Awra Briguela is all grown up. From years of playing the sassy and outspoken kid Makmak on Ang Probinsyano, the teen star has evolved into a bona fide social media star. Just look at her 7 million followers on TikTok and 3.7 million followers on Instagram.
But if there’s one thing that has remained constant about Awra, it’s the attitude that stays true to the name. Fierce eyes? Check. Outfits on point? Check. The celeb carries herself with an unmistakably fiery persona and stays true to herself—whether onscreen or offscreen.
That said, Awra doesn’t like to put herself in a box and loves to keep her fans guessing what she’s up to next. While she’s risen to fame as a comedian who can definitely hold her own ground against the unkabogable Vice Ganda (remember that spaghetti scene in Super Parental Guardians, anyone?), Awra is out to prove that she can be more than just comic relief—a feat she’s done superbly in the way she’s moved from the screens of free TV to those on smartphones.
Awra Briguela for Candy June 2023
A Certified Multimedia Star
The star reserves the Awra that people know and love—the quick-witted and hilarious personality—for the big screen, while all the other aspects that make Awra, well, Awra, will exist on social media. “‘Yung nakilala niyong Awra sa acting, sa comedy, makikita nyo sa movie, sa series. Ibang side naman [‘yung sa social media]. So ang makikita nyo sa social media, fashion, makeup, dancing… although lumalabas pa rin naman yung personality ko sa vlog,” she explains to Candy.
The celeb explains that showing different sides of her on different platforms was a deliberate choice. “Ang pinapakita ko kasi sa social media ko, yung shinoshowcase ko fashion, makeup, and yung dancing ko. Yun yung content ko kasi ito yung ginawa kong strategy,” the star explains. “Hindi ko inilabas yung comedy ko sa TikTok and hindi ko siya ginawang content. Para may abangan yung tao sa akin sa movie and teleserye. Pag inilabas ko kasi [‘yung comedy] sa content, ano pa yung aabangan nila sa akin? Ano pa yung magpapa-excite sa tao para hanapin nila ako? Na eto yung Awra na nakilala namin?”
It’s not a strategy that came easy, however. Awra had just left Ang Probinsyano, the show that catapulted her to mainstream success after going viral on Facebook, a year before the pandemic. While the young star had no shortage of gigs lined up—a widely acclaimed Maalaala Mo Kaya episode, a stint on Your Face Sounds Familiar, and a starring role alongside Vice in a blockbuster film among others, the pandemic struck. Several projects ground to a halt, on top of ABS-CBN, her home network, losing its franchise.
“Noong pandemic, sobrang nawalan na ako ng kumpiyansa. Hindi ko alam yung gagawin ko, tapos nawalan pa kami ng franchise. So parang bumalik ulit ako sa umpisa noong pandemic. Tinahak ko ‘yung social media naman,” she shares.
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It’s an effort that has paid off strongly. Like a true Gen Z, Awra slayed the social media game, going from one viral hit to another—and in a way, returned to her old roots as a Filipino Vine star. From dishing out one glam outfit after another to posting her jaw-dropping dance covers, the multi-talented star shows that just like the rainbow, there are different colors and shades as to who she is.
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Take her style, for example. Awra quotes one of her idols, Nicki Minaj: “Who wants to be simple when you can look stunning?” Understated is not in this star’s vocabulary, describing her fashion sense as “laging bongga kabog,” mixing Y2K references with all that sparkles and shines.
“Yung style ko kasi super glam talaga. Oo nga naman, Awra na nga ako, bakit ako magsesettle sa simple lang if I can do more?” Awra remarks, recalling the Nicki Minaj quote, adding that she takes inspiration from the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Kali Uchis.
The Making of Awra
Awra is sharp and a go-getter, having begun performing at a young age—and she recognizes that she is lucky to have grown up with an open and supportive family. “Growing up knowing kung ano yung gusto mo [is the] biggest achievement na talaga in life,” she says, explaining, “From the very start, you know that no matter who you are, your family is always there to support you. I was able to showcase my talents more kasi alam ko na sinusuportahan nila ako,” she shares, calling her family acceptance “the biggest flex.”
“Noong lumalaki ako, kung gusto ko sumali ng dance competition, lagi nila akong, 'go lang,' suportado sila sa mga celebration, sa mga parties, kung saan kami yung parating pinapasayaw ng kapatid ko. Hindi kasi talaga thing sa family namin yung pag bakla ka, di ka tatanggapin. I was so happy lang and biggest achievement growing up na suportado ako kung sino ako. Yun yung nakatulong sa akin ngayon kung ano ako ngayon, kung ano yung talent na meron ako. Hindi ko siya mailalabas at a very young age if I wasn’t able to come out sa closet,” she adds.
According to Awra, who then went by her birth name, McNeal, she knew she was gay at the tender age of three. “I have two older sisters. Bata pa lang ako, gusto ko na ng palda, ng panty ng mga ate ko. Kasi limitado lang yung meron sa lalaki nung bata. You only have choices of shorts, pantalon, shirts. [Pero sila], pwede mag shorts, mag palda, mag dress, mag-spaghetti,” she shares.
As a child, Awra loved Hello Kitty and often asked her parents to buy her a bow and arrow—because she wanted to be Amihan from Encantadia. “Ayoko ng bola, ayoko ng laruan, gusto ko ng Barbie,” she declares.
Luckily for Awra, she grew up in a happy family that accepted who she was. “Happy yung mga magulang ako kasi noong lumalaki ako, parang happy pill nila kaming magkapatid,” she says, as she took on the role of perpetual family entertainer during events and gatherings.
While Awra has the persona that would lead her to great things in her career, like others, her journey to stardom wasn’t planned. Yet her viral video, which saw her act and improvise in different sketches at once, opened doors for her rather quickly.
Awra shares that after her then-talent manager had introduced her to Coco Martin for Ang Probinsyano, she was asked to come in for taping the very next day.
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“Probinsyano talaga yung naging root ko kung ano ako ngayon. Lahat ng ugali na meron ako ngayon, being professional, doon talaga ako natuto. I wasn’t able to go through a workshop. Never ako nag-workshop, si Kuya Coco lang nag-workshop sa akin,” she shares, as the veteran actor looked out for Awra’s eye movement or breathing.
Thankfully, she’s a trooper. “Sa set nya lang ako winoworkshop, hindi ako marunong umiyak… kasi yung nag-viral kong video, eme emeng acting lang yun. Hanggang sa natuto na ako. Dumating na sa point na hindi nya na kailangan nandoon ako pag may eksena," she adds.
On Her Own
Her growth as an actor without having to lurk in the shadows of Coco Martin or Vice Ganda was most evident in Mga Batang Poz, an iWantTV series that dealt with HIV awareness. Yet it was the exact feeling of aloneness that made Awra reflect.
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“Noong transition na sa Batang Poz, yun yung masasabi ko na I’m on my own now. Kasi laging sa mga projects ko, kung wala si Kuya Coco, andyan si Meme Vice. So that time, Batang Poz was my first series alone without them.
“Doon ako proud sa sarili ko, na masasabi ko na grabe na yung growth ko. Naachieve ko yung gusto kong maachieve noon sa Batang Poz kasi ginawa ko siya for our community. Because that time, pataas nang pataas yung bilang ng HIV cases noon kasi hindi sila educated or aware sa nangyayari, kung saan nakukuha yung HIV, kung bakit ka nagkakaroon ng HIV,” she explains, adding that she does what she can for the community.
Awra is among this generation’s biggest queer stars, a task that she has not taken lightly as she continues to defy stereotypes. One such example? “Pag bakla ka, bakla ka lang,” she quips. “Pag bakla ka, eto ka lang. Katatawanan ka lang, komedyante ka lang. Yung stereotype siguro na nabreak ko, pag bakla ka, kaya mong ipakita lahat. Well, tayo lahat naman kaya nating gawin yun. Pero siguro yung nabreak ko sa industry, wala pong katulad. Ako lang nag-iisa,” she proudly states.
Artists like Vice Ganda walked so Awra could run—and what a journey it has been so far for the bold and confident 19-year-old. Yet the young star gamely rolls with the punches and continues to shine in every platform she can, one-upping herself after another.
It’s hard to define Awra or place her into a box, as she herself knows the scale of what she can do is only limited by her imagination and ambition. But if there’s one thing she has lots of, it’s courage and personality.
“Si Awra ngayon, she’s Awra for a reason. Nakilala na ako ng mga tao na fierce ako. Gusto ko i-remind yung mga tao na yung word na awra, ay ako. That’s me,” she shares of her next steps.
While the young star has big dreams ahead of her, she doesn’t want to commit herself to a timeline. Ask her how she sees herself in five years and she’ll shrug her shoulders and say, “‘Yung pandemic nga, hindi natin akalain ‘yun pero nangyari. So mahirap sabihin.”
If there’s one thing that’s for sure, Awra is having fun spreading her wings beyond Ang Probinsyano, beyond being a mere punchline. She’s a bona fide star who marches to the beat of her drum.
As to what that means for her? Awra only has Taylor Swift to quote: “The scary thing is you’re on your own now. The cool thing is, you’re on your own now.” And it’s exciting to see where she takes herself next.
Produced by: Leika Golez and Cheska Santiago
Assisted by: Yssa Cardona
Photographed by: Renzo Navarro
Art Direction by: Bacs Arcebal and Pauline Moyano
Sittings Editor: Marj Ramos-Clemente
Video by: Jino Del Mundo
Styling by: Leika Golez
Makeup by: Athena Rosello
Hair by: Martha Amethyst