Lauretta & Lawrence: Star Trackers
There’s a shower of meteorites hurtling through the air. And it’s headed my way. At least, that’s how the tension in this room feels.
So palpable is it, so tangible does it seem you could almost reach out and shield yourself from the impact. A sort of humming now vibrates off the walls, the air is static blue, so charged it could be sliced apart.
Before me sit Showbuzz hosts Lauretta Alabons and Lawrence Chau. I have just asked Lauretta whether she’s apprehensive about this interview, she who has been so frequently criticised.
There is a pause. And another. Lauretta chews on her lower lip, forming her answer. Yes, there was apprehension, she admits. Yes, there was a shield she’s come prepared to put up.
Around the two flickers an aurora of nervous energy, cocooning them in an invisible halo. That they are both on edge is abundantly clear. For the tables have now been turned. They who constantly meet the stars, are now being met as stars. They who have played predator to prey, are now the prey. It’s a disconcerting state of events, for what can be more nerve-racking than to find the status quo changed, the ground rules shifted?
But ever the pro down to their closing lines on the set of each and every presentation of Showbuzz, the duo is putting up a cool brave front in the face of onslaught.
More than anyone else, Lauretta and Lawrence know full well the power of the media, having wielded it as entertainment journalists and hosts of Showbuzz. The power which, fairly or otherwise, deems that a select group of people can make, or break, a star; can make, or break, a dream.
The stakes here are perhaps even higher for Lauretta than Lawrence. She, more than any TV personality in Ch 5 or 8, has had to contend with a slew of criticisms ranging from her hair to her false eyelashes, to her presentation style, to her clothes. And while the mane has since been tamed and the falsies thrown out, Lauretta is nevertheless wary. And who could blame her?
Lawrence on the other hand, has had it a little better. New though he is to local TV, all anyone has said about him thus far has been good, a fact which even his co-host herself acknowledges. Still, Lawrence Chau is approaching this session like a news-worn journalist. Every question is carefully answered; the reply consciously phrased, cautiously worded.
The pair and I first met on Showbuzz recording night, a terribly nondescript affair where, for two people hailed as having the best chemistry on TV, Lawrence and Lauretta were strangely subdued and quiet.
Save for an instant when Lauretta turns and says: “I am so sick of 8 DAYS talking about my hair.” A bout of bad hair day jibes follows, there is little interaction. There are no jokes, no barbed remarks, not even friendly sparring.
In between takes, they chat in low tones: Lauretta is craving for a caffeine fix for her dry throat; Lawrence is distraught by a trail of pimples on his right cheek. She decides she likes the sheen look which the make-up people have given her; he moans about how he’s lost so much weight his clothes are now too big.
It is a taping that’s totally unlike, say, an Under One Roof recording where, studio audience aside, there are some 20 other people – cast, crew and onlookers – milling about; where a call for silence has to be repeatedly shouted over the din.
On the Showbuzz set, the crew is small, the space is tiny, and no observers are allowed. Amid the sounds of silence, the show for the week is recorded.
Lauretta and I literally bump into each other outside the studio. She’s on her way to the make-up room to get her hair re-done; I’m on my way in. She holds the door ajar for me, we introduce ourselves, and she flashes a bright smile. I am struck first, by her voice; and then, by how thin she is. The face is gaunt, and there’s a tiny scar above her right eye. Her waist is so tiny a man’s two hands could circle it with space to spare. Of this observation she will later despair: “Lawrence and I are the only two hosts on TV who are trying desperately to put on weight. We’re always asking ourselves: why are we so thin?! Why am I so thin?”
The voice is everything you’d expect: low, husky, rich, and instantly recognisable. Sampled in the flesh, it’s surprisingly non-grating, soothing even. Truth be told, TV does nothing for Lauretta’s voice. There’s something about the recording process that distorts its texture and turns her radio voice into a bizarre, conspiratorial whisper. At the core of it there is more to Lauretta Alabons than just perfect lipstick and hair. Here stands a warm-hearted woman who firmly believes in looking on the positive side of life. Hardly does she spout an unkind word about anyone, resigned though she is to her own critics.
Beyond the silly remarks that she sometimes let slip, one thing is for sure: Lauretta is totally passionate about her job. She gushes non-stop about how awful her life would be without entertainment, without her Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines, without the concerts she specially flies to LA to watch, without Showbuzz.
Lawrence is taller and thinner than he looks on TV, where he’s a towering hunk next to Lauretta’s tiny frame. The long-sleeve polo shirt he favours sits atop broad-enough shoulders, and his pants skim a slim waist. The Canadian accent is unmistakable, but his upward inflections occasionally give way to the Singlish he’s absorbed since coming here in April.
And who can talk about Lawrence Chau without mentioning those peepers? Long-lashed, double-lidded, and twinkling, they are brown eyes that have mesmerised women fans all over Singapore.
Outside of this interview, we had the luxury of spending time together in Switzerland where we’d both been assigned to cover the Omega Celebrity Golf Tournament. Those few days provided an unexpected insight into the man Lawrence Chau is.
Away from work, Lawrence is a light switch that’s up one minute, down the next. Laughing one moment, he can be serious in a flick. Give him a little wine – and a ready audience – and the dam of humour overflows.
The jokes and character impersonations come fast and furious. As does the continuous giggling. “Your name is my initials,” he says, to someone at our table. [Giggle, giggle] “El-sie…LC! Get it?!” “Mmm, this is really good.” [Giggle, giggle] “It’s like gruel, isn’t it?” [Giggle, giggle]
Then in a blink of an eye, the gears change, and he becomes all introspective and philosophical. “Are you ever afraid of aging?”, “What do you want out of your life?”, “I think it’s very important to have dreams, don’t you?”
But frivolity is only an appearance with Lawrence Chau. He’s a keen observer who knows instinctively whom he can have a little fun with. Who not only watches with the sharpness of an eagle but learns the in’s and out’s of the game as well.
The journalist in him, armed with a perfectly polished news sense, is always on the lookout for loaded questions. He fields each query with care, often elaborating himself at length lest his words be misunderstood.
Lauretta and Lawrence. Lawrence and Lauretta. Their names have become inseparable; like M&M candies, it’s hard to mention one without the other. They are the faces we see on Showbuzz week after week. They share a mutual love for the job and a passion for entertainment that transcends even their work. While hosting Showbuzz has its perks – glamour, constant travel, meeting stars, being on TV – it is the work that drives them at the end of the day.
Such perfectionists are they, that a breath taken at the wrong time, or a barely perceptible stumble in another translates into several more takes for the cameras. They are such workaholics that Lauretta will return to her Singapore Recreation Club PR job after taping; and Lawrence to the editing room to splice footage for the week’s edition.
But more than that, Lawrence and Lauretta have forged a friendship out of the chemistry they share on TV. Beyond being partners at work, they are friends – and Lawrence seems especially protective of Lauretta.
Between them there is equality, a mutual respect for each other’s talents, and a tacit, unspoken understanding of the uphill battle they each fight daily. She, to prove she’s no bimbo in the business of glamour. He, that he can still succeed here despite his foreign roots. It is a battle which will be well fought, and one in which the victory looks like theirs for the taking.
8 DAYS: You have to ad lib a 30-second sound bite about each other for Showbuzz; what do you say?
Lawrence: Lauretta is funny, hardworking, and she has passion. I admire her because she works like hell. She has this stamina that blows my mind. She goes to work at the SRC from 9am to 6pm, and she’s into the Showbuzz studios from 7pm till 10pm, and she goes back to work again at the SRC!
Lauretta: Lawrence is very easy to work with. I like his company, his jokes. He’s got his bad days, but he’s really, really fun. He’s very personable, he’s very nice to look at, he’s very humble, he’s very reachable. My girlfriends call me and say: ‘Lawrence… is he available? Can introduce or not?’ [Both laugh]
8 DAYS: There are some who say this is the best pairing Showbuzz has ever had…
Lauretta: I must admit we get along really well. It’s hard to explain how we can relate to each other so easily. And we have similar tastes.
Lawrence: The chemistry was there from Day One. We have so many things in common: our neck and back tense up when we’re under pressure and we catch ourselves doing these odd stretches. And when she has a sleepless night, I’ll have one, too.
Lauretta: It’s so hard to meet people who like music in this industry. But with Lawrence, he knows about musicians that I’d never imagine him to know. He mentions a lot of good R&B singers.
Lawrence: And we both read Billboard magazine – we like to look at chart action! We’re pure entertainment junkies!
8 DAYS: There’s also a strong parallel where your careers are concerned…
Lawrence: A lot of people don’t know that when I was in Hongkong, I worked for a public relations company and my side job was at TVB as a presenter. And that’s what Lauretta is doing now at the SRC. And before that, she was a producer-presenter with TCS and now, I’m a producer-presenter at TCS. So it’s like we’ve switched roles. It’s quite funny.
8 DAYS: For all your similarities, name two striking differences.
Lawrence: I’m an organised freak. I have everything filed and organised, prim and proper. I must have my shirts folded properly. My drawers are like a department store’s. White with the white, colours with the colours.
Lauretta: I’ve got too much rubbish. I collect everything – magazines, books, CDs, newspapers. I’m so kiasu!
Lawrence: The other thing is I swing from one emotion to another. I’ll be really happy one moment, and really down the next.
Lauretta: People say I look happy all the time. They never know whether I’m happy or depressed. I get really worked up if things don’t go according to plan.
8 DAYS: As hosts of the only entertainment news programme in town, you’re recognised everywhere. Ever been stalked?
Lauretta: I was in a bookstore once and this man kept following me. It was quite scary; the security guard had to tell him to stand back. The nice part is I get flowers every week, but I don’t know who they are from. People want to take your picture. And the kids are very appreciative: they want to dress like you, look like you.
Lawrence: I haven’t been stalked in that sense, but I’m standing at the bar with my friends and a girl comes up to me and says, ‘Can you autograph my shoulder?’ And it’s a sweaty shoulder! And I come home one day and my phone is full of messages that are hang-up calls.
8 DAYS: Has the attention gotten to your heads yet?
Lauretta: I’m not in this business because I want to be famous, I’m in it because I love it. My job at the SRC gives me the leverage to be myself. You can’t be glamorous all the time, it’s very tiring.
Lawrence: I get fans who ask, ‘How did you get your job? I want to do this too.’ The thought that we are role models and an inspiration is quite flattering. You kind of scratch your head and go ‘wow!’. But we keep a level head. It’s the only way to stay sane with all this attention.
8 DAYS: Showbuzz has been around for three years and in that time Lauretta, you’ve worked with three hosts: James Lye, Ray Liu and now, Lawrence. Who’s your favourite?
Lauretta: [looks stunned, pauses] I like all of them. James is someone I’ve worked with for two years. He’s a very dear friend and a wonderful person. Ray, I worked with for only two shows. And now there’s Lawrence. Three different people.
Lawrence: I kind of see her as the Mary Hart of Showbuzz, the one who’s been there from Day One, whose co-hosts have come and gone, and she’s still there. She’s like an institution.
8 DAYS: The impression is that you do just sit on a stool every week and read a script.
Lauretta: People don’t know that a lot of preparation goes into my work. I spend about $80 a week on magazines and books. And the first and last thing I do everyday is go on the Internet.
Lawrence: Our job’s to make the show look glamorous, but we know about all the work that’s not glamorous that goes into making Showbuzz what it is.
8 DAYS: From Los Angeles to Switzerland to Japan to Sydney to Hongkong, does the jetsetting part of your job count as glamorous or unglamorous?
Lawrence: I always say, jetsetting yes, but there’s also jet lag. The travelling is vigorous and quite grueling. It is exciting and glamorous, but people forget the work that goes into it: the lack of sleep, the research, the time you take to phrase your questions, viewing the tapes for hours, scripting, editing, putting the music in, doing the voicing. Doing a four-minute story can take anywhere from 20 to 40 hours.
8 DAYS: Your biggest hang-up when you travel is…
Lauretta: I get so afraid when I have to sleep on my own in a hotel room. I don’t want to scare anyone, but I think the singer Jeff Buckley saved my life. I was watching him on MTV and I was sleeping in my hotel room and as soon as I heard his song, I woke up – and discovered that the door was open.
Lawrence: For me, it’s flying. I always say a silent prayer before I fly.
8 DAYS: You both do the same job on Showbuzz, but Lauretta gets the bulk of the criticism, mostly for inane things like her hair and looks…
Lawrence: I think that’s unfair. People come up to me and ask: ‘Who did you interview? How did you find the star?’ But they go up to her and go: ‘Where did you get your dress?’ As a woman in the limelight, the media tend to jump on the aesthetics more than the substance. But she’s doing the same job.
Lauretta: I don’t take these criticisms to heart because it’s just going to destroy you. Hair – this is what a woman is supposed to take care of. It’s so trivial. You can’t stop people from talking, but at the end of the day, I try my best at my job. Sometimes, I do get a little hurt and upset. I ask, why do they spend their time analyzing me? Don’t they have better things to do? But they have a job to do as well.
8 DAYS: In the light of such criticism, did you feel apprehensive about this interview?
Lauretta: For me, there was a bit of a shield there. But I think you have to overcome that. At the end of the day, we’re here for the good of the show. I think it’s the reporter’s job to instil confidence in the subject. If you’re gonna make them feel you’re going to tear them to bits, of course they will feel apprehensive.
Lawrence: I think it’s important that reporters maintain a sense of fairness and objectivity, and keep their ethics in check. I try to always remember that the person I’m interviewing is human and has emotions. Reporters have a tough job of trying to give a sense of the person they’re interviewing without having a psychological character analysis.
8 DAYS: What do you do outside of Showbuzz?
Lauretta: I’m always at the SRC at work, meeting members, organising events. Or I chill out with friends, catch up on reading…
Lawrence: I veg out by the pool, I go to the gym when I can and I hang out with my friends. My friends are my solace. I can never have enough time for them, the few that I have. They are the ones who will bring you back to earth, they’ll kick you in the butt.
8 DAYS: Your greatest fears?
Lawrence: There are three big fears in my life which are also my greatest motivators: fear of aging and physical deterioration, fear of loneliness, and fear of failure. When I fear aging, it spurs me on to accomplish as much as I can. My fear of loneliness: this whole profession is quite isolating; when you come home from a shoot, you go home alone. And fear of failure makes me strive for success.
Lauretta: I fear being alone. I hate it when my husband goes away, it’s so lonely. I wish I had someone with me… to escort me to movie premieres, to be with me at parties. Another major fear is sleeping alone – I can’t do that. And I fear not being loved.
8 DAYS: Last question: if one day you woke up ugly?
Lauretta: [Pauses]: I’ll put on lots of make-up, go for a facelift! A lot of my friends say I’m too worried about how I look, which is true. But you want to portray a good image. I never want to look tired.
Lawrence: Let’s face it, the whole entertainment industry unfortunately is cosmetic. You have to acknowledge that. But hopefully, when you’re in your prime, you would have developed enough credibility and recognition.