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Youth Movement

The Kids Are All Right: San Jose R&B sensations Gigi (left), Leslye and Alisha hope to be the next En Vogue.

Photo by Darren Darcey

Filipino-American pride animates the R&B bump of San Jose's young stars in waiting, Premiere

By Todd S. Inoue

EASTRIDGE MALL makes an appropriate venue for a sit-down session with Premiere, a San Jose R&B vocal group whose average age is all of 15. Three levels of teenage sprawl--clothing stores, sporting goods, junk fooderies, a Sanrio shop--compete for a coin purse's jangly contents.

At the entrance to the Sam Goody music store sits a huge Premiere window display. The framed and back-lighted poster shows the trio--Leslye Maninang, and sisters Alisha and Gigi Floresea--lounging, elegantly groomed in spiraled braids. Meanwhile, the
3-D versions are running fashionably late. School just let out, says the management rep, and their parents must play chauffeur.

The interview coincides with the release of the group's debut album, Premier (Alien Records of Oakland). Bearing a gift of sexy funk and harmonies, Premiere hopes to put San Jose--and Filipino-Americans, in particular--on the R&B map.

The trio finally arrives, and the girls turn out to be ordinary teens, affected by the giggles and shyness. Taking their seats at a table set up at the store's entrance, they settle in and absorb the view. A couple of star-struck passersby gasp and point (yesterday at the mall, Alisha was hit up for an autograph). The Floreseas' father snaps off some pictures to go in the photo album.

The girls appear humbled by the attention; they're accustomed to life on the other side of the promotional table--buying cassingles, walking around the mall, chilling with friends.

"I don't normally shop here, but I like it because it's so big," Leslye says. "I love to shop." Teenage values intact--a good start.

The oldest at 17, Leslye is a freshman at San Jose State University. Gigi, 13, and Alisha, 16, attend Santa Teresa High School in San Jose. The bouncing single "Somethin' About You" just hit radio, and the accompanying video can be seen on Black Entertainment Television and the California Music Channel. Too bad about the October release date: "Somethin' About You" is a top-down jam that shines with summer heat.

Do the high school cognoscenti treat you differently now that you're on radio and TV? Gigi breaks down the difference a year makes. "When guys used to mack on me, they'd be like 'How old are you' and I'd be like, 'I'm 12,' and they'd be like 'Oh, never mind,' and then go to my sister. But now, it's like 'I'm 13,' and they'd be like 'Oh, you got a boyfriend?' and I'm all 'Oh God, whatever.' "

Natural teenage skepticism, check. Now we're rolling.

Second-generation Filipino-Americans, Leslye, Alisha and Gigi take considerable pride in their heritage. Their image as brown-skinned, brown-eyed divas--as evidenced by the cover art and promotional posters--is up front, not lurking behind impressionistic images.

"We're going to get a lot of support from Filipinos because we're the first Filipino group," Leslye predicts. "Because we're young and so different, they take a second glance. We're hoping other Asians singing can say, 'They did it, so can we.' "

"We just want to be role models to Filipinos and be an inspiration to other Asians," Alisha adds.

Filipino-American communities around the bay have been churning out vocalists with regularity (One Vision, Jocelyn Enriquez, Pinay Divas, Distinguished Gentlemen, Ronnie Rosero). Premiere is hardly unique, but with studio bigwigs Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster, who produced En Vogue and Tony! Tone! Toni!, at the boards, the vocal group could well be the first Filipino-American act in this area to break big. (Oakland natives and former Club Nouveau members McElroy and Foster lent their pop-making skills to Premiere after hearing Leslye sing backup on another artist's tape.)

THE TRIO GREW out of a family affair. Leslye's sister married the Floreseas' brother in 1990. Leslye, Alisha and Gigi always accompanied them on dates, averting their eyes during the doorstep kiss. "The Filipino family is kind of strict, so whenever they dated, they always had to bring us along," Leslye explains. "We were the chaperones."

The trio quickly struck a friendship, and a vocal group was born. They'd leave clever a capella interpolations of pop songs on friends' voicemails. During holidays, they would dress up, sing, dance, even perform hula in front of the families. The memories of choreographing dance routines to Paula Abdul's "Cold-Hearted Snake" and Boyz II Men's "Motownphilly" make them simultaneously bust up and cringe.

"It's was always like, 'Oh, how cuuute,' " Gigi says.

"It's been going on since--well, it's still going on," Leslye blurts out as her partners share an embarrassed laugh.

On CD, they sound years beyond their age. Despite the studio tricks, Premiere can sing like songbirds. Leslye's warm timbre sounds like a sultry combination of En Vogue's Dawn Robinson and TLC's Chili. Combined with Alisha and Gigi's harmonies and some bass-heavy production, Premier delivers smooch music that "bumps," in the same slow-rolling technique that En Vogue has popularized.

"Something About You" and "If You Want My Love" ooze silky glamour, as if Victoria's Secret had set up a record label. "Something Just Ain't Right," a tale of a lackluster lover, showcases Alisha's vocal power. "Spread Love" samples the Floaters' "Float On" and personalizes it into a plea for peace in a turbulent world.

The best-remembered R&B songs--from Motown (Supremes, Four Tops) to Philadelphia (Boyz II Men)--begin with the chorus. Each track on Premier opens with a chorus, flinging wide the doors of accessibility. The luxurious nature of the songs makes them perfect for mix-tapes sent between soul mates.

PREMIERE SPENDS weekends in the studio, working on vocal tracks, remixes, videos. The rest of the time, Leslye, Alisha and Gigi attend classes or perform at other schools' assemblies. They recently received high marks for a talent showcase at the Cocodrie Club in San Francisco. Because of their age, they're quickly shuttled in and shuttled out of nightclubs, parents right behind them.

It isn't all work. When a Premiere number appeared on the Great White Hype soundtrack ("We Got It"), the girls attended the film's opening in Los Angeles. But first they had to find new outfits and spent the day shopping with En Vogue's Terry Ellis.

But Premiere had managed to avoid the "overnight success story" rigmarole. The three young hopefuls express thanks that the group has come this far. "We've already accomplished our goal," says Leslye, to mutual assent. "We never thought it would get this serious. We always said, all we want is to hear ourselves on the radio. We've watched our music video on TV; we met Terry Ellis. We'll take it as far as we can, but I'm satisfied."

Another casual stroller stops to gasp and point at the mini-celebrities. Warm smiles cut across all three faces.

"Our dreams have practically came true already," Alisha says. "Everything else is just extra."

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From the October 31-November 6, 1996 issue of Metro

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