429Magazine sat down to interview Disney legend Lea Salonga, who was the singing voice of Mulan. Salonga discusses her career in the entertainment business, including winning a Tony award in the 1991 film, “Miss Saigon.” As a judge on the Voice of the Philippines, she is now mentoring the next generation of future singers and donates her time to charities and benefits that range from such issues as AIDS, breast cancer and education.
429Magazine: Describe your career trajectory. You are considered a Disney legend and have worked on several musicals as well as acted in films. Do you have a particular moment you were most proud of?
Lea Salonga: Oh my goodness, I don’t know! Out of all the wonderful and memorable moments in my career, I would probably name winning the Tony Award (Miss Saigon, 1991) as up there. I had seen the awards show on television in Manila as a little girl and fell in love with performers like Jennifer Holliday and Chita Rivera, but never thought that one day I’d be on that same show, and winning an award to boot. For country and family, I felt most proud.
429Mag: What motivated you to become a singer and work in the entertainment business? Was there ever an alternative career for you?
Salonga: Believe it or not, I was in pre-med with quite a different career plan than what actually happened. After Miss Saigon, there really was no turning back. As for how things actually got started, my cousin who was active with a local theater company named Repertory Philippines told my mom about auditions for a production of The King and I. The show needed kids (I was 6 at the time of my audition) so my mother brought me, and that was it. There wasn’t this huge light bulb moment, nor was there this singular dream. They needed kids, I was a kid, so there you go.
429Mag: With the benefit coming soon, what’s the importance of the PhilDev benefit concert and its cause?
Salonga: One friend of mine that works with PhilDev sent a message of thanks because of getting involved in “empowering the nerds of the Philippines.” That stuck in my head. The approach is not about just giving money to those in need, but in empowering and educating. I am all for the “teach a man to fish” approach. Giving money only fosters indebtedness — the wrong kind — and doesn’t help in moving the country and its citizens forward.
429Mag: For the benefit, you are paying tributes to your favorite idols. What do you admire the most in Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand and other singers in your benefit?
Salonga: Their unique talents, first and foremost. Their tenacity and drive. And the timelessness of their music.
429Mag: You’ve also worked on Help is On the Way the concert benefit for The Richmond Ermet Aids Foundation. What’s the importance of that particular cause?
Salonga: Any cause that helps with funding AIDS research is close to my heart. I have lost quite a few friends because of AIDS. Thank goodness research continues, because it’s a disease that many people can be cavalier about, not realizing the full impact of it.
429Mag: Aside from the PhilDev benefit, are there any other charities you feel passionate about?
Salonga: World Vision, and I Can Serve, which is a breast cancer advocacy and education group in the Philippines.
429Mag: On the Voice of the Philippines, how does it feel to be considered a veteran of the industry and now teaching newcomers? What’s the best advice you can teach them?
Salonga: Let your heart go first before your voice. That way, whatever note you hit will always be perfection.
429Mag: What’s next for you?
Salonga: Sleep. Some well-deserved sleep.
The Phildev benefit is on October 5 in San Francisco at The Nourse Auditorium at CityArts. You can buy tickets here.