How to conquer PH showbiz: A Gen Z balikbayan journey | Inquirer

How to conquer Philippine showbiz: A Gen Z balikbayan journey

From New York to Manila—Gail Banawis and Cedric Escobar conquer showbiz
/ 11:10 PM February 18, 2024

Elton Lugay column IDNEW YORK CITY—When two friends from the same town decide to pursue their dreams in their parents’ ancestral homeland, one might assume that they have discussed and shared their aspirations with each other. Surprisingly, despite their enduring friendship, Gail Banawis and Cedric Escobar had not done so.

Both part of Generation Z and Filipino Americans, the two relocated to Manila at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue careers in the local show business industry.

Originally from New York, where they actively participated in several community events that I organized, their individual journeys in showbiz ultimately led them to achieve success in the Philippines.


In our conversations, the two revealed the intricacies of their endeavors within the Philippine entertainment sector.

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Cedric’s story is one of evolution. From his early days warming up the crowd for Filipino artists touring the US, he moved to the Philippines with dreams of carving out his own niche under the spotlight. He discusses the importance of his relocation, the experiences that have shaped his career and the obstacles he had to overcome. Cedric gives us a glimpse into the competitive nature of the industry, the inspiration drawn from Original Pilipino Music (OPM) legends and the exhilarating experience of creative collaboration. His journey underscores the importance of professionalism and resilience in the face of industry volatility.

On the other hand, Gail’s rise to fame took a sharp turn when she became a housemate on the reality show Pinoy Big Brother, catapulting her into the public eye. With frankness and introspection, she recounts her move to the Philippines, the cultural challenges she navigated and the profound connection to her roots that her career has afforded her. Her experiences highlight the cultural adjustments she managed and the deep satisfaction she finds in her work, which not only celebrates her heritage but also bolsters her artistic ambitions.

Gail and Cedric with friends

Cedric takes a selfie with Gail and close friends in New York. CONTRIBUTED

Together, Cedric and Gail’s stories provide a nuanced look at the Filipino American experience within the Philippine entertainment industry. Their reflections are filled with insights, advice and a roadmap for other Filipino American talents contemplating a similar move. They emphasize the significance of staying true to oneself, the power of kindness and the necessity of tireless dedication. Through their eyes, we see the intricate interplay of culture, identity and ambition that defines the Fil-Am journey in Philippine showbiz.

On what prompted their move to the Philippines to pursue showbiz

GAIL—I’ve held a longstanding fascination with the Philippine entertainment industry. A year prior to the pandemic, I was exploring various auditions and opportunities, ready to learn and grow from them regardless of the challenges. The pandemic led me to a social media post about Pinoy Big Brother’s global virtual auditions. Taking the leap in secret, as I had no expectations, I successfully became a housemate. This compelled me to relocate to the Philippines, offering a chance to live independently and chase my dream in showbiz.

Cedric and Gail

Cedric and Gail’s stories provide a nuanced look at the Filipino American experience within the Philippine entertainment industry. CONTRIBUTED

CEDRIC—After gaining valuable experience as an opening act for various Filipino artists, I decided to take a leap of faith and explore opportunities within the Philippine music industry. The encouragement I received from these artists and the industry advice they shared played a pivotal role in my decision. This ultimately led to my signing with PolyEast Records.


Influences behind their entertainment career in the Philippines

GAIL—Participating in the Filipino community in the tristate area, I often heard from both acquaintances and strangers that I could make it in the Philippines. Despite not taking such remarks too seriously, when the opportunity to audition for PBB arose, it reminded me of those encouragements. The decisive push came when a close family friend mentioned the auditions to my mother, which I interpreted as a sign to go for it.

CEDRIC—Philippines’ Queen of Soul, Jaya Ramsey, has been a tremendous influence and one of my key motivators. She not only inspired me with her music but also personally encouraged me to follow this career path. Additionally, the overwhelming support I received from everyone I met while touring the US solidified my decision.

On the challenges and advantages of being a Fil-Am in Philippine showbiz

GAIL—Entering the Philippine showbiz scene was a culture shock, even though I’m more “cultured” than other Fil-Ams I know. Adjusting to the humor, financial aspects and lifestyle in the Philippines was tough, especially as these factors are integral to showbiz. My American accent was also more noticeable than I thought. However, being from the US provides a unique and refreshing perspective, which has become beneficial for my career.

CEDRIC—Breaking into the Philippine showbiz industry presents a unique set of challenges. It’s a highly competitive environment with talents converging from the Philippines and abroad. The key is to persevere, take chances and make the most of every opportunity.

Experiences working with Filipino entertainment professionals

GAIL—Working with Filipino actors, singers and directors has been an emotional roller coaster. I’ve built lifelong friendships and grown as a person and artist, but it’s not always easy. For instance, being scolded by director Cathy Garcia-Molina was tough, yet it improved my acting skills significantly. I’ve also learned from peers like Lian Dyogi and gained profound insights from my conversations with veteran actress Nova Villa, whose resilience and journey have been inspiring.

Gail with Manny Pacquiao

Gail’s first major public performance was at the 2015 Pacquiao-Mayweather fight in Las Vegas, where she sang the “Lupang Hinirang.” This photo captures her first meeting with the Filipino boxing icon. CONTRIBUTED

CEDRIC—Working with Filipino professionals is both intimidating and exhilarating. The best preparation is thorough rehearsal and practice. It’s crucial to deliver your best performance as a sign of respect for their professionalism and to match their level of dedication.

Major challenges in their Philippine career

GAIL—The major hurdles include cultural adjustments, language barriers and adapting to the local lifestyle. I’ve worked on my Tagalog and overcome my natural shyness to fit better into the showbiz mold. Being misinterpreted as unfriendly because of my resting expression has taught me to be more open and approachable. Another significant challenge is the unpredictable nature of showbiz, where projects can be sporadic, requiring patience and faith.

CEDRIC—The journey began with the challenges of acting auditions—facing rejections and near-successes. As a singer, the greatest challenge is the unpredictability of the industry and striving to reach an audience with your work.

On working with local celebrities and their reception of them as Fil-Am artists

GAIL—I’ve had the pleasure of working with several local celebrities. Xian Lim, the first director I worked with, empathized with my assimilation struggles, providing comfort and support. Melai Cantiveros, a fellow PBB alum, has always been kind and supportive, believing in my talents as both a singer and a host despite our language barrier jokes. Jayda (Avanzado) has become an unexpected close friend, and as fellow Fil-Ams, we share a unique understanding and bond over our experiences on set, which is hard to find elsewhere. This shared background helps me better grasp the nuances of being a Filipino American compared to a native Filipino.

CEDRIC—I’ve been privileged to tour with artists like KZ Tandingan, Southborder, Rivermaya, Introvoys, Gloc 9, TrueFaith, and NeoColours. Locally, I’ve collaborated with talents such as Bamboo, Hale, Orange and Lemons, Chris Padilla and Jason Fernandez among others. Their reception has been incredibly warm and supportive.

On finding fulfillment in the Philippine entertainment industry

GAIL—Immersing myself in the Filipino culture has been incredibly fulfilling, as I’ve always wanted to understand my heritage beyond the Filipino American perspective. Living in the Philippines has deepened my appreciation for my roots and has inspired my songwriting. I find joy in blending my American and Filipino identities in my artistic endeavors, whether that’s through writing or acting. The validation and appreciation from those who have lived here their whole lives bring me immense satisfaction.

CEDRIC—Finding fulfillment for me would be knowing that people are enjoying my music and having the opportunity to perform across various regions in the Philippines.

Cedric with Jaya

Cedric with his showbiz mentor, Jaya Ramsey. CONTRIBUTED

On their career goals and aspirations for the next few years

GAIL—I aim to release an album under my artist name “Struggail” and to earn songwriting credits as “Gail Banawis” for other artists. Sharing my unreleased songs, performing live to an intimate audience and experiencing fans sing along to my music are all part of my dreams. I also aspire to land a major acting role as a villain, which has been a long-standing ambition of mine.

CEDRIC—Looking ahead, I aspire to perform at venues like the MOA Arena or Araneta Coliseum, and to be recognized with awards for my musical contributions. Achieving these milestones would be a dream come true in the industry.

On their long-term presence in the Philippines versus returning to the US

GAIL—I feel a strong connection to both the Philippines and the United States. While I’m open to living in either country, I’ve grown quite attached to life in the Philippines despite missing home. Ultimately, I trust in God’s plan for me, as His guidance has led me to unexpected and fulfilling places already.

CEDRIC—While the US will always be a part of my journey, I am open to the idea of establishing a long-term presence in the Philippines, especially if my career continues to flourish here. I am comfortable with the notion of commuting between both countries as needed.

Advice to fellow Fil-Am artists considering a move to the Philippines

GAIL—To those contemplating a career in Philippine showbiz, start practicing Tagalog now—it will pay off. Appreciate every connection you make and be mindful not to compare yourself to others. Stay grateful, remain cautious about whom you trust and stay true to yourself. Find a supportive community that understands the demands of showbiz. Most importantly, never forget your “why” and what grounds you. It’s a challenging yet rewarding path, and staying authentic is crucial.

CEDRIC—To those eyeing a move to the Philippines for their entertainment career, my advice is to always remain authentic and professional. Treat everyone you meet with respect, from producers to makeup artists, and fellow artists. Kindness goes a long way in this industry, and often, the longevity of one’s career can be attributed to not just talent, but also being a genuinely good person. Additionally, always perform as if it’s your debut – give every performance your all, because you never know who might be in the audience discovering you for the first time.

Fil-Am columnist Elton Lugay is a seasoned correspondent for the USA bureau of He is also a dedicated community ally and event organizer based in New York. He can be reached at [email protected].

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TAGS: entertainment, Featured, Fil-Am, Filipino American achievers, Filipino American actors, Filipino American entertainment
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