Crescent Girls' School student Amritha Devaraj has been an avid fan of xinyao singer-songwriter Jimmy Ye for years, so when her Higher Chinese teacher encouraged her to sign up with friends for a national xinyao competition last year, she seized the opportunity.
Amritha, now 16, performed at the National Schools Xinyao Singing and Songwriting Competition this year - this time on her own - and emerged champion of the singing (solo) category.
"I love that xinyao lyrics are very close to our lives," she says.
Xinyao, a home-grown Mandarin folk-pop genre popular in the 1980s, comprises songs about everyday Singaporean life composed and performed by local youth.
Waynie Lee, Loke Zhi Yan and Eleen Chua from Singapore Polytechnic won in the singing (group) category; Tan Xiao Xuan from Nanyang Technological University won in the songwriting (creative) category; and Feng Biao Biao and Hwang Yi Hui from Anderson Serangoon Junior College won in the songwriting (open) category.
After three rounds of competition that started in June, 25 students from 15 schools vied for the top prizes last Saturday in the grand finals of the competition.
The competition, held at the ITE College Central auditorium, was jointly organised by the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning (CPCLL), Jurong Pioneer Junior College, Lianhe Zaobao and xinyao concert organiser TCR Music Station.
The competition aims to preserve Chinese cultural heritage and spark interest in the Chinese language and xinyao in a new generation of students.
"I hope participants of this competition, past and present, will continue to sing Chinese songs, pass on Chinese traditions and fall in love with the Chinese language," said Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Education Low Yen Ling, chairman of CPCLL, who was the guest-of-honour at the event.
This year's competition, in its fifth year, had students competing in four categories: singing (solo), singing (group), songwriting (creative) and songwriting (open).
Competitors in the singing categories may choose a song to perform from a selection of xinyao classics, as well as tunes composed by previous winners of the songwriting segments of the competition.
The songwriting (creative) category requires students to draw inspiration from stories in local Chinese textbooks for their musical compositions. The songwriting (open) category has no restrictions.
"I was inspired by a poem I read in my Chinese textbook about the struggles of women in Hui'an, China," says Tan Xiao Xuan, 19, this year's winner in the songwriting (creative) category. Her song was titled Gloomy ("hui an" in Chinese).
"I hope my song will get more people interested in Chinese poetry," she adds.