Jeric Gonzales, Thea Tolentino hailed as 'Protege' winners

It's a back-to-back celebration for South Luzon as two contestants from Laguna -- Jeric Gonzales and Thea Tolentino -- were hailed as the grand winners of GMA's biggest and grandest artista search, "Protege: The Battle For The Big Artista Break," during its live finale held on Sunday at the GMA Network Studios.

The two winners bagged a grand prize package worth P12 million consisting of a cash prize of P1 million each from SM Supermalls, a five-year talent management contract with GMA Artist Center and a two-bedroom condominium unit (for each winner) from Suntrust Properties, Inc. Additionally, all six finalists (including the winners) received a four-year scholarship grant from STI Colleges.

Apart from the grand prize, Jeric also won the "Texters' Choice Award" from GMA New Media, Inc.

"Talagang na-shock ako kasi sobrang hirap talaga ng pinagdaanan namin sa Protege, tapos hindi ko akalain na ako yung tatanghaling Protege male winner. Sobrang masaya po ako," shared Jeric in an interview immediately after the live gala.

Although early into the competition the 19-year old "kilig cutie" from Laguna already seemed to emerge as a crowd favorite, he did not expect that last night's finale was his to claim until his name was announced as winner.

"Na-shock talaga ako nung marinig ko yung pangalan ko; hindi ako nakapagsalita. Nang mag-sink in na sa sarili ko na ako yung nanalo, naiyak nalang talaga ako," he said.

For 16-year old Thea, winning the competition was something that she had aways hoped for but never thought would actually happen.

"Talagang ang iniisip kong mananalo ay si Elle kasi lagi niyang napapa-wow ang judges, lagi siya ang mataas, at mataas din ang text votes niya kaya inisip ko na siya ang mananalo," shared Thea. "Sobrang nagulat po ako kasi sobrang unexpected ito. Talagang mahiyain ako noon tapos hindi ko akalain na mananalo ako dito kaya sobrang saya ko," she added.

Asked about what he is going to do with his winnings, Jeric said he is planning to invest his cash prize in a business. On the other hand, Thea is planning to save her cash prize for college. Jeric is a B.S. Nursing graduate, while Thea is yet to graduate from high school next year.

Jeric and Thea were not the only ones who went home victorious last night. Their respective mentors, Jolina Magdangal (Jeric) and Gina Alajar (Thea), also received a cash prize of P500,000 each.

Finale Performances

Apart from being an intense culmination of the battle for the big artista break, last night's finale also served as a reunion of all the Top 20 proteges and the mentors. The fourteen former Protege contestants joined the Final Six -- Jeric Gonzales, Thea Tolentino, Ruru Madrid, Zandra Summer, Mikoy Morales and Elle Ramirez -- in the show's opening and also in a heart-warming finale number rendered just before the announcement of winners.

In their final bid to impress the judges and the viewers, the Final Six showed their acting skills for the last time in the competition by acting alongside prime kapuso stars: Thea Tolentino with Heart Evangelista (Luna Blanca), Jeric Gonzales with Kris Bernal (Coffee Prince), Ruru Madrid with Barbie Forteza (Paroa: Ang Kuwento ni Mariposa), Mikoy Morales with Andrea Torres (Sana Ay Ikaw Na Nga), Zandra Summer with Ryan Eigenmann (Magdalena) and a solo performance by Elle Ramirez (Aso ni San Roque).

The mentors -- Philip Salvador, Ricky Davao, Gina Alajar, Roderick Paulate and Jolina Magdangal -- also took the center stage and rendered a dance number to the delight of the audience and their respective proteges.

"Protege: The Battle for the Big Artista Break" began scouring the country in May to search for individuals who have what it takes to become future stars. The nationwide auditions drew in thousands of aspirants from Mega Manila, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, each one hoping to take a chance at stardom. The show presented its Top 20 proteges to the public during its first gala night held on August 5.