Inspiring Pinoys and performing live from Tacloban to the US
I think in every high school batch in every school, there are always that few who stand out for their talents. My high school batch indeed has some and fortunately, I happened to be friends with one of them.
Jelly Balbuena, Anj or Boks to us, is smart, funny, gregarious, and simply knows his way around. He is also fabulous, then and now. As a teenager, he was already doing stand-up comedy and singing for different occasions. Here’s the thing, Jelly has always been a good friend to many, and if you are part of his inner circle, you are lucky.
It is no surprise that he has continued to soar even higher as he continues to make a name in live entertainment in the United States where he has been based for more than a decade now. Along with his group, the Awesome 3some, he has been touring major cities on the West Coast. And for years now, has been performing for various crowds alongside the likes of Lea Salonga, Martin Nievera, and Jed Madela among others. Here’s an excerpt of our chat recently.
I’ve always known you were made for a bigger stage. How did it all start? What made you choose this path?
Ever since elementary, I knew in my heart that I wanted to perform and sing. I was a member of a children’s choir called The Singing Angels, where we once became the national champions in the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA). If I wasn’t in school or singing in the choir, I was hosting local beauty pageants, birthday parties, or weddings. My being a stand-up comedian started in high school. I joined a declamation contest and one of the judges was the owner of a club. He noticed my talent and hired me to do a 30-minute stand-up every weekend. Back then, my name was Bumble Bee.
I would listen to the songs of Lea Salonga, Regine Velasquez, Martin Nievera, Lani Misalucha, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston. I also have a fascination with show tunes. And I really love comedy so I would always watch Jon Santos, Nanette Inventor, and Vice Ganda.
When I came to the US in my early 20s, a family friend introduced me to Edna Ramos, the owner of Ichiban karaoke bar. They were looking for talents to do live entertainment. At first, I was hesitant because I didn’t have enough confidence yet in throwing punchlines and joining the banters. With the help of my senior performers, I started coming out of my shell. I’m thankful to all of them and to all that I have come to work with for the pieces of advice they have shared. It certainly helped me a lot.
You are a multitude of talents– a performer, host, comedian, make-up artist, and thespian– what’s the best title that would describe you?
Ha-ha! I really don’t know. I guess I just do whatever is being thrown my way. There was a point in my life when I didn’t know what to do because of the many choices. So, I asked God, why do you have to give me so many talents? Why can’t you just give me one and be good at it? Ganon ang prayers ko sa kanya before. Tapos sabi ko sa Kanya, ikaw na bahala. You lead the way. I am starting to realize how lucky am I to be able to do the things I love to do and to have the option and the flexibility to do all of these. So I guess ‘hustler’ lang talaga ang best description for me. Ha-ha!
What’s been keeping you busy lately? Is there something we can look forward to in terms of your performances in the US or here in the Philippines?
Aside from my full-time job at Assist on Call, Inc., and make-up gigs, I’m also busy with live entertainment. Since everything seems to be going back to normal, live shows are coming along. I’ve been busy with private events and local shows. Our group, the Awesome 3some, with Jesse and Xiao, has been touring the West Coast. Hopefully, come December, we will be in New York and other cities on the East Coast. I’m so looking forward to our roadshow next year. We have created a team to help us with bookings and selling the show. Exciting times!
A little bit personal, who is Jelly or Boks behind the stage?
Boks is a chill and quiet person. I am usually just confined in my room, watching Netflix, reading online stuff, or watching vlogs if walang work. I love to eat and try out different restaurants, I love good red wine and I usually dine alone. There is so much peace in dining alone, going to the movie theatre, and even going to the bars alone, not because wala akong friends but because I just enjoy it talaga. I am fun and outgoing, too but I get older I get to enjoy quiet time or me-time. I’ll call my mom in the Philippines para inisin siya – that’s our equivalent of lambingan, or kumustahan with friends. Ganon, happy na ako.
Any memorable performances and upcoming giga or projects?
I guess my performance for 2015 The Outstanding Filipino Awards at Carnegie Hall in New York. It’s every performer’s dream to perform at this prestigious hall. Plus I got to meet fellow Filipino- Americans who have made a name for themselves. They are truly inspiring. There’s that one performance also with Lea Salonga where I had the chance to sing ‘A Whole New World’ with her. Jusko! Kilig na kilig ako doon.
I’m looking forward to our upcoming shows as ‘Awesome 3some’. We will have shows in San Diego and New York. We hope to spread more fun and entertainment to all of our kababayans here in the US.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers back home?
Keep doing what you’re doing. Never stop, never give up, and put your heart into everything that you do. Walang maliit naproject. Whatever work you have, do your best and always remain humble. As Quincy Jones said: “Once a task has begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”
Follow Jelly Balbuena on IG @jelly_balbuena. For feedback, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.