Home » Meet Chriztel Renae Aceveda, the Filipino singing teen winning the hearts of Croatians
With her rendition of the folk song “Dej mi Bože, Filipino teen Chriztel Renae Aceveda wins the hearts of Croatians at the country’s Supertalent show. In a historic moment in the show, the audience pressed the Golden Buzzer for Chriztel when the judges couldn’t, earning her a place in the semi-finals.
As Chriztel Renae Aceveda walks her way towards the middle of the stage, both the judges and the audience can’t help but gush over her sweet smiley bedimpled face, her traditional Medimurska costume and her adorable demeanor.
Greeting the audience in Croatian, she instantly endears herself to the judges leaving them curious about this 12-year old girl from the Philippines on stage of one of Croatia’s most popular TV shows, Supertalent.
When it is time for her to sing, everybody holds their breath. Without any accompaniment, Chriztel’s sweet angelic voice fills the studio. The beautiful melody of the Croatian folk song “Dej mi Bože”, and her soothing and heartfelt rendition bring some members of the audience to tears. The judges are speechless. Everyone is mesmerized. Even Chriztel’s mom and dad are both fighting back tears.
New country, new friends
Chriztel came to Croatia in September 2020 when her Filipina mother and Croatian father moved to Sveti Martin na Muri. Born in Pampanga, Chriztel already showed interest in music at the young age of five singing karaoke with her mom, Carla.
“When I was 5, I would record myself singing Celine Dion songs on my cellphone. I imagined that I was Celine. Sometimes, I felt like a rock star playing the guitar,” says Chriztel with a smile, who together with her mom Carla, has agreed to share her story with The Filipino Expat via an online interview in their house in Sveti Martin na Muri.
Adjusting to her new environment proved not so difficult for Chriztel. “Although I was a bit scared of how life would be here, I was very excited to have new friends, try their food and learn a new language,” says Chriztel, adding that making friends was easy for her. “I was riding my bike and a girl in my neighbourhood came to me and we became the best of friends. My dad would also tell the kids to come and see me. On my first day of school, the students gave me letters as their way of welcoming me. My new friends helped me with my Croatian.” After six months, she could speak Croatian fluently.
Only Filipinos in the village
Sveti Martin na Muri is a small hilly village and municipality in Međimurje County, in northern Croatia. It is 110km away from the capital city of Zagreb. With a population of almost 3,000, it was only Chriztel and her mom who were the Filipinos when they arrived three years ago. Nowadays, there are at least more than 20 kababayans working in factories in the area. “The first time I saw them, they thought I was not Filipino. They were staring at me. Then I greeted them, Hello po and they realized Pinay din pala ako,” says Chriztel.
A duck on a river
Her love for music is not limited to Tagalog and English pop songs. In fact, when she first heard the Medimurje folk song “Raca lava po Dravi (A duck swims on the river) at school, she fell in love with its melody and lyrics. She sang the song in her Croatian language class to the amazement of her teacher. “My teacher discovered that I could sing and she gave me more folk songs to sing.”
With her newly discovered talent, she was invited to several festivals, concerts and singing contests. One notable guesting she did was at Croatian singer-songwriter and poet Lidija Bajuk’s concert. She also couldn’t forget her participation with other respected singers on a boat for the Miin na Muri Tourism promotion concert.
Journey to Supertalent
It was her dad Rajmund who saw the call for auditions for Nova TV’s Supertalent. Several days after they sent an audition video of Chriztel singing a Croatian traditional song, the show’s production staff called them that Chriztel was going to the show to sing before a live audience and the judges. “The production team was very excited because it was the first time a Filipina was joining and singing a traditional song,” says Carla.
To prepare for this important event, Chriztel chose the song Dej mi Bože, (Let me have, God) and practiced not only the melody but also the pronunciation everyday. “I chose this song because I remember my family in the Philippines. The song is about missing someone that you really want to see. So you pray to God to see that person. I miss my family in the Philippines. My Mama Nelly, my grandmother, my aunts and uncles and cousins.” Let me have, God, eyes of a hawk. And along that, feathers of a swan. So I could fly over the wide sea. And kiss my darling. Such beautiful lines that make Chriztel remember home.
Tribute to Filipino and Croatian cultures
On the night before her trip to Zagreb, Chriztel prayed that everything would go well. “I tried not to be too excited and not scared.” She woke up early and slept through out the two-hour drive to the capital. They arrived at the studio and waited for several hours until she was called on stage.
While waiting, she did a video interview where she spoke in Tagalog saying “Kamusta kayo mga kabayan, nandito na ako sa Croatia” and in Croatian, telling how much she loves the place she lives and its tradition. Wearing pigtail braids and the traditional costume, Chriztel’s turn was finally called. “I wore the costume because I want to show Medimurje to the whole world and I love the skirt. Every time I give it a twirl, it is like a balloon.”
Chriztel takes a deep breath and prays. Everything will be fine, she tells herself. “I was nervous but I was excited to talk to one of the judges, Maja Šuput, a favourite actress of mine. I smiled a lot because daddy told me that I could win them with my smile. When I started singing, I was only thinking of the lyrics. I felt the meaning the words. I could see the judges but not the audience. I didn’t see that they were crying.”
Chriztel’s mom Carla is extremely nervous. “My husband told me not to show my nervousness to our daughter. I was holding my breath. I hoped that she would get three YESes.” But as soon as the judges start giving their comments, Carla can´t hear what the judges are saying. “My husband was translating it to me. I could hear the audience shouting “Publika! Publika! which means audience”.
Impressing the judges of Supertalent
Judge Maja Sûput is the first to give her comment. “If there is one thing I regret about at this moment is that I already used my Golden Buzzer.” Judge Martina Tomčić goes on saying that she has never heard anyone sing the song like how Chriztel has sang it. Much less coming from “A beautiful, adorable and talented Filipino.”
The judges can’t contain their excitement. “Unbelievable!” says Maja. “This is really for a golden buzzer.” When Chriztel finishes her song, the audience and judges rise to their feet and give Chriztel rapturous applause. Some are still wiping their tears.
Stealing the hearts of the audience
Much as the judges would like to press the Golden Buzzer, they can’t for they have already used up all their Golden Buzzer chances. “What is happening? It this true? It felt like I was dreaming, I was telling myself wake up, wake up,” describes Chriztel while waiting for the next thing to happen on stage.
While the judges can’t figure out what to do with their already used-up Golden Buzzers, the audience starts chanting and clapping “Publika! Publika! and right there and then, a woman from the audience presses the golden buzzer.
In scenes like this, as soon as the Golden Buzzer is pressed, confetti and balloons will fall from the ceiling and shower the lucky contestant. But in Chriztel’s case, no confetti falls on her as the production team never imagined such thing would happen. But hosts Igor Mešin and Frano Ridjan are quick to find a square bucket and fill it with confetti, run to the stage and shower Chriztel giving her a beautiful Golden Buzzer moment.
Chriztel cries as she is joined by her mom and dad on stage in front of an overjoyed audience who are cheering them on. “Everything was a blur. It was unbelievable. It’s only when we left the building that the whole thing sank in. I couldn’t remember anything. We were just happy,” shares Chriztel after watching the whole thing on TV.
On the journey home, Chriztel sleeps the entire ride, her body exhausted but her soul, full of emotions. When the show was shown on TV, Chriztel was flooded with cheers and greetings from her friends. “They told me I deserved it. That they were proud of me.”
Before coming to Croatia, Chriztel was a bit scared of what the Croatians would think of her, a girl who looks different from them. With her Audience Golden Buzzer, she made history as the first participant to be “fought for” by the audience. And for that, Chriztel should set aside her fear for she is now seen as the charming 12-year-old who moved to their country and embraces their culture but doesn’t forget her roots.
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Nats Sisma Villaluna has been serving the Filipino community in Spain for more than 13 years. His volunteer works include teaching Spanish to Filipinos, and as artistic director of the Coro Kudyapi, a group of musically inclined young Filipinos in Barcelona. His passion to serve the Filipino community now extends to other countries in his role as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the new The Filipino Expat Magazine.