By Juliana June Rasul
MORE than 50 disadvantaged children were gathered in a ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton on Saturday afternoon, awaiting teen singing sensation Charice Pempengco from the Philippines.
The young guests - from the Singapore Children's Society, Asian Women's Welfare Association and The Little Arts Academy - had been invited to listen to her sing and talk about how she overcame adversity to become the first Asian artiste to make it to the top 10 in the Billboard 200 albums chart.
But the 18-year-old Glee star never showed up.
Pempengco was in town over the weekend to perform as part of the sold-out David Foster And Friends concert, held on Friday and Saturday night as part of the Singapore Sun Festival 2010.
Though she had performed without a hitch on Friday night, she was reportedly stricken with food poisoning on Saturday.
Her mother, Mrs Raquel Pempengco, told Filipino news site ABS-CBN that her daughter had been rushed to hospital because she was vomiting.
The report said "the culprit was a sushi meal she had in the morning" with some other stars from her concert line-up, including music producer Foster himself and singer Natalie Cole.
A Singapore Sun Festival representative told The New Paper that Pempengco had chosen to skip the afternoon session with the children to rest her voice for her performance that night.
The announcement that she would not be appearing was met with gasps of disappointment from the audience.
Appearing in her place were American Idol 2 winner Ruben Studdard and Canadian singer Clifton Murray, a member of the Canadian Tenors, both part of the entourage travelling with Foster.
The children warmed quickly to the pair, who were effervescent on stage, bantering easily with each other, while imparting words of wisdom.
Studdard, 32, and Murray, 31, a former Canadian Idol finalist, entertained the kids with a singing game and by sharing stories about their career.
The event ended with a group from The Little Arts Academy taking the stage to perform Can't Take My Eyes Off You with Studdard and Murray.
Engineer J F Susbielle, 56, who was in the audience, said of Pempengco 's absence: "I was looking forward to seeing her perform. It's not common to have a singer of that quality, at such a young age."
He did not manage to get tickets for her two performances at the Esplanade, but Filipino fan Selena Martine, who did, said that if Pempengco was still feeling queasy, she didn't show it.
Ms Martine, 29, a sales executive who lives here, said the teen star was "absolutely perfect" on Saturday night, hitting Celine Dion's and Whitney Houston's "impossible" high notes effortlessly.
Not so much banter
Pempengco also joined Cole and Studdard to sing Earth Song, as a tribute to Michael Jackson.
"She didn't banter with the crowd as much as maybe Ruben did, but she really had to focus on hitting the big notes," said Ms Martine.
Said Indonesian university lecturer Sita Ismangil, 43, a fan of Foster's, who travelled here for the concert: "Performance-wise, Charice was on fire. David did mention the food poisoning incident and was planning to scrap one song, To Love You More, but Charice said she was okay, so they went on as planned.
"Even David was amazed."
Pempengco received two standing ovations, for her rendition of Eric Carmen's All By Myself and later for a medley of Houston's hits from The Bodyguard.
This is not her first visit to Singapore. Last year, she performed at the Singapore Idol 3 grand finale.
Later this month, she will appear in her second episode of hit TV series Glee.
She will be reprising her role as Sunshine Corazon, a would-be competitor of the titular singing club's star Rachel Berry, played by Lea Michele.
This article was first published in The New Paper.