On the LED screen flashed snippets of an old audition video from Pinoy Big Brother. There was Melai Cantiveros in that footage – almost a decade younger, sporting her natural wavy hair, laughing out loud, and just keeping it real as she tells bits and pieces of her simple, yet very happy life.
Then, Melai was called in to join The King of Talk Boy Abunda. She was wearing a classy all-black ensemble matched with an expensive pair of shoes and elegant accessories. She was indeed Melai version 2.0. But as she began to speak and banter with Tito Boy, it was clear to see that she still remains the same old Melai – authentic and humble.
Melai said the ‘probinsyana’ in that footage still resides within her. She may have succeeded in many ways but her core has never changed.
Looking back on her audition, Melai said she wasn’t thinking of fame and glory and fortune at that time. She was happy and content. She didn’t even expect to win, let alone get in. She recalled being asked by Director Lauren Dyogi about her dream business venture, so she thought of ‘sari-sari’ store. But that’s not what she ended up saying.
“Pero pang 15 kasi ako. Eh, sinagot na ng isa ‘yung sari-sari store, ‘yung isa naman convenience store, ‘yung isa mini store. Siyempre kailangan mo ibahin. So, ang sagot ko, vulcanizing shop. Ang katabi ng sari-sari store, vulcanizing shop,” she shared. It may have started as a joke but the vulcanizing shop turned into a reality.
Asked to look back at that moment when she saw her husband, Jason Francisco, for the first time, Melai smiled and said she wasn’t attracted to him. She liked Paul Jake Castillo instead. She even volunteered to wash Paul Jake’s clothes but she still didn’t win his attention until she felt the ‘spark’ with Jason.
Now that she’s in the position to encourage other dreamers as well, Melai would always tell others that it’s the tenacity and authenticity, and not the physical appearance that will get one far.
However, as she moved further to stardom, Melai is somewhat expected to level up her class. She owned up to trying to look and feel classy but she realized her “best wasn’t good enough.” She recalled an incident in a coffee shop where she and her friend tried to behave like ‘rich girls.’
Melai remembered how the other guests looked surprised upon seeing her enter the place. “Akala n’yo mahihiya ako sa inyo. Bagong sweldo, a-dyes na ngayon,” she quipped.
Melai was determined to keep the act. When the waiter came to take her order, her attempt to sound like ‘upper class’ went wrong.
“Pa-order ako ng Blue Verry (Berry),” she told the waiter. Melai almost stiffened in embarrassment over her hilarious slip of the tongue. To make it worse, her friend also pronounced cheesecake as ‘chescake.’
Lesson learned? Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Just keep it real. “Pinilit naming magpaka-sosyal pero hindi pala talaga kaya kinarma agad kami,” she said. Tito Boy added that accent doesn’t define who you are and your happiness.
As a mom of two, Melai realizes how difficult and exhausting it is to raise a child especially when experiencing ‘growing up’ pains like teething. She talked about her sacrifices for Stella such as having sleepless nights and carrying her around for three hours straight. On her eldest, Melai said that little Mela would often point out her flaws but she thinks the girl is doing it out of concern, and perhaps to tell jokes as well.
Melai also got honest about her marriage with Jason and their sex life. After all the trials the braved together, problems that almost destroyed their family, Melai learned that only God can help them fix the troubles. Now, Melai said she is in her happiest.