HomeFilipino AmericanA Night of "Pinoy"tainment Unites the Greatest Fil-Am Entertainers

A Night of “Pinoy”tainment Unites the Greatest Fil-Am Entertainers

By Aaron Facundo, AsAmNews Intern

AJ Rafael will host a one-night-only celebration of Filipino entertainers on Sunday, August 29, 7:30 p.m. PST at The Ford Theater in Los Angeles.

Alongside Rafael, A Night of “Pinoy”tainment will also feature Jules Aurora, JR De Guzman, Erick Esteban, Ruby Ibarra, Lila Hart, Jasmine Rafael, VJ Rosales, Kaba Modern, Rex Navarette and Apl.de.ap.

Ted Benito, a summer series producer with the Ford Theater, crafted the idea for this show. According to Rafael, Benito has known everyone in the Filipino American entertainment industry for more than a decade.

Rafael stated that plans to put on a show highlighting Filipinos were originally set for last year. To make up for the last year’s canceled show, Benito invited some of the greatest Filipino American talents in the entertainment industry.

Through interviews with AsAmNews, Rafael, De Guzman and Ibarra talked about their rise in the entertainment industry, growing up as a Filipino American and their thoughts on A Night of “Pinoy”tainment.

AJ Rafael

The featured host, Rafael has been one of the most well-known Filipino Americans in the entertainment industry for well over a decade. He rose to internet fame through Myspace and transitioned into YouTube where his oldest video dates back to 2006.

Rafael’s first YouTube video.

Disney movies first ignited Rafael’s passion for music. He recalls his parents, who both participated in choir, playing Disney songs around the house. Through Disney songbooks, Rafael learned to read music and play the piano. His passion for Disney never went away as he now has Simba from Lion King tattooed on his arm.

Although Rafael helped inspire a lot of aspiring Asian American musicians, while he was first uploading his songs to YouTube, there were not many Asian American musicians to look up to.

“Unfortunately, there were not many [Asian Americans in the music industry] back then, but I really appreciate that I’m part of a group of people who helped inspire a generation,” Rafael said. “But of course I do look up to my peers like Jeremy Passion, Gabe Bondoc, JR Aquino, Kina Grannis, David Choi… these people really helped shape what I want to do in music and inspired me to write songs on my own.”

Rafael is most known for songs that portray romance such as Without You, We Could Happen or She Was Mine which all have around 20 million plays each on Spotify. However, this April, he decided to portray the overlooked story of Filipino historian Larry Itliong in a music video.

He went through a list of historical figures that the public might not recognize and stumbled across Itliong through a book for all ages called Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong.

“I wanted to make something that is based on this text from this book, but also something that I’m able to put in a musical kind of way,” Rafael said. “That way if kids who watch YouTube all day are going to listen to this piece of history, they can do it in an engaging, fun musical way, which is a way that I grew up, wanting to consume knowledge and education.”

As Rafael continues to upload to his 15-year-old YouTube account , he has recently made a shift into uploading videos to TikTok as well.

“TikTok allows me to have a little more fun and flexibility which is cool because some of the videos that blow up on my TikTok channel aren’t all music… some of my videos have to do with me pranking my fiancée or my family, which is awesome so I really embrace the platform.”

Rafael is now approaching 500,000 followers on TikTok.

JR De Guzman

JR De Guzman is one of the more unique talents when it comes to Filipino Americans in the entertainment industry as he combines music with a stand-up comedy routine.

A Clip from one of De Guzman’s most popular routines.

Born in the Philippines, De Guzman moved to Los Angeles when he was only six months old. Eventually, he and his family moved up north to Sacramento.

The love for music came from soft rock ballads. The first CD that De Guzman ever owned was a Bryan Adams album. The love for soft rock shifted into a love for boy bands such as The Backstreet Boys. What carried De Guzman all throughout high school were more old school artists, specifically those known for funk and soul such as Smokey Robinson, Donny Hathaway and Sam Cooke.

Comedy came a little later in De Guzman’s life as he started to watch Conan. Watching Conan turned into watching several specials on Comedy Central from Dane Cook to Pablo Francisco. However, two of his biggest comedy inspirations of all time are Dave Chapelle and Zach Galifinakis.

Even at a young age, De Guzman was familiar with performing.

“I had done a little bit of acting as a kid since I did theater from like second grade to sixth grade,” De Guzman said. “Then in college at UC Davis, I started doing acting as a minor with some classes here and there, and then my friend told me about a stand-up comedy class… I took that class and that’s kind of what got my foot in the door.”

Many college assignments are grueling, but one assignment changed his life forever.

“At that comedy class, I was doing pure stand-up in the beginning for a few months and then we had an assignment to write a comedy song which went over pretty well,” De Guzman said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is a unique thing that I can do,’ and even my teacher was surprised that I could even sing and be funny doing it so I incorporated that into my act eventually.”

Now, De Guzman performs all across the world from his hometown in Sacramento all the way to Amsterdam. He was previously seen on the Netflix special The Comedy Lineup and Comedy Central’s Kevin Hart Presents: Hart of the City.

Ruby Ibarra

By day, she puts on a lab coat; by night, she puts on a hip-hop performance. Ruby Ibarra is a real-life superhero as she is both a scientist working in a biotech lab in the Bay Area to create another COVID vaccine while simultaneously rapping about her experiences as a Filipino woman.

“My passion for music came at a young age as I grew up in a household that always listened to or played music,” Ibarra said. “My mom played the guitar and sang, and a multitude of my cousins and uncles played various instruments. Since I saw and heard it all around me, it became part of my life early on.”

Being constantly surrounded by music, Ibarra’s favorite artist growing up was Francis M, an artist who is often regarded as one of the most successful Filipino rappers of all time.

“I definitely looked up to Francis M as a child since his music was my introduction to hip hop,” Ibarra said. “I was captivated by how he used his voice as an instrument and I now realize as an adult how he also spoke about colorism, uplifting community and celebrating who you are and where you’re from which are similar themes that I love to explore in my own music.”

Ibarra credits her passion for science to her own curiosity about how things worked.

“My passion for science came from school since I was fascinated at how science explained a lot of how things work and provided answers to things I was curious about,” Ibarra said. “Fast forward to today, I love how science has helped our communities to progress forward from the pandemic.”

In 2018, Ibarra helped create the Pinays Rising Scholarship to help financially support young Filipino women with a passion for the arts pursuing the continuation of higher education.

Ibarra’s rapping talent has been featured on Buzzfeed, NPR and Huffington Post.

Shortcomings in the entertainment industry

Becoming famous in the entertainment industry is hard enough as it is, but there are additional barriers as a Filipino American or Asian American in general.

“When it comes to the perception of Asian Americans, I think there’s still a lot of people who put us in a box, and that we’re supposed to be a certain way, have a certain career, including the generation of our parents who don’t see music or art in general as a real career,” Rafael said. “So I think there’s a lot that needs to be changed in a way where everyone’s story is valid. The Filipino nurse is just as valid as the Filipino musician. So I hope that more stories come out more people are putting themselves out there for people to look up to, that’s only better for us as a community.

All three entertainers had different responses from their parents as they first stepped foot into the entertainment industry.

Rafael’s father was a musician, but he was a little skeptical at first about his son wanting to become one himself.

“I had heard before my dad passed away that he had told my mom that he didn’t really want us to be musicians because he was one and he wasn’t necessarily the ‘breadwinner’ of the family,” Rafael said. “I don’t think my dad wanted us to necessarily go through the same struggle in a way so it’s very cool that I am living as a full-time musician to honor both of my parents… so I do have their support, I know my dad would support me now and I have my mom’s 1,000% support in what I do.”

Everyone in De Guzman’s family is in the dental industry so in a way he stood out as the black sheep.

“The support was a mix… my parents are supportive in an immigrant family way where if they knew that I could do it and make a living for myself, they would be happy,” De Guzman said. “Of course, I came from a family of dentists… my mom is a dentist, my dad’s the office manager, both of my brothers are dentists and their wives are dentists. So there was a world where they really saw me going into dentistry, but I think once they saw that I could do this as a career, and I wasn’t just delusional, they kind of let go of the reins a little bit.”

Ibarra’s mom supported her from then until now.

“I’m very fortunate that my mom has always been supportive of my goals… she’s always recognized the importance of nurturing our passions and encouraged me and my sister to pursue our goals and interests.,” Ibarra said. “I believe that my mom’s support has helped me gain confidence in who I am and has shaped me to become the artist I am today.”

The entertainers also had other different struggles in their careers.

“There are so many more pathways being opened up for Asians in the industry today, but I would say the biggest challenge that I noticed personally was the industry trying to figure out where to put you as an Asian, especially like Filipino Americans because I got the sense that, for example, if they were looking for Asians it’d be a very specific look of Asian American,” De Guzman said. “Filipino isn’t necessarily that because we’re like this darker brown…. we’re a mix of cultures- Spanish, indigenous, Southeast Asian and all these different cultures.”

Sometimes, producers would look for certain features in the Asian Americans that they would cast.

“I would go in for casting for something, they might have been looking for more so like Chinese, Korean or Japanese, but I would say that I can see that changing more now and I think it’s good to see a few models lead the way with that as well,” De Guzman said.

Both Rafael and De Guzman also credit the success of 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians to opening new doors for Asian Americans in the entertainment industry.

In both the entertainment industry and the biotech industry, Ibarra states that women are not provided as much support compared to men.

“I think that both the music and biotech industry still has a lot of work to do in terms of providing support and opportunities for young women in comparison to what is afforded to men,” Ibarra said. “However, I have been noticing that there is a growing number of women making change and taking leadership positions in both fields.”

Just like everyone else, people in the entertainment industry had their fair share of struggles since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The beginning was a lot of me just figuring out my life and resetting and it was ultimately a lot of good because I came out of it in my personal life as like a silver lining for all the hardship,” De Guzman said. “I think one of the things that I was used to as a traveling comic was figuring out what my routine is going to be like in the morning and at night on the road and I think I had to really strengthen that in the pandemic so now I workout meditate and write even more.”

Since Ibarra also works in a biotech lab, the experiences from her science side were one-of-a-kind.

“The pandemic affected my work as a scientist in that it amplified and ramped up my work, while as a musician, it was quite the opposite, as events and venues shut down,” Ibarra said. “However, the pandemic also taught me a lot of things about myself and the importance of rest and being present in my relationships. Additionally, it challenged me as an artist during these times since I re-learned how to produce, record and engineer my own music as well as how to film and edit my videos.”

Additionally, Rafael and De Guzman used the pandemic to find other opportunities.

“I started a concert series called Crazy Talented Asians,” Rafael said. “I had been doing it in real life, but then turned into doing it virtually when the pandemic started.”

A Crazy Talented Asians video.

De Guzman turned to social media to entertain his fans.

“I did a lot of social media videos during the pandemic- one example was where I would get requests from somebody for a song topic and I’d make a beat that day based on that,” De Guzman said. “One of them was called Bros at Brunch, where these two guys have brunch and end up falling in love… so a lot of that stuff really did help me stay creative.

Thoughts on A Night of “Pinoy”tainment

All three performers are excited to be a part of A Night of “Pinoy”tainment and are honored to be on the same stage alongside some of the greatest Filipino American entertainers ever.

“I’m so excited for the show,” Ibarra exclaimed. “I’m honored to be part of such an amazing line-up and I can’t wait to see everyone perform.”

De Guzman shows equal amounts of excitement.

“I can’t wait- I love doing Filipino events like this and I’m just so grateful to be a part of just this business,” De Guzman said. “I feel like I’m living the dream being able to do this”

Rafael has not hosted a live show before but is honored to introduce some of the greatest Filipino American talents.

“One thing I actually do hate sometimes is when I’m showing up too much during a show, but I really found this a fun opportunity to kind of be the thread that holds the night together in between acts… hosting is something that I don’t necessarily do all the time, but it’ll be cool to introduce my fellow Filipino and Filipina peers,” Rafael said. “It’s very fun to be able to hype up the performers, hype up the audience and then introduce the next act after an amazing performance.”

A Night of “Pinoy”tainment will be a night to remember.

“In a lot of ways, it it’s going to be something that that people remember because I don’t remember the last time I seen a Filipino lineup like this at a venue like the Ford theater,” Rafael said. “It’s been years for sure.”

More information on the event can be found on their website. All tickets cost $45 regardless of seating arrangement. The Ford Theater is an outdoor venue, but attendees will be required to wear masks.

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