Thursday, February 14, 2008

NINGAS-COGON, American Idol Style

Okay, I admit it! I am a fan of that reality/talent show, American Idol. I am infected with that contagious, dangerous disease called the American Idol Syndrome, the symptoms of which include rearranging my schedule so that every Tuesday and Wednesday night I can watch my favorite contestants uninterrupted, and finding myself belting out such cheesy songs as A Moment Like This and Bridge Over Troubled Water. I look forward to Tuesday nights like a drug addict waiting for his next fix and I sit on the edge of my seat on Wednesday nights waiting for the ultimate high to kick in: watching who will get the boot. I realized with horror that I was in the advanced stage of the disease when I started using “Dawg!’ as part of my vocabulary. And uh, I bought Clay Aiken’s CD as well—before he sold his soul to that Broadway Devil, Spamalot.

This season, we are blessed with another Filipino-heritaged contestant who made it to the top twenty four: Ramiele Malubay. Boy, did that make my day! And brought back memories of an American Idol season when we had two Filipinas in the finals: Camille Velasco and Jasmine Trias.

In the first week of that particular AI season, our two representatives eluded being included in the bottom three, the place reserved for the three contestants who receive the lowest phone-in/text-in votes. We have the Filipino-American community to thank for that. E-mail messages encouraging us to phone-in or text-in our votes for Camille and Jasmine poured in like crazy during the first week. Second week came and to my dismay, Camille was one of the three in the bottom. Still, to my relief, she was not eliminated. Week four came and, to my horror, Camille and Jasmine were both in the bottom three! What’s going on? What happened to the Fil-Ams’ initial rousing support for these two contestants?

Eventually, Camille was voted off… and Jasmine was soon back in Hawaii, singing in the Mahalo Karaoke Lounge. No, actually, she made it big in the Philippines.

Back to that AI season, I refused to believe that callers vote off the least talented of the bunch. In my opinion, they’re all talented singers, all future wannabe pop-stars, all equally deserving of their 15 minutes of fame. Therefore, I believe that viewers vote for their emotional favorites and yes, pride in one’s heritage plays a part in that. I present as proof those countless e-mails I received from Filipino-American groups exhorting us to vote for these two Filipino-heritaged contestants. But just as those e-mails surged like a turbulent tropical storm in the first week of The American Idol, they quickly ebbed like the tide returning to the sea. Soon, I rarely got such e-mails.

I call this phenomenon Ningas-Cogon, American Idol style.

Cogon, a kind of grass native to the Philippines, grows to about three feet tall and depending on its usage, is either a weed or a crop. To farmers, it is a pesky weed; to nipa hut builders, it is a source of excellent roofing material. Cogon quickly burns, giving off intense heat and flames, then quickly dissipates. We call this process ningas-cogon. Ningas-cogon is also the way we describe the typical Filipino commitment: intense and strong in the beginning, but swiftly going downhill, fading away, waning focus, losing interest.

Ningas-cogon is, uh, not my bowl of rice.

Indeed, what good does it do to embark on a new project with all the enthusiasm and energy of someone who is on Viagra, only to lose interest halfway through the work?

I am just as guilty about this ningas-cogon mentality as the next Filipino. There were several writing projects that I abandoned before the proverbial ink even dried on the paper. Heck, there was a book project that I quit after writing only the prologue. At some point, I realized I couldn’t finish anything, yet I kept starting, starting, starting. One might say I had a really bad case of startitis.

But I’m getting better.

I think the most eye-opening thing that helped me ‘cure’ my ningas-cogon attitude was realizing that no matter what we do, something always manages to come up and get in the way of what we are trying to do. So to avoid being distracted, I started putting down on paper a list of things to do on a particular day, a particular week. I prepare the next day’s list at night before I go to sleep. I set deadlines that I have to meet and dutifully check them off when they are met. Those check marks, believe it or not, provide the impetus to move along, to finish something started. They’re like little prizes I collect for doing something good. Well, several checkmarks later, I finished a novel!

I know it sounds so easy on paper but sticking to a commitment really becomes easier when you monitor your daily progress. Think of it as the ‘commitment police’, the force who’ll keep you focused in your quest to be productive and accomplish goals.

Hopefully, by the time this article comes out, our very own Ms. Malubay is still in the running, not falling victim to our ningas-cogon mentality. If not, well there’s a lesson to be learned here I think.

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