Voice of an angel
Twelve-year-old Julia Abueva, whose video was shown on The Oprah Winfrey Show, will perform at ChildAid concert
By Tara Tan
'I was so nervous when I got on stage that I could not stop looking at my mum'
Julia Abueva, on her first concert at the age of seven. She will be performing in the ChildAid concert next month
At her grandfather's 70th birthday, 1 1/2-year-old Julia Abueva grabbed the microphone and, to the surprise of the guests, belted out the song Tomorrow from the musical Annie.
Today, the 12-year-old star crooner has graced much bigger stages.
From the opening ceremony of the South-east Asian Games in 2005 to the Cultural Arts Centre opening in Suzhou, China, last year, she has gone on to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show in an episode on The World's Most Talented Kids. It aired in the United States last Monday.
Audiences here can watch the Manila-born Singaporean in action when she performs at the ChildAid concert at the University Cultural Centre on Dec 2 and 3.
The annual charity concert, now in its fourth year, raises money for The Business Times Budding Artists Fund and The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.
Dressed casually in jeans and with her rebonded hair held back with a thick white hairband, Abueva told Life! she had always dreamt of becoming a performer.
'I sang my first song when I was a year old and started playing the piano at three,' said the perky student at the Singapore American School.
Described by the media as having the voice of an angel, the metso soprano has no formal vocal training.
She was talent-spotted at six by local singer Cat Ong, a family friend.
At Ong's concert at the Esplanade a year later, Abueva was noticed by Kuo Po, artistic director of local children's performing group Jazz Kids. Things snowballed from then, and Abueva started getting more solo gigs and shows.
But she still vividly recalls her first public performance as a seven-year-old.
'It was at the Esplanade, and I was so nervous when I got on stage that I could not stop looking at my mum. I sang looking straight at her for the whole song.'
These days, her mother Regina, who is a regional brand manager in her 30s, is often the more nervous of the two.
'I used to get so worried. I am always standing in the wings watching her,' she says with a chuckle. The Singaporean is married to Filipino event organiser Jonas Abueva. The couple moved here from Manila in 2000.
They also have a 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.
Abueva is at that curious age where she flits between being mummy's girl and a precocious young lass.
As many children do, she pushes her half-finished milkshake to her mother, who laughingly shakes her head at her.
'I can't finish it, mum, please,' she pouts, then talks about having to choose between school and career.
'I had to turn down doing a musical this year in the Philippines because it would have clashed with the first few weeks of school. Then it will take so much work to catch up,' she says ruefully.
Even though she visits Manila only once a year, she was awarded the Best Child Performer in the 2007 Aliw awards in the Philippines. The annual ceremony recognises talents in local showbusiness.
More recently, she was catapulted to worldwide fame when she appeared on the popular Oprah show as part of a video segment on talented children.
Out of thousands of tapes of performing children sent in by proud parents, Oprah picked hers to screen.
'It means so much to me, it is unbelievable that Oprah knows I exist. I am crossing my fingers, I hope I will be invited to guest on the show,' said Abueva, hugging herself in excitement.
But beyond these brushes with fame, she claims to live a normal teenage girl's life.
Her idols range from musical singer Lea Salonga to Nicole Scherzinger from girl band Pussycat Dolls. Her current dream role is Gabriella of High School Musical. Latest fiction crush? Edward Cullen from vampire teen novel series, Twilight.
Then you remember. She is 12 years old and is having her first ever solo concert next month, and is appearing in a local musical Sleepless Town in January.
'One of the songs I'm going to sing is When I Grow Up by the Pussycat Dolls,' she says with a smile.
The song's lyrics go: 'When I grow up, I wanna be famous, I wanna be a star.'
Abueva does not have to wait till then.