HER WAY: Rose Fostanes made an autobio of X-Factor

Rose Fostanes and mentor Shiri Maimon wow with a cover of Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You" (Photo from Rose Fostanes unofficial fan page on Facebook)
Rose Fostanes and mentor Shiri Maimon wow with a cover of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” (Photo from Rose Fostanes unofficial fan page on Facebook)

She’s a lesbian, middle-aged and overweight, with a snub nose, jowls, an accent waiting for a cleaver, and enunciation problems. But she has a diva’s full chest tones and soaring notes, bigger-than-life gestures and the ebullient charm of one who lives to serve and love. And she has given “Beautiful” a whole new spin.

On Tuesday (Wednesday morning in Manila), Israel poured love back on Filipino caregiver Rose Fostanes, crowning her the country’s first X-Factor winner.

Fostanes won the contest in pure Pinoy melodrama style, singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”, a somewhat dangerous sing-a-long staple in videoke-crazy Asia. The theme song of every rebel, with or without a cause, the exclamation point to a season’s repertoire that had plumbed every facet of her life struggles.

Some awkward adlibs, the trademark “p” for “f” — all easily overlooked in a powerful performance that scorched past the lush orchestra sound and filled every corner of the arena.

“My Way” is dangerous not just because impatient singers or displeased listeners have been known to shoot hapless performers.  It’s a compressed biography of every person’s life, alluding to a string of slights and sorrows.

Frank Sinatra, photo from http://www.last.fm/music/Frank+Sinatra
Frank Sinatra, photo from http://www.last.fm/music/Frank+Sinatra

It’s also that great aspirational song: Paul Anka penned it for Frank Sinatra, the baadest of the Rat Pack, those rowdy, brilliant, troubled singers who scandalized America as much as they bedazzled.

For almost three minutes, “My Way” allows every downtrodden soul the ultimate dream — giving the a cruel world the dirty finger and getting away with it. And, if one is good enough, getting applause for it.

Life is a soap opera. It’s too easy for “My Way” to degenerate into cheap melodrama. Rose — like most Filipinos, she sports a nickname; Osang, a word made famous by another defiant woman — is 47 years old and has spent 20 years working as a caregiver around the Middle East.

Salt of the earth, sentimental like so many of her people, yet always ready to straighten the shoulders and march on with every disaster. Her life’s dream was hobbled early on because she lacked a star’s looks. Like millions of Filipinos, she took care of the family by working long hours in strange lands. She gifted every note of “My Way” with a rock-solid dignity. Instead of sneering anger, she turned it into a hallelujah chorus.

Osang waddled into her X-Factor audition in jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt, belly almost dwarfing the bust.

Osang, auditioning for X-Factor Israel
Osang, auditioning for X-Factor Israel

With her first song, she set her terms.

“This Is My Life” is a torch singer’s favorite, where every stanza can be punctuated by little sobs.

Osang did not prowl the stage. She has always rooted herself on that private space, a stocky tree with surprisingly graceful arms.  She gave no sobs. She growled at times but for the most part told the story straight, the perfect strategy for a singer whose voice needs no adornment save for that exceptionally expressive face.

By the second round, X-Factor Israel viewers knew Osang was no stereotype, that she would always serve up surprises.

With a heart “going doog, doog,” she ditched standards and sizzled with a country-blues cover of Lady Gaga’s “You and I”. Big Mama, hot goddess at 4’11 and god knows how many pounds, hitting the loins dead on. All the way to that rhythmic spoken afterglow, “You have to move, you have to fight; you have to make your best.”

Now, that’s a line that belongs to a song. Even with slightly fractured English, Osang has the gift of  gab. Short sentences suffused with unintentional irony, or long riffs with perfectly timed pauses; when not singing, she dishes out sidewalk poetry.

Baby doll. That was a signal. Auditioning, Rose said she was alone. Eventually, despite fearing a backlash over identity, she came out to the Associated Press as a lesbian with a butch partner of 30 years. “We have the same dreams, we share property and a bank account,” she says. “She is my soulmate.”  Mel seems to be as gentle and dignified as Osang and got to see her baby doll become a star.

I’m a big fan of musical reality shows. But I haven’t yet seen a singer turn a season into an autobiography. This was what Osang did, making her performances the distillation of those little tales.

She barely reached the armpits of her gorgeous groupmates in the preliminary rounds but she stalked out like a queen in the slow-rock anthem, “Purple Rain”. That must have been a nightmare for her rivals.

Osang squeaked through the judges house, emerging from that cocoon as a star.

"Beautiful… no matter what they say." Osang's anthem,
“Beautiful… no matter what they say.” Osang’s anthem,

The producers must have really loved her because with the first live show they had transformed her into a chic dynamo in silver lame and a black overcoat.

The makeover was just enough to highlight Rose’s world-weary, kind face as she sang of transcending insecurities. That almost spoken word in the last chorus of Christina Aguillera’s “Beautiful” was a statement of self and a call to arms for everyone — woman, man, transexual — who has ever faced rejection.

A judged said she’d just used up her finale number. He was wrong, just barely.

She would prance in “Valerie”, shimmy and she belt out that old war-horse, “I Who Have Nothing”, rock it out again with Gaga’s  “Born This Way”.

There was no way she could lose with “Bohemian Rhapsody” — with a voice like the wind itself, one moment plaintive, the next keening, the next lashing out with rage. The little grammatical and pronunciation lapses gave the anthem of sob a gritty, authentic touch, as did her open-leg stance. I don’t know how much Rose was responsible for the arrangements of her songs. “Bohemian Rhapsody was perfectly edited to showcase her emotional depth (something Susan Boyle lacked) and versatility of tone.

I was least impressed with her semi-final cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “Because of You” — probably her most one-dimensional performance, all birit, no nuance, and with a song that exposed her diction problems. By then, however, she was Israel’s quirky sweetheart and that’s what viewers wanted.

The whole season, Osang was mentored brilliantly by the sympathetic Shiri Maimon. At the finals, she stood tall beside the svelte Shiri, flawlessly harmonising in “If I Ain’t Got You” and then bursting out in soul glory, a joyful and effervescent performance of a song easily ruined by overwrought divas.

I love musical reality shows because they bring up hidden gems. The growth of a raw talent is almost like a life pilgrimage and the outcomes are often time capsules of a society. Too many times, the cute pop stars trounce the more talented mavericks.

Israel, with its grit and its kibbutz memories, may have been the perfect place for Rose to try her luck. “My Way” and Rose. Music and back story a perfect match — for singer and host country.

32 thoughts on “HER WAY: Rose Fostanes made an autobio of X-Factor

  1. I like your post (though a bit twisted). You showed Rose’s journey to success.

    She was able to overcome the odds stacked against her by using her God-given talent and her strong desire to improve her lot and
    her family’s lot while being true to herself.


  2. I couldn’t believe how many times you pointed out her appearance and orientation and made it seem like those were her flaws. It sounds like her only saving grace was her beautiful voice, because her diction is also full of errors. Israel didn’t mind, why should Filipinos? Boo to this post!


  3. Uhm, so what if “She’s a lesbian, middle-aged and overweight, with a snub nose, jowls, an accent waiting for a cleaver, and enunciation problems”? Why make that your lead-in? Reading your article I can tell your admiration of the subject is genuine but again I must ask, why list these things as flaws and thereby validate bigotry and shallowness?


    • Because remember, Rose herself was apprehensive of coming out as she said in the interview. I am so glad she did it her way. As I note, Rose and Israel are a perfect match — they did it their way. Thanks for commenting — and the criticism, too 🙂


      • I appreciate your openness to criticism. Still, I must reiterate that it was unfortunate how you chose to open your piece. The way you worded it, you made being lesbian, for one, a negative thing. It’s one thing to say thanks for the criticism and another to reflect on what you wrote and call yourself out if indeed you were remiss. Like I implied in my comment, I didn’t feel any ill will from you / your piece. It’s really just so revealing how you casually, almost automatically portrayed certain attributes as negative, like it was a given. No, these things should not be taken for granted. In short, kaunting ingat po.


      • Thanks, Moira. Rose herself admitted those fears on the same grounds to the Associated Press. As did her partner, Mel. It shouldn’t matter. And it doesn’t to me. But it does to a lot of people and should not be swept under the rug.
        I am amazed at the vast difference in opinions and views among readers…. but if i didn’t make myself clear, for whatever reason, my bad 🙂


    • I agree with Moira. What’s wrong with being a lesbian, middle aged, and overweight? What’s wrong with a snub nose? Why is it implied that these attributes are handicaps to be overcome by her singing talent? I discern the intent to use juxtaposition to emphasize the triumph, but to publicly say to anyone: “You’re ugly, but you sing like an angel.” seems cruel.


      • There is nothing wrong about being a lesbian, middle aged and overweight. Not to me… but check out the youtube clips and listen to Rose — who has felt fear of rejection — and actually felt it — because of the same things. Which is why My Way is a grand song for her — it’s a song that gives the dirty finger to a cruel world.


  4. Who is this Inday Espina-Varona? Her physical descriptions of Rose implied negativism and seemingly unpleasant for people to see. Does she know that beauty is relative? Probably in Ms. Varona’s standards and for some, if not, the majority of the Filipino public; Rose is that [ugly]. Ms. Varona should have just lauded her for her voice because Rose’s looks did not matter and the Israelis apparently did not see her as “fat, snub nose, and having defective accent or enunciation.” I had no problem understanding her. Congratulations Rose.


  5. Wow! There it was. Every song she performed chronicles her life-long journey to success. Thanks Madame Inday for dedicating this small space for a huge talent and Pinoy pride. Congrats Rose!


  6. I liked your post Maam Inday. Surely, not every one will be pleased. Aside from the feel good part, I viewed Rose’s videos because she sound like an aunt who passed away many years ago. Her victory is not only an autobio – many people can relate to her ordeal. Her performance inspired others. I know someone who said, Rose represents her. he he


  7. Its a great piece lauding somebody who gained victory against all odds, why sanitize it? Its honest and real. Good job inday!


  8. I was following Osang’s X Factor journey….Good observation on the songs selection performed by Fostanes….Ngayon ko lang nabasa ang blog mo Ms. Inday Varona, you are a literary genius. Very nice eloquent article. More power!


  9. I happened to find your site because I’m researching about Rose Fostanes. I must say I super admire the way you write and I enjoyed reading this post. As a blogger, myself, I feel sad about how some people can be so mean with their comments. What I see is an honest piece of work from a writer who is able to express her thoughts clearly, and be entertaining as well. Anyways, I also give you the thumbs up with the way you handled the negative criticisms.


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