SPOP Sing! mentors Nathan Hartono, Joanna Dong reveal what it takes to sing on the big stage

SPOP Sing! mentors Nathan Hartono, Joanna Dong reveal what it takes to sing on the big stage

The ambassadors for Channel 8’s new singing competition show SPOP Sing! share their single most important piece of advice.

SPOP Sing ambassadors Nathan Hartono Joanna Dong
SPOP Sing ambassadors Nathan Hartono and Joanna Dong. (Photos: Jeremy Long)

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SINGAPORE: If performing a song makes you feel like you’re in a warm bed – which is what it does to Nathan Hartono – then taking up music might be for you.

Come August, contestants on Mediacorp Channel 8’s new musical talent show competition SPOP Sing!, to be hosted by actor-host Lee Teng, YES 933 DJ Gao Meigui and actress-singer Bonnie Loo, will have the chance to creatively reinvent local songs on a shiny new stage.

Auditions, which will begin in May, will soon be open to aspiring singers aged 13 to 25. Would-be contestants can keep a lookout for more details on Toggle.

Talented young singers hoping to break into the music scene won’t be embarking on this challenge with no one to hold their hands. Hartono, Joanna Dong and Boon Hui Lu, the show’s ambassadors, will be present to provide mentorship.

All three have represented Singapore in singing competitions abroad: Hartono and Dong in Sing! China, and Boon in Taiwan Hopestar.

Hartono, who finished second in Sing! China 2016, said he is most commonly asked about how he deals with stage fright – something he still suffers from every once in a while. In fact, it afflicted him at Sunday’s Star Awards 2018.

“I saw every single face (in the audience)… all these actors that I grew up seeing on TV,” the 26-year-old said. “It was like, ‘Ah, there’s Zoe Tay. There’s Desmond Tan.’ The whole time I was singing, half my brain was like, ‘Lyrics. Chords.’ The other half was, ‘Eh, it’s that person!’”

A telltale sign that he’s nervous is if you catch him looking up while performing. “I’ll look at the ceiling because it’s the least distracting thing in the room,” he chuckled.

Dong, 36, who placed third at Sing! China 2017, agreed that stage fright “never goes away”. “All through my competition in Sing! China, I was terrified,” she confessed.

And sometimes, no matter how much you’ve done your due diligence, things do go wrong on stage. “There was more than once when my in-ear monitors didn’t work,” she said. 

“In fact, during the Sing! China competition, when I was singing the Open Arms and Lovers’ Tears mashup in the crucial round, I remember (the sound in) my in-ear monitors fading in and out. All I could do was to keep my wits together and sing by faith. That’s one way to help yourself calm down: When you’ve done what you can, trust that you also have the ability to cope on stage.”

Nathan Hartono
Nathan Hartono gets stage fright once in a while. (Photo: Nathan Hartono/Facebook)

Hartono’s best advice is to any aspiring musician is to “keep looking for opportunities to perform in front of people and find an audience. It could be at school shows, or even to a virtual audience. Live streaming is a great way to practice because you have an audience that gives you feedback, and they can be very honest. As long as there are stakes – that’s the key in becoming a much more natural performer.”

Dong added: “Singing in the bathroom doesn’t count because there’s no audience to give feedback, help you get over stage fright and hone your performance skills. It’s one thing to be a great singer, another thing to be a great performer. In this day and age, live performance really matters, because you don’t really make money from recording music any more. You have to build your success around providing people with an experience they can’t download or reshare.”

That said, she still sings in the shower all the time – because you have to do stuff for your own pleasure, too.

Her rubber ducky hits could be anything from Wham!’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up (“Rickroll!” she quipped) to emo songs by Charlie Lim. “At one time it was Nathan’s Electricity – but I always get the lyrics wrong. Every time I see him, I have to clarify them with him.”

Joanna Dong Sing! China Applause
Joanna Dong performing Feng Fei Fei's Applause at the finals of the Sing! China competition. (Screengrab: SingtelTV Jia Le)

Singing, she said, is “who I am. Since I was a child, whenever I sang, people told me I was special because of it. But there are also so many times I compare myself to other singers. Then, I feel incompetent. It’s something that cuts both ways – it can build your self-esteem, but it can also break you if you let yourself be defined only by your singing.”

As for Hartono, singing “puts me in a very comfortable place, almost like a warm bed. When I find that my mood is shifting or if I’m a little bit off-kilter, it’s because I’m not performing as much. I’m not having the chance to do this thing that makes me feel like I’m in a warm bed.”

Short of actually being in a warm bed, we suppose.

Catch SPOP Sing! starting Aug 9 at 8.30pm on Mediacorp TV Channel 8 and Toggle.sg, with audition highlights starting from June on Toggle. For more contest information, visit https://toggle.sg/spopsing.

Source: CNA/mm