[PHOTO - ALI SOTTO: More reinventions than Madonna and Cher combined]

MANILA, MAY 27, 2011 (STAR) STAR BYTES By Butch Francisco (First of two parts)

What a journey!

Ali Sotto’s life continues to have its share of storms, typhoons, cyclones, hurricanes, twisters, tornadoes and even tsunamis.

There is no need to retrace past heartaches and pains because that will only reopen old wounds, some of which may never heal.

What is important is that she is still in one piece and whole after going through all those trials. I attribute her inner strength to the strong foundation (moral fiber and all) provided by her father, Antonio Carag, and especially her mother, the former Felicitas Sancianco, a home economics professor, who passed away in 1995.

As far as her showbiz career is concerned, I always say that she had more reinventions than Madonna and Cher combined.

Starting out as Aloha (no surname), the darling of Tin Pan Alley, she had it good as a singer, TV host (she had a musical variety show with then reigning kilabot ng mga colegiala Hajji Alejandro called Ah-ha!) and even as a budding actress, launched as the daughter of the Joseph Estrada and Boots Anson-Roa in an action/drama film.

Marriage (to Maru Sotto, now her good friend) and motherhood (to Chino and Miko) derailed her career though. (In between, she managed to tuck in a mass communications degree — cum laude, short of a few points from being magna — that she earned from UST.) But no regrets. She will always be a mother first more than anything else in this world. (Chino is doing so well that he now has his own house in California.)

The latter part of the ‘80s saw her being re-launched as Ali Sotto (sister-in-law Helen Gamboa nicknamed her Ale, except that it didn’t sound like a showbiz name).

Having a new screen name wasn’t enough. Ali still had to find her place in the local entertainment scene. She had always excelled as a singer, except that she had more to offer than that.

She tried out acting again both on TV and the big screen and she also turned out to be so effective there that she got herself a Gawad Urian Best Supporting Actress nomination (for My Other Woman), losing only by a mere point to Gina Alajar (Biktima).

Along the way, she also did comedy and had a career as Imelda Marcos impersonator.

Looking back, the trouble with her career was that she is so multi-talented that audiences (and even former managers) were confused as to what she really was and which direction she was taking.

The answer came when she began anchoring a DZRH show with Joe Taruc and later with Arnold Clavio on DZBB. For a long time, she was also the direct rival of TV’s First Lady during the ‘90s, Tessie Tomas, as they wrenched away from each other the title queen of late morning programming. Of course, Tessie got the crown because ABS-CBN was the leading network then — with GMA 7 becoming No. 1 only at the start of the new millennium, thanks to a more dynamic new management. But Ali, undeniably, was among those who helped boost Channel 7’s morning slot.

As host of Katok mga Misis and anchor of Double A sa Double B, Ali finally found her niche and it turned out to be broadcasting. She will always be in the list of local broadcast industry’s most articulate, sensible, intelligent and credible radio/TV hosts.

I was there throughout her journey to success. Oh, there were low moments, plenty of them. The past decade had seen her celebrating her birthdays. No, these were never grand affairs — a small function room at the Holiday Inn and later, at the Mandarin Hotel (a surprise party she was entirely clueless about) and potluck parties organized by friends.

She only began celebrating because she had always been a grateful person. Since her career swung uphill, she knew she had to be thankful for the blessings and she found that reason enough to celebrate. And for her friends to get together.

On May 29, 1992 (we became very close in 1988), her career was going nowhere. Neither was there anything to be ecstatic about regarding her personal life. She was in no mood to celebrate.

But we met up — at the house of a relative who had a condo unit at Prince Towers at the old Greenbelt. We were off to dinner nearby — upon the invitation of the late Rio Diaz, who wanted us to sample the cooking of her sister, Benjie.

While killing time, I surprised her by sticking a birthday candle on a fruitcake that I had stored in our ref since December 1991. Her relative and I sang her a birthday song. Ali was delighted. Maybe she doesn’t remember that birthday anymore after all the events that had transpired in her life — from happy, victorious to tragic.

However, I will always treasure that moment because the simplicity she displayed on that late afternoon when she seemed genuinely pleased with my birthday fruitcake is still there — in spite of all her success. Her simplicity and her simple wants in life never went away.

We were with Malou Fagar and Mrs. Lily Monteverde last week when she joked that maybe it’s about time we developed “attitude,” which is common among showbiz folk.

Well, I don’t know about Ali, but I already had attitude even when I was in my mother’s womb. Why, I was even late for my birth. Mom went on labor on Dec. 8 and I refused to come out until Dec. 9.

But Ali never had attitude. Even members of her staff in Starbox (they also work for Startalk) swear by her professionalism.

Too bad, Starbox is gone — too quickly — and it had to happen shortly before her birthday on Sunday.

What are her thoughts about the show’s cancellation? Is she still in the mood to celebrate another milestone in her life? Everything you want to know about Ali and how she is doing now — she will answer in my next column.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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