Singer Kirby Asunto (center) with the world’s best boxer Manny Pacquiao and his wife Jinkee at their hotel suite in New York earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Shirley Asunto)
Filipino Reporter Exclusive
Besides naming his next opponent, there is another puzzle that surrounds a Manny Pacquiao fight.
That is, picking the lucky performer who will sing the Philippine National Anthem.
Who he/she will be has always been a guessing game.
Not anymore as Pacquiao has made his choice clear as early as last year.
Pacquiao and his wife Jinkee were smitten by the lovely voice of a 14-year-old young teenager from New Jersey, Kirby Asunto, who sang in Pacquiao’s pre-fight Mass last November in Las Vegas.
Asunto then performed in the after-fight concert of the champ as per request by Pacquiao himself.
Pacquiao’s aunt invited the Asuntos early this year to come to the champ’s house in Los Angeles while the boxer was in town.
This was when the eight-division champ asked Asunto if she could sing the national anthem.
“Marunong ka bang kumanta ng ‘Lupang Hinirang?’” asked Pacquiao.
“Opo!” Asunto replied enthusiastically.
“I am honored. Masaya. Masayang masaya!” she said.
The honor was equally shared by her parents Dong and Shirley as well.
“They are very proud of me and they are honored that Tito Manny asked me to sing.”
Her classmates and friends at Myles J. McManus Middle School in Linden, N.J. are excited for her as well.
“They are very excited to watch me on TV,” beamed Asunto.
Her association with the Pacquiaos won’t end on fight night.
The Pacquiaos will help the talented teenager get into mainstream show business in the Philippines.
Asunto signed a contract with them in February to allow them to manage her career.
Pacquiao called her parents and expressed interest in helping the young singer’s career.
“Huwag na raw kaming mag-accept ng ibang mga offer kay Kirby. Gustong gusto daw niyang hawakan si Kirby para daw ma — I guide ng mabuti. Saying daw yung talent niya,” narrated her mother, Shirley.
It is an offer that Asunto and her family can’t refuse.
“I was very happy. It’s very surprising to hear that from the Philippines’ hero. I was very honored.”
She has been watching Pacquiao’s fights ever since she was a little kid in the Philippines.
In fact, the main reason why the Asuntos went to Las Vegas last November was to do what other fans of the Filipino icon aspire to do — to see Pacquiao in person and have pictures taken with him.
Asunto, despite being in the United States for more than six years, is still a “Pinay” at heart.
The teen singer lists “palabok” and “sinigang na hipon” as her favorite Filipino food.
She likes watching Filipino TV shows in her spare time.
She adores Broadway star and Olivier winner Lea Salonga.
“She is my idol. She is amazing. I have been a fan of her since I was very little.”
“And for actor Enchong Dee,” she added with a smile, “I liked him, when I saw him perform in the Star Magic tour in New York. They would not let me see him then, so I cried. When they finally let me see him, I let him sign my iPad.”
Her admiration of Salonga was the reason why she loves Broadway songs.
She does not only love them but performs them in various local plays and appearances in the tri-state area.
“Broadway is my thing. And I have not even watched a Broadway show yet. I love listening and performing Broadway songs. They are just cool.”
The budding singer just played the lead in the musical “Annie” last April in her school with no less than the mayor of Linden in attendance.
Asunto has been rehearsing “Lupang Hinirang” since February in preparation for the Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley match at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on June 9.
Not that she really needs it.
She has been busy with a number of shows and performances in New York and New Jersey.
She performed with Journey lead singer Arnel Pineda last April in the Big Apple.
She also just recently performed in the annual Philippine Independence Day parade last Sunday in Manhattan.
She performed a medley of Visayan songs with ease and gusto in front of the adoring crowd.
She had no problems reciting her piece as both of her parents are from Leyte.
Asunto will not be only representing her parent’s hometown of Leyte, her birth city of Parañaque and her Filipino communities in New Jersey and New York.
She will be representing the millions of Filipinos in the homeland all over the world as she sings our National Song this Saturday.
“I am really honored that I get to sing in front of millions of our kababayans that will watch Tito Manny’s fight. I hope that they will like my singing of the ‘Lupang Hinirang.’”