Former GCC Softball Player Pursues R&B Career

June 8, 2011

Jamie Avancena

She’s a descendant of a former Philippine president, but that’s not how Jamie Avanceña wants to be labeled.

“I want people to know me for me, [not as the great granddaughter of former President Jose Laurel],” the San Marino resident said.

Avanceña, 23, is initially shy when it comes to meeting people. It’s not an expected personality trait of athletes or aspiring artists, but she is: an athlete, an aspiring artist, and, at first encounter, she’s a bit shy.

It is clear from her activities that Avanceña has a knack for sports. At the age of 4 she began playing golf, and at the same time she took ballet, tap, and hip-hop dance lessons. She began playing softball when she was 7 years old, and continued playing the sport in middle school and high school. In 2001 and 2003 the teams she played for won the Little League World Series, and beat Arizona in the 2002 USA Nationals.

Avanceña attended GCC from 2006 to 2008 and was nominated softball team captain in the 2007-08 school year. During her attendance at Glendale, she ranked in the Western State Conference.

“She was probably one of the hardest workers and one of the finest kids we had as a leader,” softball coach Dave Wilder said. “[She was] absolutely the greatest kid … [she was] a very, very good student. [She] worked hard, never talked back and was always there for everybody.”

In the time she played softball, Avanceña received the recognition typical of star athletes. But that type of attention wasn’t something she sought.

“The only reason people knew me was because of sports,” she said. Beyond that, people didn’t know much about her and she even felt invisible.

Avanceña was offered a full scholarship to the University of the Philippines for her achievements in softball, and she attended college there for a year. Yet despite where her athletic talent landed her, she relinquished her scholarship and came back to California.

While her mom wanted her to play softball, she didn’t know for sure if playing for the national softball team of the Philippines was her dream, or if it was her mom’s.

“I grew up with a family where I felt like I couldn’t be myself,” she said. “I felt like I was in their shadow.”

Other members of the aspiring artist’s family were active in Philippine politics. The sons of former President Laurel became vice president, senators, and congressmen. Some other relatives include a former Minister of Labor of the Philippines and a current justice in Makati City.

She doesn’t intend to follow in her relatives’ political footsteps, but Avanceña sticks closer to the path of her uncle, Cocoy Laurel, an artist who has performed on Broadway.

Last summer she released her first album containing four R&B tracks. She co-wrote the fourth song on the album, “It’s My Time,” which is about her breaking out of her shell.

While Avanceña is pursuing a career in music, she admits to not always having had the qualities of a singer.

“The funny part is, growing up I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, I had no tone, no beat,” she said. Despite this, she said singing has always been her passion.

Avanceña first got into music when her grandmother, who she calls Lola Julie, encouraged her to sing karaoke when she was younger. The first song she learned to sing in tune was “Always and Forever” by the funk/disco band Heatwave.

Because she was close to her grandmother, Lola Julie’s death in 2005 presented a difficult time for the then-San Marino High School student. After getting through it, she decided to take a risk and see where her R&B music career would go.

“To this day whenever I sing I make sure to [also] sing for my other grandmother, my Mama Rose [who recently passed away],” she said. “I really sing for them and I got closer to God because of my grandmother Rose because she was in the Catholic Womens League.”

In the Philippines, Avanceña became a song leader in church because of her Mama Rose’s involvement there.

The stepping stone for the aspiring artist was when she auditioned for Tawag Ng Tanghalan, a singing competition, in 2008. The contest was held at the LA Convention Center, and she brought a CD that was incompatible with the player. She was left with no choice but to sing a capella, and she still managed to win third place.

“That’s when I realized to really believe in myself,” she said. “It gave me that confidence. I thought, ‘If the judges see something in me that I don’t see in myself, maybe I’m really meant to do this.'”

She is currently working on her next album with music producer and artist Big Rod from Fun Factory. Big Rod has worked with big names in the music industry including the Backstreet Boys and music manager Johnny Wright.

While Avanceña continues overcoming her shyness and trying to let loose, the music producer said the aspiring artist has a personality that’s easy to work with.

“She’s been an athlete all her life so she’s used to taking critique and then adjusting her game to it, and that’s what she does with her vocals also,” he said. “If I have a problem, I let her know, and she fixes it.”

Another positive aspect Big Rod highlighted about the singer is the unique vocal quality she possesses.

“Her voice is kind of a shape shifter,” the music producer said. “She can make her voice do what it wants to do. She has power … but she can bring it down and sing nice and mellow.”

The Filipina singer is wrapping up her second semester at Pasadena City College and preparing for her upcoming album. She has been listening to dance tracks and ballads, as these are the types of songs scheduled to be featured on her new record. She’ll also be moving to the Philippines during the summer to further her music career.

Despite having faced a lot of uncertainty before finally deciding to pursue a performance career, Avanceña recognizes the hurdles she’s faced as ones that have shaped her character.

“Everything that’s happened in the past has built me into the person I am today,” she said.

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