Hanyu pinyin, Google Translate to Hartono's rescue

Singer Nathan Hartono talks about his daily preparations ahead of his appearance in the final of Sing! China tonight

Nathan Hartono at the Beijing National Stadium in between rehearsals yesterday.
Nathan Hartono at the Beijing National Stadium in between rehearsals yesterday.ST PHOTO: CHONG KOH PING

Singapore singer Nathan Hartono has been averaging only five hours of sleep a day since he arrived in Beijing on Monday.

In the lead-up to the final of the popular talent show Sing! China, he has been in different cities every few days - Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei and now Beijing.

The past week, his schedule has been packed with rehearsals, sorting out his wardrobe, music arrangements and media interviews.

"Normally, it takes me 30 minutes to an hour to learn an English song. But for Chinese songs, I will need to take two to three days," he told the Singapore media yesterday at the Beijing National Stadium - also known as the Bird's Nest - in between rehearsals.

"I'd write the lyrics on paper and put down the hanyu pinyin for the words that I can't read and also use Google Translate to find out the meaning of words that I don't understand," said the 25-year-old who is known by his Chinese name, Xiang Yang, in the show.

In the final, he will sing at least two Chinese songs - one with his mentor Jay Chou and another by himself.

"I'm terrified that everything will go terribly wrong. Jay is very adventurous and experimental. He just keeps adding stuff to the performance," said Hartono, who attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston in the United States.

He was worried that he would forget the Chinese lyrics, but everything went well at the rehearsal just before the interview, so he was feeling more at ease.

I’m terrified that everything will go terribly wrong. Jay (Chou, his mentor) is very adventurous and experimental. He just keeps adding stuff to the performance.


Hartono said he will be trying out many things that he has never done before on stage, including dancing, rapping and performing an "interesting" instrument that he would not reveal.

The show, which is the rebranded version of The Voice Of China, continues to be one of the mostwatched variety programmes on the mainland this season.

It premiered on July 15 on Zhejiang Television with a nationwide viewership of 2.24 per cent, the highest among all programmes in the same time slot on a Friday night. It enjoys a market share of more than 30 per cent across China, nearly five times that of the No. 2 show, reported the Beijing Daily.

According to media reports, the show has also broken online records with more than 37 billion views for this season.

Despite a new name and a slightly different format due to a legal dispute over copyright, the show is still widely regarded as the fifth season of its previous incarnation.

It retained the four mentor- judges - pop star Chou, Taiwanese singer-songwriter-host Harlem Yu, China singer Na Ying and rocker Wang Feng from Season Four of The Voice Of China.

In the five years the popular show has been screened, Hartono is the first Singaporean to make it past the blind audition and to the final.

He did so with flying colours, having garnered the highest score of 93.65 among 12 contestants at the semi-final aired last Friday. He received 47 out of 51 votes from industry professionals and 333 votes from a pool of 350 live audience members.

Today, at the Bird's Nest, he faces five other finalists, namely Guangzhou's Wang Chengrui and Malaysian singer Jeryl Lee from Na's team, Xinjiang's Jiang Dunhao and Shenyang's Xu Geyang from Wang Feng's team and Jilin's Yang Meina from Yu's team. He is the only contestant from Chou's team in the final.

"I'm going into the final without a competitive mindset," said Hartono, adding that he did not think he could have made it this far.

His personal favourites for the top spot are Xu and Jiang from Wang's team. "They know how to pick the songs and interpret them nicely. I would personally vote for them," Hartono quipped.

Indeed, Xu, with her powerful rock vocals, has proven to be a crowd favourite, topping an online popularity poll with some 138 million votes, ahead of second-place Jiang who has 90 million votes.

Based on the past four seasons, the winners were all from China, and three out of four - Liang Bo (2012), Li Qi (2013), Zhang Bichen (2014) - were from Na's team. Last year's winner Zhang Lei came from Wang's camp.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'Hanyu pinyin, Google Translate to Hartono's rescue'. Subscribe