MANILA, October 18, 2003  (STAR) STARBYTES By Butch Francisco  - In this industry, I am not close to everyone. However, I am quite fond of some people in this profession and Jessa Zaragoza is one of them.

I remember meeting Jessa for the first time in Showbiz Lingo. She was quite new then and scared as a cat. She kept pleading with me not to ask this and that question Ė please, please, please, she implored.

Ordinarily, I would have turned a deaf ear to her request, because the instructions are supposed to come from the showís writers and not from the guest. But my heart went out to her because she was really scared and was tugging at my shirt. I made it easy for her that afternoon and wished her luck. From then on, I developed a soft spot in my heart for this young woman who would later be dubbed as "The Phenomenal Diva."

About a year later, I was dining at this Chinese restaurant when I heard a boy of about five belting out the Jessa Zaragoza hit song Parang Di Ko Yata Kaya. I knew then that Jessa was made and I was happy for her.

Then, she made Bakit Pa? with Jose Javier Reyes under OctoArts Films and I was truly impressed with her comedic talent.

Marriage (to Dingdong Avanzado) and, later, motherhood (to the newly-christened Jayda) came and I didnít see much of her anymore, except for a glimpse of her in an ABS-CBN soap opera.

I am glad, however, that she is returning full-time into the music scene via a major concert entitled Jessa... Reborn on Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. at Ratsky, Tomas Morato. Her guests in the show are Ogie Alcasid and Josh Santana.

Ironically, even if I say Iím quite fond of her, I now realize that I never had the chance to sit down with her (except in those short TV interviews in Startalk) for an intimate conversation for the print medium. But as I always say, itís never too late. Hereís my interview with Ms. Zaragoza finally:

Q. Those Bette Davis eyes. Have you seen any of Bette Davisí films?

To be honest, I havenít seen any. The first time I saw and knew of Bette Davis was when Ricky Lo featured an article on how Bette Davis and I looked so much alike in his column in 1997.

Youíve never seen any of Bette Davisí films?

I remember seeing an excerpt from one of her movies on cable TV. My brother pointed her out to me. Thatís as far as Iíve come to watching her on screen. I have yet to see a full-length movie of hers.

What can you say about her as a film personality?

Well, I canít really comment on her acting skills. But I must say, she is very beautiful and itís flattering when people say I look like her. Classic yung beauty niya.

You could have pursued your acting career Ė you were good in Bakit Pa? Ė why didnít you continue acting?

Thank you. Those are the kinds of movies I enjoy doing. Yung tipong comedy and feel-good. Joey Reyes, director of Bakit Pa, said my timing for comedy is good. Thatís why it seemed natural when I did Bakit Pa.

There werenít any good offers after that and I was so preoccupied with my singing engagements here and abroad. Also, I starred in the soap opera Di Baít Ikaw which is also the title of one of my songs. You could just imagine how crazy my schedule was back then.

How much of that character was really you?

I played a character trying to live two lives: that of Nadine and Dina. I would say I possess some of their traits. Yung pagiging "Kikay" and funny. When I say "Kikay" I mean that in a good way, yung bang may pagkapilya. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Didnít you really start out as an actress? What happened? How did the singing career come about?

I started out with Viva and unfortunately they didnít notice my singing prowess and it was in 1997 when I became a contract star of Octo Arts that my singing career blossomed. Thanks to Vehnee Saturno who convinced Octo to do an album, and to Boss Orly Ilacad who believed in my potential.

Are you satisfied with your career at the moment?

There are still so many things I would like to do. But Iím happy with the achievements I have made thus far. After giving birth to Jayda, I am more inspired to work harder to attain my goal.

What do you think was the setback to your career Ė if any?

I believe everything happens for a reason and that they contributed to who and where I am today.

Had you postponed marriage, what do you think would have been the state of your career now?

Maybe a lot busier. But no one can really say. No one can predict what will happen in the future, although many would like to believe marriage tends to slow you down. Maybe if you are just starting, yes.

But once youíve established yourself, itís just a matter of time before you get back to the "grind". There are a lot of artists whose career got bigger even after they got married.

In your case, what are the advantages/disadvantages of marrying somebody in the same profession?

The advantage is you can help each other out and you understand what the other person is going through. Whether you are in the same business or not, the important thing is the trust and respect you have for one another. If those things are not present, you will always be at a disadvantage.

What else do you want to achieve in your career?

The sad part of being successful or known for a particular style like Jukebox Queen, MultiPlatinum recording artist, Phenomenal Diva, etc. etc. is that people tend to put you in a box and they think you cannot branch out. They tend to typecast you and you are limited in what you can showcase. I believe what people know of me is just half of what I can offer.

I am not content with them, thinking that Jessa is only good for recording "hit songs" for people to sing along to. Many have not seen or realized the concert performer in Jessa Zaragoza. That is actually what we intend to showcase in Jessa... Reborn! on Oct. 22 at Ratsky, Tomas Morato. That side of Jessa which has not been given much awareness. Hopefully, after seeing the show, that part of my career would be well on its way. Thatís why Iím inviting everybody, most especially people who havenít seen me perform in a live concert to come and witness the rebirth of Jessa.

Which would you rather carry as your badge of honor Ė Jessa Zaragoza the accomplished artist or Mrs. Dingdong Avanzado and why?

If I could excel in both I will. But if I were to choose one it would be without a doubt being a wife to Dingdong Avanzado and a mother of Jayda. Simply because Jessa Zaragoza was by chance... but Mrs. Dingdong Avanzado.... was by choice!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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