouraged him to pursue his dreams and has barely slept over the past few weeks to support her husband's race to make it to the end in The Voice.
Almost 4 years ago, Michelle was scheduled to deliver their first child on the weekend of my wedding in Boracay. Nino, who would have never missed an occasion like that for anything else in the world, of course stayed with his main family.
As it turned out, it was all for the best because right after Michelle gave birth to their beautiful, hazel-eyed daughter Bella, Nino collapsed and was admitted into the hospital. He had a large kidney stone and further tests showed he was not in good health, most likely because he hadn't taken very good care of himself.
On top of that, soon after Bella was born Nino decided to take on a job in a call center to support his income as a new father. He would come home very late from his gigs, rest a few hours and report to the office by 6 am Nino is not currently employed in a call center, but every year he still spends several months away from his wife and daughter, working as an entertainer in Guam to earn enough cash dollars to pay for Bella's tuition fees.
Flash forward to that blind audition where Coach Lea, having recognized him after turning her chair, said that Nino had finally found his voice, his own distinct sound.
People were probably wondering why Michelle and I were crying so much at that audition. Even now as I write this, I'm all choked up with emotion. Finally, I thought, finally Nino's talent would be seen and appreciated around the globe.
He had his shot when he was young but he wasn't yet the performer that he is now. Timing is everything and I guess you could say that life is cruel that way. When he finally blossomed into this amazing artist, the opportunity had passed him by.
They say to make it big in show business, you need talent, charisma, to put in the work and of course, a lot of luck. No matter what happens on The Voice, I'm grateful that Nino got a chance to shine… because he has paid his dues, because he has suffered to get here, because life never dealt him any lucky cards until now.
So, he and all of us who support him continue to pray that perhaps Nino's time has come. There will be people out there who will continue to believe that he doesn't deserve to win because he has an unfair advantage. That's a pity, and at the end of the day people will will vote the way they want to. But if only they could look beyond his name and see his heart, maybe they would change their mind.
If Nino doesn't win, life goes on. We will all be sad for a while, but knowing him, his relentless spirit will only inspire him to get better and better. Because that's who he is. He loves what he does and his family even more. Until his last breath, he will give you, his audience, his heart and soul.
And for me, that's what a true star is. – Rappler.com
Rachel Alejandro is a singer-actress, entrepreneur and best-selling co-author of The Sexy Chef Cookbook. Catch her in the musical 'Into The Woods' on Feb 21 - March 15 at Kasalikasan Garden, BGC. She is also seen regularly cheering for her cousin on The Voice of The Philippines. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram @SexyChefRachel, Twitter @TheSexyChefRachelA