Telly's new faces: Hong Ling, Sora Ma, Bonnie Loo and Carrie Wong

Carrie Wong. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP
Carrie Wong. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP
Bonnie Loo. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Bonnie Loo. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Sora Ma. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP
Sora Ma. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP
Hong Ling. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP
Hong Ling. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP

A new crop of actresses are carving out a niche on Channel 8, taking on major roles alongside veterans. SundayLife! talks to stars Hong Ling, Sora Ma, Bonnie Loo and Carrie Wong

HONG LING, 20

Showbiz start: Discovered on Channel U reality talent show Hey Gorgeous last year

Breakout role: Likely to be her upcoming role as the daughter of coffee shop owners Chew Chor Meng and Pan Lingling in the 190-episode drama 118

Watch her in: 118, premiering on Channel 8 on Oct 20 at 7.30pm

This exotic mixed-blood beauty knows she faces a big hurdle in her showbusiness career - her introverted nature.

Describing herself as "very, very shy", the daughter of a Thai mother and a Chinese Singaporean father says she is often at a loss for words in public situations - something that she hopes to overcome in the coming months.

"In between filming, the cast would gather to chat but I would always sit quietly by the side and just listen and smile," she tells SundayLife! in Mandarin.

"I am definitely worried that I'm too introverted for this career. At the same time, I am enjoying myself so much that I don't want to give up the acting opportunities coming my way. I should give this a shot."

She was shoved into the limelight after being discovered on Channel U's Hey Gorgeous last November. The reality talent TV contest scouts good-looking young people with star quality in schools across Singapore.

"I was just doing my own thing in school and the TV crew asked me to join the show," says Hong, who was then a second-year student at Temasek Polytechnic.

"I'm a very passive person, so I would never have signed up myself. But I'm glad they found me. I'm loving it so far and I think it will help build my confidence."

She has put her pursuit of a diploma in business in information technology on hold, a decision that she says her self- employed parents supported. But she has plans to resume her studies part-time.

Since her debut, she has played a number of bit parts in Channel 8 dramas such as the ongoing Against The Tide, but it is in the upcoming long-form drama 118 that she will truly get to shine.

In the 190-episode drama that premieres on Oct 20, she is the daughter of Chew Chor Meng and Pan Lingling, who play the owners of a popular coffee shop. One of the best parts about the role is getting to work closely with China-born hunk Xu Bin, who plays her elder brother in the show.

"I'm always excited to see him because I think he's so cute and sunny. He's probably my favourite among the '8 Dukes'," Hong, who is single, says unabasedly with a laugh.

"8 Dukes" refers to the group of eight hot young actors at Caldecott Hill who are hugely popular with young fans - Xu, Ian Fang, Shane Pow, Desmond Tan, Jeffrey Xu, Romeo Tan, Aloysius Pang and Zhang Zhenhuan.

Hong's other favourite among the eight is Fang. "I think he's so handsome and cool," she gushes.

Wow, where did that shyness go to?


SORA MA, 30

Showbiz start: Top 5 finalist in TV talent contest Star Search in 2010

Breakout role: Playing a nightclub singer and love interest to Terence Cao and Elvin Ng in police drama C.L.I.F. 3, which aired on Channel 8 in April

Watch her in: Channel 8 drama 118, premiering on Oct 20 at 7.30pm, in which she plays a disabled office executive with low self-esteem

This year alone, Sora Ma stars in four Channel 8 TV dramas - considered a high output even for more established stars.

In January, she played a bank consultant in Yes We Can! Three months later, she made an impression as a sultry nightclub singer in blockbuster police drama C.L.I.F. 3. She played a villainous tomboy in time-travel show Blessings in July and was seen last month in the cooking serial Spice Up as the confidante of Jeanette Aw's character.

Speaking in a mix of Mandarin and English, she says: "I guess I've been really lucky to have several dramas airing back-to-back. Now, wherever I go, people will call out my name or say hi to me. In the past, people may think I look familiar but they would not remember my name."

She entered show business in 2010 after emerging as a Top 5 finalist in the TV talent contest Star Search, but it was only in the past year that her popularity has spiked. So much so that she was recognised in public even though her face was covered. She says: "I was sick but had to run some errands, so I went out with a face mask and sunglasses. Amazingly, a shop keeper recognised my voice. She said, 'You sound so much like Sora Ma.' I couldn't believe it."

Her online fan following has also grown. The number of followers of her official Facebook page has swelled to more than 119,000 from 40,000 since the start of the year. She has more than 30,000 followers on Instagram (@soramayx) and 12,000 followers on Twitter (@soramayx).

The Malaysia-born actress, who has a bachelor's degree in marketing and management from Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan University College, says she joined Star Search to accompany a friend who was auditioning. The friend did not make the cut. "I thought it'd be fun. But now that I've tried acting, I realise I have a passion for it."

She has partnered actress Felicia Chin to open a cafe in Chinatown called Mama Shop. It opens later this month. She reiterates that acting is where her heart truly lies, however.

"People in my hometown never imagined that anyone could become a TV star," says Ma, who was raised mostly by her grandparents in Kedah's Sungei Petani town. Her parents are divorced and she has an older brother.

"My family doubted my decision to enter show business would lead to anything, but now they watch my shows and I think they're proud of me. I can't be happier."


BONNIE LOO, 20

Showbiz start: Joined MediaCorp as an artist after winning TV reality singing contest Campus Superstar last year

Breakout role: Playing a rebellious teenager in police drama C.L.I.F. 3

Watch her in: Against The Tide, now showing on Channel 8 on weeknights at 9pm

Loo is known for her massive singing voice. She won TV reality singing competition Campus Superstar last year but she is also making her mark on TV, with memorable roles in two Channel 8 shows.

She played a sickly patient in top-rated medical drama The Caregivers starring Thomas Ong in March. In blockbuster police drama C.L.I.F. 3 which aired in April, she was the rebellious teenage daughter of Terence Cao's shady businessman character.

She enjoys acting but admits that the experience has not been smooth sailing. A TV director scolded her "very harshly" on set once when she failed to cry on cue, she recalls.

"I couldn't cry, no matter how hard I tried and he scolded me for wasting time. I was so terrified, I cried. But I think he did it to goad me because he later said I did a good job," she says in Mandarin, chuckling.

While filming a scene with Cao, she found it difficult to slap him as required. "I had so many 'No Good' takes that day because I couldn't do it. Every time I hit him, the director said it looked fake. But he and Terence were patient and told me to slap as hard as I could - which I did. I had muscle aches the next day."

This will not deter her from pursuing acting though. "I've mostly focused on singing. But now that I'm given the opportunity, I should do my best. I hope to be good in singing and acting."

The Malaysian-born Singapore permanent resident, who studied at Riverside Secondary School, is the elder of two daughters. Her mother is a housewife and her father, a construction contractor.

She can be seen in ongoing blockbuster drama Against The Tide, playing the younger sister of Media- Corp hunk Shane Pow.

On Oct 15, she will be launching her self-titled debut Mandarin music album Bonnie, which she says will cover several genres, including dance pop tunes and soothing ballads.


CARRIE WONG, 20

Showbiz start: Discovered on Channel U reality show Hey Gorgeous last year

Breakout role: A schizophrenic woman in Against The Tide, showing on Channel 8 on weeknights at 9pm

Watch her in: Against The Tide

Who was that new face standing next to Channel 8 bigwigs Christopher Lee and Rui En at the press conference last month to promote Channel 8 drama Against The Tide?

Carrie Wong, that's who. She snagged the major role of a schizophrenic woman, the younger sister of Lee's crime novelist character.

The role is a huge career boost for her. She joined show business after she was discovered on Channel U reality show Hey Gorgeous, which scouts good-lookers with potential. She was a final-year student at Nanyang Polytechnic then, wrapping up her diploma course in hospitality and tourism management.

Landing this "acting opportunity of a lifetime" so quickly is something the 1.75m-tall Wong finds "surprising", although she says she earned the role in her own right.

"I got the role after two rounds of auditions, so it's not like they handed it to me," she says in English.

The role has its challenges, she admits.

"It's a very intense and dark role and I got very affected by it at times," she recalls. "There was a lot of screaming and crying, so it was a very emotional role. Being so new, it's not always easy to get into the character immediately, but I'm learning as I go along."

Another challenge was having to act opposite Lee, 43, whom she says she "really admires".

She says in jest: "I was so nervous around him. Luckily, he was so patient and he talked me through the script and gave me lots of acting advice. We got along so well that whenever I didn't have a scene with him, it made me panic."

She is now filming another major role for an upcoming Channel 8 blockbuster show - The Journey: Tumultuous Times, the follow-up to last year's The Journey: A Voyage.

In the new epic period drama, slated to be aired at the end of the year, she plays a feisty dessert seller who is the love interest of Shaun Chen's character.

Says the only child of a housewife mother and a retiree father: "I feel a bit more confident filming Tumultous Times. At least I'm not totally new and I know what to expect with filming procedures, which means I can focus on the role. I really hope I can improve as an actress.

"To have two big shows back-to-back like this, I feel very fortunate."