Recently appearing on NBC’s hit show, The Voice, Filipina American Cheesa showed the nation that she has the musical chops to compete with the best. Her distinct, powerful and soulful voice caught America’s attention and was praised by distinguished artists like Cee-lo (her coach on the show) and Christina Aguilera. However, her journey was not one that didn’t have it’s fair share of challenges and tests. After moving from Hawaii to California to pursue singing, Cheesa found herself working at her career for over a decade, until her big break on The Voice. Since then, her career is only looking up.
With her new single, I’m Not Perfect, she shows that she is much more than just a pretty voice. She’s a woman who has something to say and brings to the forefront a reality faced by many young women – the challenge of true self-acceptance and self-love.
Find out more about Cheesa in our interview after the cut!
Could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Sure, I’m Cheesa; I was [recently] on The Voice, Season Two. I was Team Cee-lo, and I have a single coming out this Thursday (Sept. 6th) featuring Charice and it’s titled I’m Not Perfect.
Doing some research, I was watching some videos of you, and from the way that you sing, it’s obvious that singing is your passion. When did you know that you wanted to pursue music?
I started singing at the age of 4, and I remember when I was 10 years old, I entered a competition here in California, and that’s when I knew that I loved being on stage. So from then on, my brother created a duet team….and we started performing all around Hawaii, and we got a little bit of buzz. And from then on, we were like, “Oh my God, we should totally move to California,” and so we convinced our family to move [to California], to LA, and the rest is history, from then on.
As you mentioned, you recently appeared on The Voice. How would you describe your experience on the show?
It was a great experience for me, personally, because I started off as a group, [as a] duet with my brother, and actually, for the competition, auditioned together. [And] On the show, we were separated, and the show allowed me to find who I was as an artist, as a person, what I personally wanted, and to make my own decisions. Because when I was in the group, my brother was the group leader, he would call the shots. So with the show, I was able to do my own decision-making and feel a little bit more comfortable and more confident with myself, so I appreciate the fact that they allowed me to do that. To be on Team Cee-Lo – Cee-Lo’s such a great coach; he’s such an awesome person…and I appreciate[d] every moment.
You mentioned your coach, your Voice coach, Cee-lo, and he named you the “next power singer of our generation,” how does that title make you feel or what do you feel when you hear that, especially coming from someone like him?
Well that night, I don’t know – I don’t even think I realized what he said until I rewatched the show, and I was like, “Oh my God, wow!” – like I was speechless, I was stunned to get that kind of comment from a big superstar, and even have him, and Christina Aguilera, give me a standing ovation was pretty surreal for me. Because me and my brother, we’ve been working hard at this for a long time, and to finally get that comment, that kind of appreciation from somebody else, who’s been in the business for a long time, was validating. So it was a great feeling. Just trying to live up to it!
Moving away from the show, if you could pick one song that would define your musical style or sound, what would it be and why?
Hmm…just one song?! It’s so difficult! Well, I’m a Christian girl, I’m Catholic, so I guess I could pick a gospel song, “I Won’t Complain,” because through all my struggles and everything that I’ve been through, through certain circumstances, there’s no reason to complain because with everything going on there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. So, for me to complain with all of the blessings that I’ve been blessed with thus far is crazy. Definitely, “I Won’t Complain.”
As you mentioned before, your first debut single, “I’m Not Perfect” with Charice is going to be released really, really soon. Can you tell us more about it?
[This song was written] a while back, and the song basically talks about this girl going through, struggling with self-acceptance, and not loving herself even though she has beauty, this a beautiful girl. Beauty just lies deep inside; you have to love yourself for who you are and what you stand for, and no matter what [people] say, when they try to bring you down, you’re still beautiful inside. And I struggled as a teen, and even in the industry, trying to accept myself. You know I’ve been told, when I was younger, like “Oh, you’re not fit. You’re not cut. Or not the image of what our industry is looking for,” so I wanna inspire other kids and other people out there that there’s nothing that’s impossible – you can live your dreams, you can inspire other people with your story, what you’re going through with your life; so basically, that’s what the song’s about, and I hope that the message is spread across.
You worked with Charice on this song. What was it like collaborating with her on this track?
I was watching Charice for such a long time, even before she got on like Ellen and Oprah, and all that kind of stuff. I watched her video from Star King, and I was like, “oh my God, this girl is so good!” I didn’t understand how, why she didn’t get big yet. So when I saw her on Ellen and Oprah, I was like “oh my God, that’s the girl that I’ve been watching!” And to now have the opportunity to work with her and to even know her as a person, on a personal level, that’s a blessing. It was such a great time to do the song with her, and to see how she works in the studio, and to be mentored by her, even though she’s younger than me. She inspires me, with all of her struggles and everything, and how she overcame it, so it was great. I love her, she’s like a sister.
What do you want listeners to feel when they listen to the track and why did you choose this track to be your debut song?
It hits close to home, and like I said, for me, I’ve always struggled with self-acceptance. So, I thought it was perfect coming out from the show. The show kind of brought a bit of nostalgia from when I was little about my weight and whatever. And you know, social media and Twitter can be a blessing and a curse just because it’s so open and everybody has their, is entitled to their opinions. I know that I’m not the only one struggling with bullying on, with social media and stuff like that. So I thought that it was perfect for me to spread the message and hopefully inspire other kids and everybody else.
Both you and Charice are Pilipina, and as a Pinay too, it’s great seeing two strong Pilipinas working together. How has being Pilipino/Pilipino American played a part in your career?
It’s played a big part. I was raised in a very Pilipino household, and my values and my morals are there. And, to be part of the Filipino, all of these Filipinos coming together and getting into the music industry, even more than just the music industry, like boxing and all of that, I feel a sense of pride to be a part of that. It’s a great feeling, and I just want to be able to help show our culture and heritage to the world, because I don’t think we get enough credit as it is right now. So I feel a sense of pride.
You were recently a mentor on The X Factor: Philippines. What was that experience like, as being the mentor instead of being the performer?
It was crazy when Charice asked me to do that because coming from the show, The Voice, I was a contestant. And for her to ask me to be a mentor on X Factor, I thought it was so…so funny, you know? I was like, “Am I cut out for this job?” like, “Who am I, you know? (laughs)” So, um, it was great, and like, the talent – the talent level – that is on that show is amazing! Team Charice all the way! KZ and Allen [Team Charice members on X Factor Philippines] are still on it, so I’m very proud of them.
So, Charice just asked you to be on the show, and you just said, “Yeah, let’s do it,” and you just went to the Philippines?
Yeah, my brother told me, he’s like, “Charice wants to know if you [can mentor], and I was like, “oh, um, sure – of course!”
Who are some artists and producers that you’d like to work with in the future? Because you’ve collaborated with Charice, who are some other people you’d hopefully want to collaborate with?
I’d definitely love to work with my coach, Cee-lo! But, there’s a lot, I could go on and on – Beyonce, Bruno Mars…Happy Birthday Beyonce today, by the way [the interview was conducted on Sept. 4th, Beyonce's birthday]! I would love to collaborate with them, definitely!
What would be one of your favorite songs from your coach, or from Beyonce, or from one of your idols?
Shoot, Beyonce? Oh man, that’s a good one. I love, I love, I love “Listen”…It goes along with the whole thing; it basically talks about somebody always trying to mold you into something, and now you’re finally coming into yourself, and like “,Listen, this is who I am, accept me, otherwise, you
What’s been the most exciting moment in your career thus far? And what has been the most challenging part?
Well the most memorable moment, I guess, to be able to work with all these people and meet them – Cee-lo and Charice [for example]. To be given these opportunities, because I’ve been working at this for maybe…10 years, and to finally be recognized and be in the position that I’m in right now, is like, all the hard work and the struggles paid off. Struggling…the hardest part, I guess, is transitioning. I don’t even think it hit me yet. Some people recognize me; it’s just like, “Oh my God, you know who I am? That’s crazy!” I guess that’s the most difficult part. Everything else, I love it, I enjoy it – there’s no complaints.
Outside of your single, what other exciting projects do you have coming up?
I’m currently in the studio, writing and producing for my album that I’ll hopefully be releasing early of next year. And I would love to get involved with an anti-bullying organization.
You’ve already made great strides in your career thus far, but where do you hope to see yourself in the future?
I hope to see myself, you know, be at the top (laughs). Writing and singing, hopefully writing for other people as well and using this platform to change people’s visions of what they think society, what society has envisioned for “what’s a good look” or whatever. Everything should be accepted, you know? Who are we to define what is beautiful in our world?
Going off of that, how would you define beauty? Or, what is beauty to you?
Beauty is all internal; as long as you live your life caring for people, caring for yourself most of all, and just accepting everyone for who they are. I mean, if we all respected each other, there would be no problems.
You mentioned earlier that you’d want to write for other people – who would you want to write for? Your dream artist?
I personally, with all the help that I’ve been getting, I would love to help up and coming artists, artists on their way up. Because it’s a difficult market; it’s hard when you don’t know anybody. I’d love to help up and coming, [people who are] underground – that type of artist.
Just to wrap up, what’s some advice you’d like to give young women who’d like to pursue singing or something in the entertainment industry?
Stay strong. Never let anybody tell you what you can and cannot do, and stay true to yourself. If you love what you do, it’ll never be work.
Full track is now available on iTunes.