Singer-songwriter Sufi Rashid, who became the first Singaporean to win Malaysian reality television competition Akademi Fantasia last year, will stage his first ticketed performance at the Esplanade's Pesta Raya festival next month.
The 25-year-old tells The Straits Times that he taught himself how to sing.
"I had the intention to take professional vocal lessons, but they were quite an expensive investment. So I learn by watching performances by singers such as Adam Lambert and practise by myself," says the bachelor. He adds that he admires the American Idol season eight runner-up's vocal command.
Sufi graduated from Republic Polytechnic with a diploma in biotechnology, but realised the field did not suit him. It was through taking part in small singing competitions that he knew he wanted to pursue a music career.
"After trying out a number of singing competitions, especially Akademi Fantasia last year, I was very touched by the appreciation of my fans. It gave me the confidence to pursue music professionally," he says. He also took part in the third season of Singapore Idol in 2009 and the inaugural season of The Final 1 in 2013.
BOOK IT / PESTA RAYA - MALAY FESTIVAL OF ARTS: SENIKU, SEJARAHMU
WHERE: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive
WHEN: Aug 6, 8pm
ADMISSION: $25 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)
Sufi signed a three-year contract with Malaysian broadcaster Astro after winning Akademi Fantasia last year. Now under the Warner Music label, he is working on his upcoming album, due to be released in Singapore and Malaysia at the end of this year.
When did you decide to pursue singing professionally? What do you love about singing?
Since I was 16, I have joined many small singing competitions, which I did consistently well in. I would usually emerge as champion, or at least in the top three. When I started gaining recognition for my singing, I thought I would pursue it professionally.
I love that I can express myself through singing and doing it professionally means I have to learn vocal techniques from scratch. It's a challenge, but it's very fulfilling when I master them.
Who are your musical inspirations?
(Singapore Idol) Taufik Batisah is one of them. I have worked with him and think he's very humble despite his success. I look up to American John Mayer as well. He's a singer and composer who never gives up on his music.
How did you feel being the first Singaporean to win Akademi Fantasia?
Akademi Fantasia was a surreal journey. It was definitely tough because I wasn't allowed to contact my friends or family for three months.
When I joined the competition, I didn't expect to make it so far, much less emerge as the winner. Since it's a Malaysian competition, it's almost impossible for a Singaporean to win. But I'm very glad I had the support of my Singaporean and Malaysian fans, and coming out of it assured me a good solid platform to kick-start my singing career.
How do you prepare yourself before you go onstage?
I do a lot of vocal warm-ups. I also drink a lot of water, up to six litres, to moisten my throat as much as possible.
The songs I perform are usually quite technical - they have a lot of high notes and require a lot of technique. So drinking a lot of water is very important for me to deliver my best possible performance.
What's the harshest review or critique you've received?
Someone said my voice sounded like a frog, so that was pretty harsh. I've also received a lot of comments that I can't sing.
Earlier on, I was pretty affected by these harsh opinions. But I have learnt to deal with them and take them in. Harsh reviews come with this job, but you have to take them with a pinch of salt.
Now, when I see haters' comments on social media, I'll reply with a "thank you" if I have the time. I try to be nice to these people and sometimes my haters actually become my fans.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Hopefully, I get to shake my leg at home and see money come in like a breeze. But, really, not only do I want to be known for my music, I also hope to become an entrepreneur. I have a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur and business is pretty good there. It's called De' Tulang Merah and it opened in February. I'm planning to open one in Johor Baru as well.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
I would tell them to not give up and that the experience is all about trying. Try out new platforms to explore your capabilities and be patient for the opportunities that will come.
In this line of entertainment, you'll face a lot of obstacles and criticism, but the best thing to do is to believe in yourself.
I believe I'm better than everyone else. This confidence allows me to focus on my work, rather than waste time worrying and doubting myself. It's my career and I won't let anyone stop me from pursuing it.