by Natalia Radcliffe
Principal by day, singer by night. Almost sounds like the premise of a movie script, doesn’t it?
Monica Balbuena leads a double life – one as administrator and another as performer.
She is a Canyon Country resident who is the principal at the West Valley Occupational Center by day. But at night, she lets her hair down and becomes Sunny the Singing Principal, an energetic, enthusiastic vocalist with a love of performance.
Balbuena started singing in her early 30s – at first, just in her role as mom.
“The only time I would sing would be with my boys in the car,” said Balbuena. “Our favorite song to sing together was ‘La Isla Bonita’ by Madonna.”
Unfortunately, when her children became older, they lost interest in singing with their mother. It was after this that Balbuena started to pursue other avenues to express herself.
And it was not easy.
“I always enjoyed singing, but I was too scared to let it come out,” she said.
One day, she was at the Acapulco restaurant with some friends. During their happy hour, people could sing karaoke. Her friends tried to persuade her many times to get up and perform a song.
“It took about five times to work up the nerve to say I’ll try it,” said Balbuena. She joked that all it took was a margarita to give her some liquid courage and, since then, she has never looked back.
Performing karaoke certainly can come with some interesting stories.
“While singing, I’ve had a girl barf in front of me,” said Balbuena. Also, “while singing, I’ve been breaking up fights.”
Many artists inspire her, like Julio Iglesias and Cyndi Lauper. “I loved her style, and eccentric way of dressing,” explained Balbuena. “I try to be a fun singer.”
Some of her favorite songs to perform are “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac, “Pontoon” by Little Big Town, and “Do You Want to Dance?” by Bette Midler.
She also enjoys singing newer songs such as “Shallow” performed by Lady Gaga from the movie “A Star is Born.”
Genre, era, it doesn’t matter when it comes to picking a song.
“I sing songs I like. I have no rules,” Balbuena said.
Locally, she enjoys singing karaoke at places such as Medrano’s in Canyon Country, Bergie’s at the entrance to Sand Canyon, and the Moose and Elks lodges, both on Sierra Highway.
As a result of karaoke, she joined a cover band called Cherry Cream, who she sang with for 12 years. They came up with the name, she said, because it was the drummer’s favorite flavor of coffee at 7-Eleven.
“We didn’t take ourselves too seriously,” she joked.
The band worked professionally, covering artists like Pat Benatar, Sheryl Crow, Fleetwood Mac and Melissa Etheridge.
If there is one group Balbuena would aspire to cover, it’s Heart, a famous rock band from the 1970s. “I could never sing this song, but if I had a magic wand, I would want to sing their song ‘Magic Man,’” she said.
In August, after a five-year hiatus with her projects, she decided to team up with a friend who plays the guitar and keyboard, and perform at The Junkyard, a restaurant in Simi Valley.
When she retires, it will be from her job as principal. She is not planning to slow down where her music is concerned.
“I’m going to retire in a few years and … I hope to pursue doing musical theater,” said Balbuena.
Specifically, she is planning on auditioning locally, at Canyon Theatre Guild in Newhall.
She isn’t limiting herself to musicals, though, as she has another very important role.
“I’ll have more time to dedicate to my music,” Balbuena said, “as well as being a grandmother.”