What image comes to mind when you think of the name Nicole Laurel Asensio? We have one in particular—a sleek young woman in a green satin dress standing under the spotlight on stage, singing her heart out to George Gershwin’s Summertime. The song has been sung by hundreds of singers over the last century, from the iconic Ella Fitzgerald to 1960s cult band The Zombies, and yet, the performer makes the standard entirely hers. There is a vibe of melancholy as the deep notes seamlessly comes out of her. This is her life, a path she chose and is destined to be in. She is a singer, a performer, and a young woman of society with a voice.
At Home on Stage
Nicole Asensio has brushed elbows with Lifestyle Asia countless of times. She performed during the magazine’s 28th anniversary ball, soon she was asked to be part of the annual Game Changers list in early 2015. Today, the singer-songwriter is still powering through, working tirelessly in the music industry to make her mark. “I never really consider it a job, but it entails a lot of work, preparation, planning and synergy with the people around me, but the moment my feet hit the stage, it always feels like I’m in a play,” she shares about her work. In between daily gigs for corporate events, product launches, awards nights, and tourism shows here and abroad, Nicole still finds time to tap into her true artist. She never forgets to reach out to a small group of friends from the local industry to perform at bars simply to release her artist expression. At home on stage, Nicole cannot narrow down her favorite genre to sing. She flourishes in rock ‘n’, enjoys singing Jazz and Standards, and likes revisiting classical (in which she shares she never “mastered” but loves attempting to for the fun of it).
“I’m very happy when my singing takes me to other lands, and I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to sing in Istanbul, Barcelona, London, Shanghai, Kuching, Kuala Lumpur, Maldives, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Dubai, Qater, Ho Chi Minh and around the Philippines,” she gleefully shares. Apart from recording her first solo album (plans for a second album is in the works for next year), Nicole’s milestones have been plentiful. She has garnered Awit and Trend Star Awards, and have sung for some of her personal heroes such as Schoenberg, Angela Gheorgiu, Slash, Mr. Big, and the Cameron Mackintosh Group. “I would like to expand my career internationally and work with industry greats. I wish I could work with someone like Sting, but I’d probably be too scared to!” she laughs.
Music in Her Veins
The young woman has music in her blood. She recalls her first experience in music being at the piano-side of her paternal grandmother Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, and her mom’s brother Cocoy Laurel. “They are the ones who taught me how to sing. My mother Iwi, who is also a singer later prodded me to join Repertory Philippines to gather more confidence when facing audiences and learn the discipline of theater. I enjoyed every moment of it, even the challenges,” she reminisces.
Back in college, she discovered her love for literature and writing creative non-fiction. She even considered taking a back seat in music and thought about being a lawyer. However, the calling insider her was strong, and music never left her mind. To fuel her youthful rebellion, she took the leap and never looked back again. She participated in several rock acts, before putting together a band called General Luna. As musicians do, Nicole likes to reinvent herself constantly. She branched out to jazz and classical until she found her own genre, a mix of all these music types, which is evident when she commands the stage in one of her performances. It is quite a unique experience seeing her perform—her showmanship compelling, her voice touched by angels.
When asked what she loves most about performing, she answered with a glittering glow, “There’s that moment when you finally untangle all the nerves and stress that have accumulated before the performance, when the spirit of music takes over and you begin to you feed off each other’s energies on stage, when these grow and infect everyone in the space and begin to bounce back and forth between audiences and performers. I look for that. I love that.”
For the Love of Art
From the point of view of her thousands of Instagram followers, it would seem Nicole has the perfect life. But the singer admits it is far from that. Working in the music industry is a lot of work, adding, “there’s also the fear that it won’t last forever”. Away from the spotlight and glamourous gowns, there are countless hours of work and the challenge of balancing life as a working artist. Nicole is currently managing herself, and must always find time to answer all inquiries, manager her calendar and appointments, schedule meetings, send memorandums of agreements files, consult with her lawyer about contracts, and then still find the energy to perform all-nighter gigs (some of which, have call times as early as 3PM). She says time is her biggest constraint.
“Everything in the music industry is ephemeral. The waters in this industry move quickly and wait for no one. Sometimes I feel I need more time to make a product better or improve my craft and there are instances when time simply isn’t a luxury. It is haunting to know that you could be here today and gone tomorrow so you try and carve your niche in the industry and carve it deep enough for you to stay awhile. Another challenge that has to do with time is that schedules can get very erratic, you often find yourself chasing dreams halfway around the world and missing out on important events of the people you hold dearly. You don’t always own your time as a working artist and it can be a challenging concept to wrap one’s mind around, you have to love it THAT much.”
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Spotted: At Home Depot
Nicole also manages her own fine-jewelry business, and is currently renovating her house. She jokes that she never goes out unless it is for work, and nowadays, if you need to find her, she’s probably shopping at Home Depot. “I had no blueprints, no architect, just my interior designer cousin Nikki by my side, a great contractor called Zeal Power, a conservative budget and a head full of dreams.” She continues to say that she enjoys being hands-on with her new home project, even re-doing the entire house’s plumbing and electrical work from scratch. What she’s most excited about: her new walk-in closet.
“I wanted a small but smart walk-in closet that had storage solutions for my gowns, shoes and everyday wear. I sketched an idea on a piece of paper and asked my friend Melvin Lee to execute it with his modular company (Stylee). The closet features a small rotating shoe rack that is able to store more shoes in a smaller space. I also put some simple back-lighting behind some of the panels so that it lights up the space at night and makes the items easier to find. I’ve never had a walk-in before, so I’m excited to move in!” she mentions. Nicole is also a major fashionista and supporter of local brands. Her close friend, Joseph Aloysius Montelibano is one of her go-to designers. She wears his designs proudly, and can often be seen at fashion shows for the designer. Not just as a model, but as a performer as well, singing as other girls catwalk down the runway.
Girl with a Voice
One wonderful trait Nicole has is that she is a very vocal person. While it’s fun to talk about fashion, film and art with her, she never fails to impress others with how in-touch she is with current issues. For example, when asked her opinion about Hollywood’s recent issues about pay disparity and sexual harassment against woman, the artist had much to say. “As an artist, I believe that music and art were created to be genderless, ageless and free of margins… they were meant to set people free, not confine them within the lines of unjust paradigms. Art and Music were created to make people feel, think, act and hopefully to inspire others… so when did gender become a factor? It should have never become a marginalizing factor in a realm that was genderless in the first place. As a woman, I believe it is important to respect others: man, woman, LGBT, because we are all people, and we’ve only ever walked in our own shoes. Respect for others begins with thinking outside your own culture and socio-economic comfort zone and understanding your own boundaries and each other’s boundaries,” she passionately shares.
Nicole shares that she thinks the root of harassment in the entertainment industry (and almost all other industries) comes when people ascend to power and feel they no longer have boundaries. She shares her distaste for individuals who think their power entitles them to abuse others without facing consequences. “It is shocking to learn how people will help them burry their crimes!” she says. In the context of the Philippine music industry, she feels the problem is prevalent here as well. “In many cases, they turn out to be friends, or people you’d least expect. What breaks my heart is that many victims of harassment are still forced into silence because they fear the stigma of victim-blaming. Some victims also fear their perpetrators because they are being blackmailed into silence, or may hold power over them because of their connections.”
“That is why it is most important for women to band together and make a collective stand to speak up against these crimes and injustices. It truly saddens me when I see women blame other women for being harassed. There are people who teach women to prevent rape and harassment by dressing modestly and not travelling alone. While these are definitely valid safety precautions, I feel it is far more important to teach people NOT to rape and harass women in the first place no matter what they may be wearing or how they may be acting… after all, no one would want their loved one to be harassed, right?”
Follow Your Own Footsteps
Currently, Nicole boasts a whopping 64.2k followers on her Instagram account. Her followers range from good friends to other musicians, fans of her fashion to young girls looking to be in the music industry. The performer has a message for these young women looking to follow in her footsteps, “I would tell them that their footsteps are more important, because they are the only footsteps that will lead them to all the places they need to go to fulfill their destiny.”
When it comes to dealing with critics, she says that one should simply brush it off. She actually welcomes them, especially when she thinks their concern is genuine. However, she cannot stand those who online critique for the sake of hurting others. “I try to understand the psychology behind it and what they might be going through, and it’s funny because after certain bullying instances, some people have apologized and reached out for help because they’re going through something heavy, so you try to be positive but firm as well. My final reaction is to move on and not look back… the truth is you never really know what another person is dealing with behind the glossiness of social media.”
When scanning through her social media, it is easy to be taken away by all the glitter and couture. But in reality, Nicole is trying to project one thig: it isn’t impossible to live your dream life. She works day in and day out, doing what she loves, despite the hardships thrown at her as a working artist. Along the way, she has found happiness, a huskie dog she loves, and even the chance to remodel her home—and it all comes from one thing: hard work. It’s a classic tale of success. You can compare it to Emma Stone in La La Land if you want, but one things for certain, for Nicole Asensio, hard works goes a long way. As she paves her way towards a brighter future, she very well lives in her own City of Stars.