MANILA, Philippines??This is hard work,? Shalani Soledad said as she watched Willie Revillame, for the nth time, go over the music-and-spiel sequence that he had put together, on the spot, as intro for possibly her biggest coming-out party to date.
Starting Monday night, the country?s favorite ex-First Girlfriend will co-host the newest game show on local television, TV5?s ?Willing Willie.?
?I do not focus on that,? Shalani said quietly when told that her recent breakup with President Benigno Aquino III, just ?Noynoy? to her, could lead people to think this new endeavor was just a rebound move.
Now, as then, she was tight-lipped but certain that her former beau would be ?happy for me.? She explained, reluctantly, ?One thing that strongly bound us was love for public service.?
Program host Willie said the casting coup was ?a dream come true,? not just for him, but for TV5.
?When I told MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan, the network chair) and Ray Espinosa (president) that I was talking with Shalani, they couldn?t believe it. When MVP learned she said yes, he canceled all his appointments for tomorrow (Sunday) so he could host dinner for all of us [involved in the negotiation].?
The way Willie raved, Shalani was everything he could hope for. ?The people will love her,? he said. ?She doesn?t even have to make them laugh. They will only want to look at her. I wanted to work with her the first time I saw her.?
Shalani?s initial taste of the ?hard work? took place during a rehearsal on Saturday night at Studio A of the network?s main facility in Novaliches, Quezon City.
Revillame, in a crumpled white Armani polo shirt over jeans and red rubber slippers, gave directions from the floor; he wanted the intro to match what he saw was her effect on people. ?I will say her name. Fill up the screen with her photographs, one after the other. Turn on all the lights!?
Tonight, the intro will run for under two minutes. Willie had three background songs to choose from, each one with ?beautiful,? ?precious,? ?amazing? in its lyrics. Between run-throughs of the routine (with a dancer standing in for the new co-host), Shalani rehearsed what would be her segments in the three-hour program.
The first is a group quiz titled ?One, Two Three?Go!? Her part is to read the questions and give the correct answers. The second is a family competition in bursting balloons. Neither one is consistent with her public personality, or the picture that admirers from the last election season have painted of her.
She used to co-host a morning program on UNTV, but this was different, Shalani said in a raspy voice. This night, she was all nerves, she admitted, rating the jitters at 20 on a scale of one to 10.
Truth to tell, she almost turned this down.
?We went to the meeting with Willie on Friday night just to say no,? her mother, Evelyn, told the Inquirer just before the rehearsal. ?The whole family discussed it beforehand. I reminded Shalani that the show wasn?t like her at all. And how could she keep in step with a Willie Revillame, who was an old hand at this??
Incidentally, Friday night, at Willie?s home in Ayala Heights, Quezon City, was the first time she actually talked with Willie, according to Shalani. Also present were movie producer Vic del Rosario and Espinosa. (?And about 20 of Shalani?s family,? Willie jested.)
Shalani said Willie ?won us over with his sincerity.? His first words to her, she said, were, ?Have you eaten??
Best of all, Willie uttered the magic words: public service. Before the meeting, Evelyn had entertained one thought: ?Maybe if they give Shalani a part that would complement her personality and her work as city councilor of Valenzuela ? we might consider.?
She related, ?Surprisingly, even before we asked, Willie brought it up.? The TV host, who has full creative control of the program, promised weekly on-location forays during which Shalani would knock on needy people?s doors bearing gifts.
Both Evelyn and Willie said there was hardly any other consideration that night, and that talent fee didn?t come up in the conversation at all. But was Evelyn prepared to be manager? Willie thought Shalani was capable of making her own decisions.
?He presented the offer in such a way that I?m not, until now, seeing this as show biz,? Shalani said. ?To me, it?s just another opportunity to reach out and help, just another medium.?
Happily, she said, she wouldn?t be expected to sing or dance.
?When you think ?game show host,? you see a bubbly person,? she said. ?That?s just not me. I have two left feet, and everyone else can sing better than me. I was also told I didn?t have to change my look and I could wear my usual clothes.?
On Saturday night, the ?usual? was a sleeveless white top, slim-fit denims and peep-toe white pumps (and she was caught nodding to the beat of the studio music during the rehearsal). ?This is how we like her,? noted a staffer. ?Very, very simple.?
One question begged to be asked: Is it a big contract? ?Well,? she said, not exactly to the point, ?it was a big decision for me.?
All told, Shalani said, she had two weeks to think about it. ?At first, all I could think of was, are they serious? I waited to hear again from them (Willie and TV5). I got a lot of calls!?
She said yes almost at the break of dawn on Saturday, Willie recounted, but by that time, he was more or less secure. ?I was prepared for rejection,? he said. ?Still, I had to ask. I asked what her plans were for the future. I said the show could help her, and she could certainly help the show.?
She had exactly two days to prepare for tonight. Willie, known to drive his staff hard, was not perturbed. ?She?s a smart girl,? he said. She assured him: ?I will do my best.?
?Willing? could be Willie?s sweet revenge after the eventful demise of his top-rating lunchtime game show, ?Wowowee,? on ABS-CBN.
The new program?s business unit head, Jay Montelibano, admitted that on weekdays, ?Willing? still lagged behind the early evening news programs on ABS-CBN and GMA 7 that TV5 had challenged in a unique scheduling strategy. The first two Saturday episodes (first telecast was on Oct. 23) did better, Montelibano said, with an audience share of 33.8 and 32.6, respectively.
Willie said Shalani reminded him of Diana, the late princess of Wales.
He had considered other celebrities for a co-host, he said. ?One had a contract with another station; Venus Raj had a contract with Bb. Pilipinas. But this is all for the best. Shalani is it.?
Yellow, orange equal red
Willie said he could see it now?billboards along major highways. ?Even without me?solo lang siya.? The advertisers are excited and ?very interested? he added. ?Bench, Unilever ? happy sila, they told me.?
He would have broached the idea to her earlier but couldn?t, he said, teasing, ?because she had a boyfriend.?
Speaking of previous alliances, while Shalani was identified with the ?yellow? movement in the last election, Willie was an ?orange? supporter.
Was Shalani?s coming on board a political statement? ?Of course not,? Willie said. ?Our color now is red, the color of the heart.? Hastily, he added, ?The heart of public service.?
During Saturday night?s meeting and rehearsal, however, he made frequent light-hearted references about Shalani?s former relationship.
?I called the President earlier,? he told a room full of people. ?Not the President of the Philippines?I mean Attorney Ray of TV5.? In the studio, deciding on the song to play while Shalani walked to her corner for a segment, he asked her, ?What is your favorite song? ?Pinoy Ako???
She surprised him with a quick draw to that last one: ?Nakaligo Ka Na Ba?? Studio A shook with laughter, recalling the first line of the campaign song used by Willie?s presidential candidate, Sen. Manny Villar. The girl could crack a joke!
In the mock audience sat her uncle, former Valenzuela politician Mon Soledad, his two sons Martell and Ram, with whom Shalani grew up, and her older brother Carl.
Tito Mon told the Inquirer he was pleased with ?Lans.?
?I gave her two days to get the hang of it, but she seems comfortable already. She?s going to be OK,? he said.