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From Musical Competition to Missionary Preparation, this Next Big Star Finalist Casts His Light on the World

Anton Cruz (Anton Paolo Bayona Antenorcruz in Real Life)While waiting for his turn during practice for this year’s finals of GMA 7’s Are You the Next Big Star (AYTNBS)? singing competition, Anton Paolo Bayona Antenorcruz is in a quiet nook of the dressing room struggling, though unperturbed, with the questions he needs to answer himself. With a million pesos cash prize from SM, an Avida condominium unit and a lucrative GMA management and recording contracts only at stake, giving the winner a sure stab at instant fame and fortune in Philippine show business, what’s not to worry about, right? Interestingly, those were the least of his concerns: “I make it a point to work on all the assignments for my Seminary class whenever I get the chance so come Saturday, I’m ready,” says this 17-year-old crooner known as Anton Cruz to his fans while leafing on the scriptures he totes along with him everywhere. “I grew up in the Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and my parents taught me the gospel. Like learning a new song on my own, where they have been my influence on what to learn and sing, I need to gain my own testimony apart from theirs; and if I put God first in my life, everything else will just follow,” he mutters decidedly.

All-Natural, No Artificial Additives

How old is he again? People tend to ask that question at each close encounter with this unassuming teenager whose reserved persona, refined demeanor and refreshing Pinoy good-looks, a welcomed departure from the mestizos or the mixed-race looks du jour the media fondly glorifies, are enough reasons to elicit curious glances and silent admiration. The moment he sings his heart out and reveals his soul – both seemingly well beyond his years – audiences are captivated, leaving them star-struck by his pure melodic artistry and his simple unstudied charm. All it takes is to listen to his rendition of Eric Benet’s 2005 song, “The Last Time”, and one will know that this kid is the real deal.

Where does that voice come from? Why do people gravitate toward him? Who is this nice luminous young man?

All in the Family

A closer look at this young prodigy unravels his mystique that is more than 17 years in the making:  “He got his singing genes from me as my family is musically inclined especially from his lolo, my dad, who is a good singer,” says Cecille, Anton’s mother. “On my husband’s side, they’re not bad singers either as they all can carry a tune.” She recalls Anton at 8 years-old trying to perfect the vocal acrobatics of Destiny’s Child’s remake of the Bee Gees’ song, “Emotions”, over and over to the point of them getting tired and irritated by it. “But that’s how he developed his R&B style, by giving justice to the song his way, apart from singing Pop and joining Church choirs since he was in Primary. People are quite surprised by his wide vocal range,” she continues. His tenacity not just for winning but for actually honing his craft and his love for music drives him to join contests. “He is just thrilled to sing and be a part of a contest regardless of the prize,” adds Cecille. Not too shabby a passion when it nets him awards after another, including a 4-year Informatics scholarship, both in individual and choral competitions. He is the first freshman to ever beat the senior contenders to clinch the “Anthonian Singing Idol ” title of the School of Saint Anthony in Quezon City and also the lead tenor and soloist of the school’s Coro San Antonio, the reigning champion of the University of the Philippines’ annual Musikappella, a singing competition for high school choral groups. Winning is expected of him – and he does every time – when he represents his school in singing contests (which explains why two of his pictures are in the school’s website).

The higher his achievements are, the more grounded he remains having been raised by parents who make sure he attends Church service, his Young Men and Mutual activities religiously and that taking his Seminary class to heart and qualifying for a mission are necessary pieces to a peaceful, happier and fulfilling life. “It’s really hard preparing Young Men for mission nowadays because of their exposure to temptations we never encountered during our time. It’s a constant struggle, and we are always there to guide him to the right path. I feel that if I make the Church and living the gospel a part of his life, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6),” she reiterates resolutely. To validate her point: “He’s known to be kind and humble even in school. People would come up to me and tell me I should be very happy and thankful for having a son like him,” his mother affirms affectionately. For Anton, the depth of his affection is evidenced by his ready remark when asked who inspires him: “My parents. In my heart, I dedicate my song and performance to them every time.

All for God and Family

It must be the way he does his share of family responsibilities like ironing clothes (Mom says he does it best!), his penchant for reading books like Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey and his strong spiritual anchor, not just his singing prowess and all his winnings, that set him apart and prepare him for a big break such as AYTNBS.  “I wash my own clothes, I clean the house, I cook, I learn to schedule things,” Anton nonchalantly points out. Wait, a teenager doing household chores and talking about time management?! He chuckles at the suggestion that these are anomalies in a typical 21st century teenager. “When I entered the finals of AYTNBS, my life became like a call center with my crazy schedule. I knew I needed to manage my time to keep up with the contest schedule without sacrificing my family, Seminary class and other Church activities. I’m thankful though that this contest also gave me the opportunities to build on my self-confidence and taught me to be out-going and sociable. Besides,” says he, “ I know that these will all help me prepare for my mission.

The pressure to compromise his LDS standard in exchange for the “cool factor” of being one of his peers and being one with them –drinking, smoking, being in the spotlight and parties all the time, which are, sadly, typical of showbiz scenes– must have been more challenging than the actual singing competition? “When they asked me why I don’t drink and smoke, I told them right off I am LDS. Somehow, I feel guided to keep my standard, so it isn’t really that difficult. I am reminded of my favorite missionary scripture to be an example in situations like these: ‘Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16), ” he enthuses.

Being a missionary seems to be second nature to Anton.  He fondly recalls the time when he was 12 years-old and had gone out tracting with the full-time missionaries. “I love sharing my testimony and observing the missionaries when I work with them. I also realize the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all men to return to our Heavenly Father,” he shares solemnly. His mother tells how happy he is to work with the missionaries, and how each time he comes home he would always express his desire to go on a mission. Recently, he spoke at their Stake Conference where he outlined to his fellow Young Men the ways to prepare most effectively to serve a full-time mission by becoming a missionary instead of going on a mission (Becoming A Missionary, Elder David A. Bednar, Liahona, November 2005). “It is not enough for us to be convinced by the gospel; “ he quips, ”we must act and think so that we are converted by it.” Furthermore he relates: “I realized preparing for a mission is just like learning a new song. My parents influence me what songs I need to sing. It is not enough for me to hear my parents say that the Church is true. I can sing a song because they told me so. I can also go on a mission because it is a commandment and that my parents told me I must go. But I know that it would be best if I study the song myself and understand what it means; that it would be best for me to go on a mission if I know in my heart that the gospel is true and that The Book of Mormon is true by myself apart from the shadow of my parents’ testimony.

Soar and Shine

After waiting in line with his father, Hermie, for 16 hours for 2 days on end just for the audition alone, and 10,000 registrations, and 500 qualifiers, and 16 finalists, and 2 months of grueling rehearsals and shows, a different winner was declared. “How do you feel now that it’s over?” I asked him. “Sad but relieved. I’m just happy that my life is back to normal, to be back to my family and the Church. Oh yeah, to wash my clothes on schedule again!” he laughs with uncontrived joy in his voice. “If you won’t have a singing career, what would you be?” I bait. “A pilot. I will be a singing pilot!” More laughters.

With a talent and soul this raw, real and reassuring, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what my late mother told me about winning : “Politics may take the win from her child but it can never deny the winner in him.” His example and desire to serve God is the star that will matter in the lives of those who are in darkness, a light to those who want to follow the Savior. [d]*

P.S.

If Anton’s voice won’t give you chills and leave you enchanted in this YouTube sample, I don’t know what will…

… comparing to Eric Benet’s 2005 original, it’s Anton from the first note to the last (sorry, Eric).

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Written by nealm

7 September 2009 at 5:34 AM

12 Responses

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  1. Anton Cruz will surely have a long victorious journey with his superb singing talent and impressive looks and personality. Thanks for sharing it, Neal. It will be an inspiration to everyone else.

    Liza Grace Jayme

    7 September 2009 at 9:03 AM

    • indeed, his star will shine for good and for good reasons. i can’t wait to follow this wonderful young man’s career! thank you, liza.

      the digitizer

      7 September 2009 at 10:02 AM

  2. Twas an honor to have your admiration and trust on Anton’s talent.

    Cecille Antenorcruz

    7 September 2009 at 9:43 PM

    • it’s well-deserved, cecille, and rightfully so not just because i wrote an article on him. 🙂 thanks for dropping by.

      the digitizer

      8 September 2009 at 2:44 AM

  3. Wonderful talent and good character rolled into one. Anton’s talent will surely go places.

    Jonnie Baraquio

    8 September 2009 at 10:00 AM

  4. That’s my boy Anton! He’s a great guy. Great article Mr. Digitizer 🙂

    Adam Teh

    9 September 2009 at 2:05 AM

  5. This kid has come a long way! At the Church, I remember seeing Cecille (though she doesn’t know me) pregnant with him, then him being named and blessed, then being a very active toddler, and after so many years, now a very talented singer. Thanks for the post. It brought back good memories about my early years in the Church and the many possibilities of what a kid can become!

    Soraya Julian

    9 September 2009 at 4:32 PM

    • amazing! i can’t wait to follow his career path and life trajectory, too. he is one special kid! thanks for sharing your retrospection, soraya.

      the digitizer

      9 September 2009 at 5:40 PM

  6. You have a way with words Neal. Nice article thank you. Paolo (Anton) as he is known to us his family is a special child of God blessed with an amazing singing voice and talent. With his talent I am sure Paolo will use it to bless the lives of others.

    Gerry Bayona

    16 September 2009 at 8:38 PM

    • oh he is a shining light, that is for sure. i feel confident that the world is in better hands with good kids like him. that’s why he deserves all the support and exposure and help. count me in with anything i can do to support pao. thank you for the kind words, too, gerry.

      the digitizer

      17 September 2009 at 5:16 AM


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