Would it kill him to wear a ‘barong’?

Bruno Mars

By Elton Lugay

It’s that TIME of the year again when the prestigious magazine honors 100 of the world’s most influential people – the great and the not-so — who make an impact on our lives in 2011.

This time, another Filipino made the cut: Bruno Mars or the “Just the Way You Are” pop sensation.

Bruno, whose real name is Peter Gene Hernandez, was honored April 26 together with President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, H.R.H. Duke William and Duchess Kate of Cambridge, Korean pop singer Rain, and Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, just to name a few. Unlike in the previous year when honoree Manny Pacquiao snubbed the gala event, Bruno, 25, came with a full entourage. Not only was he a proud and punctual honoree, he and Sting were the headline artists. The ceremony held at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center was attended by the magazine’s top executives, A-list celebrities — and yours truly.

I arrived at the Lincoln Center at 6, surveyed the crowd and wondered how the heck would I be able to squeeze into this thick, kibitzing, screaming crowd. After acquiring my credentials from the roving publicist, I “muscled” my way through the red carpet, elbowing through fans and everyone else in my way. Once in, I was faced with an even more intimidating challenge: a phalanx of paparazzi.

So there I was, with no riser, standing “short” behind the towering photographers and TV reporters. I figured my best gauge on who’s arriving would be the screaming fans. Bruno and Sting were among the first to arrive. I was beyond happy that the FilAm singer came early, and that my misery would be ending early too.

Martha Stewart

Chris Colfer

Gayle King. Photos by Elton Lugay

I was eagerly hoping to meet Bruno or to congratulate him on his Grammy win at the very least. I’m aware from previous experience that most of these stars don’t like candid interviews at red carpet events. Not to mention that being with the community press, I recall emailing his publicist asking if Bruno – who has Filipino roots — could accommodate a brief interview. The email came with a note: Your reach (circulation) does not meet our standards. Ouch. Don’t I sometimes wish our common features — height and color of skin — would be the utmost credential? Hawaii-born Bruno, born to a Puerto Rican father and a Filipino mother, stands 5’5” and appeared to be wearing thick-soled shoes that made him two inches taller. I had no such tricks.

When Bruno and Sting made their walk-through, there was pandemonium. Yells from the paparazzi, “To the right please, to the left please, stay still . . .” The pair stopped for a few minutes of photo ops. They also welcomed interviews from a select few.

While I admire his vocals and style of singing, his outfit gave me indigestion, and the lobster salad at Landmarc Restaurant had nothing to do with it. Bruno should start considering having an image maker (raising my hand) to redo his looks. Obviously, no one advised him on what to wear at important events such as the Time 100 Gala. A clean-cut tuxedo, maybe, would have signaled the message that ‘I’m up here, no longer a struggling pop musician.’ Or how about a Barong Tagalog? A pop star in a ‘barong’? Why not? Think outside of the ‘kahon.’ It would be a nice moment to showcase the traditional shirt worn by the Filipino elite. Oh well. Why would he listen to a reporter who could not even get close to the stage. But let me tell you, mister: Your ‘gray suit, blue shirt and chocolate brown shoes’ look was no match to our elegant ‘barong.’ That’s the snubbed reporter talking.

How did Bruno make the coveted list? “Just the Way You Are” made Billboard’s Top 100 three months after its release in July, dislodging Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” at the top. By December, it sold more than 3 million digital copies in the U.S. alone. It’s a “feel-good jam,” writes the Billboard. It’s still there, no longer Number One, but still trending among the top 30s.

The song became an instant hit also in the U.K. and Canada.

B.o.B., a fellow singer and musician, described Bruno: “There are a lot of people in this world who can sing and play the piano and guitar. But there’s something different about Bruno. He has a musicality, a presence in his voice that I’ve never heard from anyone else.”

Bruno’s success and fame mean a groundswell of pride and inspiration to our community. May there be many more like him, and when they get to the top I just wish for a brief moment they’d look back to how and where it all started.

Queens resident Elton Lugay is a reporter, publicist and community events organizer.


  1. maria kathrina ysabel antonio wrote:

    i think he’s cute when he wears a “barong”….there’s nothing wrong when he wears one,he’s a filipino!

  2. Raymond Virata wrote:

    Too bad you didn’t get to meet him. It’s not Bruno, it’s the publicist. Keep on trucking!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: