Charice Pempengco was living proof that dreams can come true. Before she was dubbed "the little girl with the big voice," the Filipina singer entered numerous talent shows in her native country and used her prize money to help lift her family up from poverty. She quickly rose to fame after videos of her singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" (1982) went viral on YouTube. These performances attracted the attention of talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who immediately featured the Internet star on her daytime program in 2007. As she continued to gain exposure, Pempengco began racking up an enviable number of friends in high places, including media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who called Pempengco "the most talented girl in the world," and pop impresario David Foster, who produced her first international single, "Note to God" (2009). She also shared the stage with world-class performers like Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion, all of whom marveled at her skill. After years of belting out Whitney Houston covers, Pempengco released her international debut album Charice (2010), which featured a radio-friendly mix of bouncy pop and R&B tunes. Fueled by the single "Pyramid," the album charted at No. 8, making Pempengco the first Asian singer to make it to Billboard's Top 10. Far from a one-note, she landed a recurring role on the popular Fox series "Glee" (2009- ), a testament of Pempengco's prodigious natural talent and staying power as an international superstar.
Charmaine Clarice Relucio Pempengco was born on May 10, 1992 in San Pedro, Laguna, Philippines. Before she discovered the joy of singing, Pempengco lived in an abusive household. When she was three, Pempengco witnessed her father choke and point a gun at her mother in a fit of rage. With the help of their neighbors, Pempengco and her mother fled, and she never saw her father again. Pempengco started singing at age four and by the time she was seven, she was competing in local talent shows. After entering more than 80 contests, Pempengco used her prize money to help her mother, who worked at a garment factory at the time, support their family. The youngster was even able to afford an apartment where she learned how to play the guitar and sing in English. In 2007, a fan posted Pempengco's appearances on various Asian variety shows and the Filipino talent show "Little Big Star" (ABS-CBN, 2005- ). Her soul-stirring rendition of Jennifer Hudson's 2006 version of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" received millions of hits on multiple video sharing sites and also caught the eye of talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who immediately invited Pempengco to appear on her show. With her big, soulful voice, she belted out Whitney Houston's 1992 power ballad "I Will Always Love You" and "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" (NBC, 2003- ). With this one performance, Pempengco's life changed overnight.
Continuing to make the talk show circuit, Pempengco stunned audiences with a jaw-dropping rendition of "I Have Nothing" (1993) on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (syndicated, 1986- ) in 2008. Winfrey, a serious star maker, called on Grammy-winning producer and friend David Foster to help boost Pempengco's career. Shortly after, the talented teen joined him in Las Vegas for a PBS concert special called "Hit Man: David Foster & Friends" (2008), featuring a star-studded line-up that included Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and Michael Bublé. With all these stars in attendance, it was the tiny teen who brought a crowd of 10,000 to its feet with a medley of songs from the film "The Bodyguard" (1992), impressing fellow performer Bocelli, who handpicked Pempengco to sing with him at his birthday concert in Italy. Later that same year, she sang Bocelli's 1999 song "The Prayer" with him in front of more than 8,000 people in the Tuscan countryside near the famous tenor's hometown. Pempengco's quick rise to the top made her the biggest star in her native country, where she performed for former president Glora Macapagal-Arroyo at the Malacañang Palace. So appealing was her voice and her inspirational story, her self-titled debut album (2008) reached platinum status by 2009.
During a 2009 appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" where she sang Dion's 1997 hit "My Heart Will Go On," the young star received the surprise of a lifetime when her personal idol, Dion, appeared via satellite and asked Pempengco to sing with her at New York City's Madison Square Garden during her "Taking Chances Tour." The two vocal powerhouses blew the roof off the fabled venue with a duet of Dion's hit "Because You Loved Me," which Pempengco dedicated to her mother in the audience. She kept the momentum going with the song "Note to God" written by Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren and produced by mentor David Foster. The song landed on iTunes Top 10 list shortly after. That same year, she had a featured role in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" as a talented high school singer.
The year 2010 was a banner year for Pempengco, who released her self-titled international debut album that featured the hit song "Pyramid" featuring rapper Iyaz, as well as a number of slow jams and dance-pop tunes aimed mostly at teen girls. That same year, Pempengco raised some eyebrows when she revealed that she had Botox and other skin-tightening treatments "to look fresh on camera." The not-so-media-savvy teen told reporters that she had the procedures in preparation for her upcoming role as a transfer student on "Glee," a bitingly funny series about a group of talented musical misfits who are members of a struggling glee club. According to reports, a celebrity dermatologist in the Philippines treated the 18-year-old Pempengco to alter the shape of the singer's "naturally round face." In spite of Pempengco and the doctor's admissions that the procedures were purely for cosmetic reasons, the singer's rep claimed they were done to relieve jaw pain.