Singing is considered a national hobby in the Philippines, and it's through this passion that Australia's Eurovision artist Montaigne first developed her love for performing.
Jessica Cerro, known onstage as Montaigne, is preparing to represent Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest with her song, 'Technicolour'.
While it will be her first time performing on the international stage, the 25-year old art-pop musician from Sydney has been getting local air time since high school as a finalist on Triple J’s ‘Unearthed’.
In 2016, at the age of 21, she won an ARIA Award for Breakthrough Artist for her album, 'Glorious Heights'.
She’s since toured around Australia, collaborated with big-name artists like The Hilltop Hoods, and released her second album, 'Complex', in 2019.
But before Jessica became Montaigne, there was an upbringing that included Filipino food and KTV, or Karaoke Television.
So how Filipino is Montaigne? Not much, but also, quite a lot.
She comes from a French, Argentinean, Spanish, and Filipino background; but growing up in Australia, it was her mother’s Filipino side that stood out.
“I grew up with some of those cultures, Filipino predominantly, and a little bit of Argentinian,” she says.
“But mostly Filipino because my family had friends around that were Filipino in Sydney. My mum was born and raised in Manila until she was about 18 or 19.”
She confesses that as she never learned the language, she doesn’t feel that she can relate strongly to Filipino culture.
“I’m proud of where I come from. But I feel like I'm still learning to connect with it because we weren't exposed to it as much as I think we could or should have been growing up,” she says.
But for someone who doesn’t feel all that Filipino, she speaks with surprising familiarity about the food.
“The most culture I got from my parents that was from our origins was Filipino food, like ginataan, and sinigang, and adobo,” she says, pronouncing each dish almost perfectly.
In fact, she once attempted a meatless version of the famous Filipino sour broth, sinigang; which she admits wasn’t easy to do as a practising vegan.
“[With] sinigang, you need animal fat to make it really come together, and you can't do that when you’re vegan. I think the tamarind was a bit too strong. There needed to be something to balance it out a bit more,” she says.
Although admitting her cooking skills aren’t advanced, she says it certainly won’t be her last try at vegan Filipino cuisine.
“Someday, I want to do a video on adobo. I'm really intent on that because that was my favourite."
The Philippine national past-time
After food, the next most Filipino thing about Montaigne is the presence of karaoke in her childhood home.
“My mum used to buy karaoke DVDs, and I and my sister had, like, two. And we’d just repeat the same songs over and over again,” she shares.
“My tio [uncle] has a box with the karaoke books and stuff like that. My extended family really loves that stuff, for sure.”
As it was her mother who encouraged the Philippine national past-time, it makes sense that Montaigne credits her as the “greatest proponent” in her success as a musician.
“[When] I was a teenager, she was spearheading all of the management duties, and really trying to champion me,” she shares.
“Part and parcel of why I'm where I am now are because I was given that lift right at the beginning by my mum.”
And isn’t that so very Filipino? After all, what Pinoy mum wouldn’t want their child to be a singing star?
This time last year, Montaigne was dealt a bitter blow. Still flying high from being selected to perform at Eurovision 2020, the contest was soon cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve had my cry,” she posted on a Facebook status, adding that she would probably have “a lot more cries in the next little while.”
But a year later, she is in better form than ever with a bold, rainbow-dyed buzzcut, and an exuberant new single, 'Technicolour'.
Heavily inspired by pop artists from the early 2000s like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, Montaigne describes the song as a journey to finding your power through difficult emotions and adversity.
And this time, not even a global pandemic is going to stop Montaigne from performing at Eurovision 2021. There is one twist: she won’t be attending the actual competition in Rotterdam.
Instead, a pre-recorded performance will be broadcasted.
She’s not as disappointed this time around. “It's bad luck, but it’s bad luck that everyone in the world is enduring, not just me."
After her performance hits TV screens this May, Jessica Cerro will belong to the world. But for now, she belongs to Australia and is happy to be included in its Philippine community.
“Thank you for your support, and for identifying with me, and accepting me as part of the community because that's really important to me.
“And yeah, just lots of love.”
WATCH EUROVISION ON SBS
Primetime evening broadcasts
Semi Final 1 – Friday 21 May, 8.30pm (AEST), SBS **FEATURING MONTAIGNE
Semi Final 2 – Saturday 22 May, 8.30pm (AEST), SBS
Grand Final – Sunday 23 May, 7.30pm (AEST), SBS
LIVE early morning broadcasts
Semi Final 1 – Wednesday 19 May, 5am (AEST) SBS **FEATURING MONTAIGNE
Semi Final 2 – Friday 21 May, 5am (AEST) SBS
Grand Final – Sunday 23 May, 5am (AEST) SBS
As per the official Eurovision rules, viewers can vote in the Semi Final in which their country is participating, as well as the Grand Final. The viewers’ votes make up 50% of the final result. The other 50% of the vote is decided by a National Jury in each participating country. Australia’s jury will be announced soon. The jury and Australian public can vote for any country except Australia.
For Australian viewers, this means they will need to tune into the LIVE broadcast of Semi Final 1 on Wednesday May 19 at 5am (AEST) and the Grand Final on Sunday 23 May at 5am (AEST), and vote by texting the numbers that appear on screen during the live broadcasts