SINGAPORE: Barely a minute into Singaporean singer Joanna Dong’s blind audition, Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou turned his chair around, effectively choosing her to join his team on popular TV talent show Sing! China.
All that ran through her head at that moment was complete shock and disbelief, Dong told Channel NewsAsia on Monday (Jul 17). But the local musical theatre actress and jazz singer knew she had to focus and keep her composure.
“Because I still had a huge part of a challenging song to complete!” she explained.
Dong wowed the coaches and the live audience with her technically difficult jazz rendition of Lo Ta-yu classic Love Song 1990 in the first episode of the new season of Sing! China, which was broadcast last Friday. After Chou, fellow coaches Eason Chan and Liu Huan soon followed by also turning their chairs. All three coaches offered effusive praise of Dong’s talent, all in an attempt to woo her to join their teams in the contest.
The 35-year-old, who also hosts infotainment television shows, eventually picked Chou as her mentor, saying “yes” to joining his Sing! China team.
So why did she choose Jay Chou out of her three offers, apart from the fact that he’s an award winning multi-platinum selling recording artist?
According to Dong, she and the arrangers had planned for this “showstopper” segment in the later part of her audition song “with the hopes that it would be enough to impress the judges”.
“I had not in my wildest dreams expected anyone who hit the buzzer so early into my song! It really moved me that Jay would choose me, when he had only heard the most ‘unspectacular’ part of the song,” she explained.
“I've actually always been very insecure about my singing. I don't have powerhouse vocals, nor a particularly recognisable vocal quality so it is quite possibly the highest endorsement of my singing voice I have ever received.
“All I wanted was for anyone to buzz me,” Dong admitted with a laugh. “But I was fantasising about choosing between Jay and Liu Huan because they're both fantastic arrangers and musicians, on top of being great singers."
Now that Dong is on Team Jay Chou, does she feel the pressure of continuing fellow Singaporean singer Nathan Hartono’s success in the show? After all, Hartono was also on Team Jay Chou in the first season and finished as first runner-up.
“I am actually a fan of Nathan’s!” she said. “I never once thought I could outdo his performance in the competition.”
For Dong, taking part in Sing! China has most importantly been about coming into her own.
“I first joined because I craved validation for my singing. It was to prove to myself that I was a legit singer,” she said. “I suffer from professional schizophrenia - my good friend used to tease that I was the best jazz singer who did Mandarin musical theatre, or Chinese theatre actress who sang the best jazz.
“It was a joke - but it did reference the fact that people often thought of me as someone who was a Jack of several trades, and master in none.”
With this feather in her cap, Dong will no longer be seen as a master of none. Not with the entire of Singapore cheering her on in the competition.
So what does she make of this fame, ironically "newfound" for a performer who’s been in the local entertainment industry for a long time?
“Theatre, jazz, and even the type of infotainment programmes I host are all relatively niche genres, so I never bemoaned the fact that I was under the radar,” she replied.
“It was a conscious decision to choose work that I enjoyed over merely work that gave me a huge following. In the same way, to join the competition was also a conscious choice. I feel like it's time I stepped out onto a more popular platform - I used to be very uncomfortable being myself, not wanting to be a 'mass audience' artiste, was my way of denial. I didn't like myself, and so didn't think people would like me.
“So, this is me reaching maturity.”