IT was during my internship with GMA-7"s Lunch Date back in the late eighties when I chanced upon a cute Carol Banawa, one of the crowd favorites in that year's "Search for Munting Mutya Philippines." Lively, articulate and bursting with talent, she enthralled audiences as her diminutive frame took center stage at the Broadway Centrum. My knack for spotting star material went into full gear; I knew that this bubbly tyke would go places.
Fast-forward to August 2001, with this writer and that former "Munting Mutya" candidate huddled in a cozy corner of the Woman Today office, exchanging pleasantries and gay banter. My intuition was proven right. That precocious child contestant is now a popular singing siren in the music mainstream.
"I started to sing when I was three years old, when we were still in Saudi. Wala akong kalaro noon at naiiwan lang ako sa bahay with my mom," Carol reminisces. "She encouraged me to sing, e may hilig din naman ako. Pagbalik namin dito, pinapakanta na ako sa mga social gatherings." She soon found herself immersed in show business (thanks to mom who passed around audition tapes, unbeknownst to the daughter).
"Bata pa kasi ako noon e. Ako naman [pag sinabing] kanta, o di sige kanta lang ako. Nakahiligan ko na rin. I enjoyed it not because I wanted to be an artista talaga; I never really had an interest in being an artista," this charming Piscean says. "I just enjoy singing, acting and dancing. It was actually a hobby, something to do part-time because I prioritized my studies. But after what happened to my family, it became my source Of income; I had to give up school and do the things I'm doing now." (Last year, Carol's father and brother were victims of carbon monoxide poisoning, both overcome by the toxic fumes while they slept inside their parked car waiting for their companions to finish shopping. Her brother died; to date, her father has not fully recovered.)
The things that she's doing now can pretty much fill up Carol's busy daily schedule. Her album project under Star Records is already in the finishing stages. Sunday afternoon TV finds her singing, dancing and hosting skills put to good use via ASAP. Immediately following is Tabing Ilog where Carol is seen in a different light: as the rape victim-turned-boyish gal Andoy who has Badong as her boyfriend. (Here, real life imitates art--Paolo Contis, who plays Badong, has been a special someone to Carol.) Theater-wise, there is Trumpets' production of The Little Mermaid at the Meralco Theatre (which runs until September 9). As one of the three female leads, Carol rises to the challenge of portraying the much-adored sea nymph Jewel in the musical's second season.
"Naninibago ako dahil ang hirap talaga nung blocking namin for Jewel," our petite Batanguena relates, "pero ngayon, mas naiintindihan ko na ang role ko. Aside from having done it before, it's clearer now for us kung bakit nangyari ang scene na ito, or why I am saying these lines. It's a clearer interpretation of Jewel for me."
Carol is quick to point out how theater has "affected" her in a positive way. "You shouldn't really stick to one way of attacking the role. Everyday is a new day, an experiment. I myself am surprised how to react sa ganito. Ang maganda doon, pati yung mga co-actors namin, iba na rin ang ginagawa nila," she exclaims.
Looking ahead, Carol's expressive eyes brighten with excitement as she ponders on her future plans. Going back to school and having a different kind of occupation related to her field of study top the list.
With her resumption of the role of Jewel in this well-loved play, the romantic question is inevitably thrown on her lap--or shall I say, on her tail: "If you were the Little Mermaid, would you also choose to be human in exchange for love?"
"Oo naman, kasi sa totoo lang talaga, the gift of life, the gift of love and the gift of soul are the things people take for granted," Carol says matter-of-factly. "'Yung mga ibang hayup, kung nagkaroon lang sila ng isip ng tao, if they only knew what we have... napakasuwerte talaga natin. Of course, kung sa akin nangyari 'yun as a mermaid, I would want to have a soul just to be able to love."
Love has indeed captured Carol's young heart as we both shriek in laughter over her revelation. "Happy ako at meron akong inspiration ngayon, grabe!" she concludes with a twinkle, referring to her non-showbiz boyfriend.
A CAROL-ING WE WILL GO
Take a dip into the pool of facts about our "Little Mermaid":
Full Name: Carol Claire Aguilar Banawa
Birthday: March 4, 1981
Birthplace: Pasay City
Height: 5 feet
Weight: 98 lbs.
Hair: Brownish black
Dad: Ben Banawa
Mom: Celine Aguilar
Siblings: Alexander, Cherry
School: University of Asia & the Pacific
Course: Liberal Arts
Pig-out food: Japanese, pizza and pasta
Fave pastime: Listening to music, watching movies
Colors: Blue, yellow, lilac
Fragrance: Kenzo, Pleasures
Clothes: Jeans, shirts and sneakers; square and capri pants, sandals
TV show: Dawson's Creek
Movie: Dying Young
Type of music: Ballads, alternative
Reading stuff: Novels
Performers: Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez
Turn-on: Sweet, caring, responsible
Turn-off: Conceited, selfish
Ambition: "To finish my studies."
Weirdest or funniest experience: "I hugged a woman I didn't know!"
Mailing address: c/o ABS-CBN Talent Center, Sgt. Esguerra Ave., Quezon City
CAROL FILLS IN THE BLANKS
This week's cover girl unravels her 'other side' by completing the following sentences...
If I were an ice cream flavor, I would be...
Double Dutch. Meron kasi akong "soft side" (marshmallows) and "sharp ends" (nuts).
The fruit that would most likely be me is a...
strawberry. Seasonal kumbaga; may times na maasim at matamis. But usually when blended with whipped cream (or in my case, with people), mas nagiging okay ako.
If I were a flower, I would be a...
lily. Ang bangu-bango kasi at ang tagal malanta. Ako kasi when I make friends, magmula nang naging kaibigan mo ako, kaibigan mo na 'ko 'til the end. Matagal malanta, matagal mawala.
The condiment (or sawsawan) that best fits me would be...
chili sauce 'coz I'd like to spice up your life (laughs).
When I'm at home...
I usually stay in my room, on my bed. Nakahiga lang, nakikinig ng CDs or nanonood ng mga VHS movies. I savor staying in my room 'coz I'm usually not at home.
My dream date would take place in...
a far away place. Mahilig kasi ako sa nature at sa mga sceneries so most likely, sa beach. ' Yung walang istorbo, lalo na't kasama ko ang aking luvs (giggles in delight)!
My dream duet would be with...
N'Sync; ang galing-galing kasi nila. Tipong Mariah-N'Sync ang dating kasi gustung-gusto ko 'yung kanta nilang This I Promise You.
My theme song would be...
Can't Take That Away From Me by Mariah Carey. Kumbaga, my dignity and whoever I am are things I value. Kahit ano pang sabihin ng mga tao lalo na sa business na ito; I don't really care whatever they think of me because I know who I am.