Bailey May is poised to go global

There are breathless “Awws” whenever Bailey May gently lifts the bunny he has been cradling in his lap and nuzzles it with his nose. Carefully, he presses a kiss to its head, and it is at this point that the squeals grow deafening, in a room occupied solely by people who are only doing their jobs.

It just so happens that today, these jobs involve putting together a cover shoot in which Bailey is the star — along with the rabbit, whose name is Kobe and who is quickly threatening to upstage the 15-year-old PBB alum-turned-actor and singer. But nobody, least of all Bailey himself, seems to mind.

Bunny Bailey: Born in Cebu and raised in England, Bailey has the distinction of calling two places home.

Bailey arrives a few minutes after call time, accompanied by a small entourage that includes his father Matthew. He proves to be a pro who doesn’t take himself too seriously: he strikes pose after picture-perfect pose and pulls goofy faces, all while dancing along to the Kanye song that’s blaring from the speakers. The photos have all the bubblegum charm of teenybopper pinups — and yet somehow they’re more Sassy or Nylon, maybe Teen Vogue, and less Tiger Beat. Edgier, now. More grownup.

“Why are you watching me?” he quips to his dad, more than once, when he notices the latter observing. Only then does he sound a little awkward, a little self-conscious. But there’s self-deprecating humor as well, the kind of banter perfected by every child who’s ever been embarrassed by the excessively eager pride of supportive parents.

It was at his dad’s suggestion that Bailey began to upload videos of himself singing on the internet, covering Sean Kingston and Daniel Padilla. He managed to get 5,000 views on the first day, and eventually gained a big enough following to audition for Pinoy Big Brother: 737 in 2015.

“Actually, I didn’t plan it at all,” he recalls. “It just blew up overnight. That was the crazy thing about it, because the outcome was so unexpected. Everything just worked out, (and) it gave me the opportunity to get into PBB.”

Here’s looking at you, kid: Bailey cites Michael Jackson, Mario, Justin Bieber, Ne-Yo, and Austin Mahone as influences.

Bailey, who was 12 at the time, became the youngest contestant to ever join the show, finishing fourth. Young fans were smitten with his princely British accent and refreshingly cheerful demeanor. They swooned when he struck up a kinship with fellow housemate Ylona Garcia that maybe evolved into something more.

At the shoot, Bailey trades the clothes he arrived in (oversize shirt and track pants) for an outfit that wouldn’t be out of place in The Outsiders: crisp sleeveless white shirt, classic blue jeans. Walking out of the dressing room, he evokes a modern-day Ponyboy Curtis — nice and wholesome, and just dangerous enough. Charli XCX’s Boys comes on, and it’s not hard to picture him fitting right in with the likes of Joe Jonas and Riz Ahmed in the song’s music video, either.

Slick is the new black: Bailey recently flew to LA for Simon Fuller’s Now United boot camp.

Born in Cebu and raised in England, Bailey has the distinction of being from two places at once. When he moved to Norwich when he was four, he had trouble fitting in at first. But his mom, Vanessa, says that he was quick to adapt — an ability he deftly exhibited upon his return to the Philippines. “When I arrived here I really felt odd,” says Bailey. “But, you know, I’ve managed to (immerse myself in the culture), which is pretty awesome.”

Of his upbringing, he says, “My parents were just normal parents.” The Mays were strict, but fair; they implemented a curfew and always looked out for their son. “They kept me on my feet and away from bad habits,” he adds. “I think they’ve raised me to be a normal, genuine person.”

Kobe is getting antsy, hopping around on Bailey’s lap. When Bailey pets him lightly, the bunny burrows into his jacket, ears fluttering. It’s quite a sight to behold. “I had a bunny!” Bailey pipes up, and his dad confirms it. “His name was Harry.” Poor Harry had to be left with a nice family back in England, but not to worry, he was well taken care of. “At least,” Matthew says, lowering his voice, “that’s what we told Bailey.” He bursts out laughing. “I’m kidding!”

In the two years since he first came to prominence, Bailey shares that his life has changed considerably. “Before, I was just a normal kid. I played sports all the time, went to school.” Becoming a teen idol is not without its difficulties: there’s less privacy, and you’re forced to grow up a little bit. “I don’t know how to say it,” he says. “With the pressure I’m (under), I feel older.”

“When I arrived here I really felt odd,” says Bailey. “But, you know, I’ve managed to (immerse myself in the culture), which is pretty awesome.”

Not many teenagers cater to 1.1 million followers on Instagram, and they definitely don’t spend their weekends performing in front of thousands of people or appearing on millions of television screens. Sometimes he’s had to perform songs he had only learned the day before. “There’s been times where I struggled a bit with it and the nervousness kind of overtakes me,” Bailey says. “But I feel great, you know? Because I’ve been given the opportunity to do things that kids my age can’t do. So I feel blessed.”

When he was five, Bailey discovered that he was mad about football, and that he was quite good at it. For a good few years, it was beginning to look like his future was in sports. But life — and more artistic leanings — got in the way. “I didn’t really look at singing and dancing as a passion,” he says. However, he admits his tune has changed. “Now my full passion is performing,” he insists. “And at the moment I’m fully focused on improving my craft.”

When he’s not taking classes at the G-Force Dance Center, he’s prone to randomly breaking out into song (he also took voice lessons), or doing “everyday casual practice” in his room. He still enjoys football as a hobby, but it’s become very clear that his future lies elsewhere. “My goal is to become international,” Bailey says, citing Michael Jackson, Mario, Justin Bieber, Ne-Yo, and Austin Mahone as influences. “I really want to become a world-known performer.”

All grown up: At 15, Bailey is now one of the most watched and followed celebrities in the local scene.

And it looks like all that practice — and all that dreaming — is paying off in a monumental, possibly history-making way. In August, Bailey flew to Los Angeles with Ylona, AC Bonifacio and Jane de Leon to represent the Philippines in a weeklong boot camp with Simon Fuller, creator of such pop-culture greats as the Spice Girls and American Idol. The endgame: a coveted spot in Now United, a global pop group that’s the first of its kind, with 11 artists from 11 countries, set for a 2018 launch. Think S Club 7 (another Fuller creation) for a generation raised by the internet.

“We performed in front of Simon Fuller,” Bailey recalls. “It was very nerve-wracking because it’s Simon Fuller — he’s seen so many talented people!” But he says this only inspired him to give his best. “I can say that it was the best week of my life,” he gushes. “It felt so good to meet new people from different countries (who shared) the same passion. It was such a great experience. I learned so much.”

He’s flying back to LA for another boot camp, and he’s ecstatic.

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Bailey’s only halfway through his teen years. Asked how he’s making the most of his youth, his answer is matter-of-fact, and a testament to the earnest young man he’s become. “I’m just enjoying life,” he shrugs. “My parents always keep me grounded and I always hang out with my friends. That’s pretty much it.”

“I don’t think I’ve changed,” he continues. “I’m still the same person. I think I’ve just grown up.” He adds, almost coyly, that he’s looking forward to the rest of his future.

His only song request for the day is a Nicki Minaj single, and he’s singing along without a care in the world. The shoot wraps up. Kobe the bunny needs his beauty rest, Bailey’s back in the track pants, and there are warm hugs and selfies all around.

“I’m still the same person. I think I’ve just grown up.” He adds, almost coyly, that he’s looking forward to the rest of his future.

It’s a crime to recount Bailey’s one-of-a-kind week in LA without another highlight: meeting Miley Cyrus. So just before the interview ends, Bailey spills the deets. “One day,” he begins, and it’s almost like we’re in kindergarten and it’s story time, “me and my friend Lamar went outside, and we saw these two girls, and Lamar was like, ‘Bailey! It’s Miley Cyrus!’ I was like, ‘Really?’ So I was whispering, like, ‘Miley!’ And then she turned around.” He pauses for dramatic effect. “And then it was Miley Cyrus.”

“We had a conversation about Hannah Montana and stuff,” he continues. “And she’s like, ‘Why are you guys here?’ And then we talk about Now United.” He grins. “So now she knows about Now United.”

And it won’t be long, mark our words, before the rest of the world does, too.

Special  thanks to DIANA PUA, ROYCE PUA,
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