How far can Singapore-born singer Natalie Ong go in The X Factor Australia competition?

Singapore-born Natalie Ong may be only 15, but she's already making sound waves as a contestant on The X Factor Australia.
Singapore-born Natalie Ong may be only 15, but she's already making sound waves as a contestant on The X Factor Australia.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

Singapore-born Natalie Ong may be only 15, but she's already making sound waves as a contestant on The X Factor Australia.

Her performances of Christina Aguilera's The Voice Within and Etta James' I'd Rather Go Blind saw her sail through to become one of the top 12 finalists in the singing competition.

It is somewhat of a deja vu for many Singaporeans, who recently saw home-grown heart-throb Nathan Hartono, 25, put up an impressive run to eventually clinch second place in the recently concluded Sing! China competition.

But does Natalie have what it takes to go as far as, or even further than, Hartono?

We take a look at what could work for and against her ahead of the live knockout rounds that will air from Sunday, Oct 23.

The X Factor

There are typically many gruelling rounds to get through on The X Factor show, which originated in the United Kingdom in 2004:

1) Open auditions, in which contestants sing for the show's producers behind the scenes.

2) Judges' auditions, where they perform for the judges, sometimes in front of an audience too. This is where Natalie belted out The Voice Within - Christina Aguilera's 2003 powerhouse ballad known for its challenging range.

3) Boot Camp, where contestants who have passed the audition rounds are whittled down to fewer than 50 through solo and group performances. Nerves typically take over at this stage, where many participants forget lyrics or show that they do not work well in teams.

This year's The X Factor Australia, in its eighth season, seems to have glossed over this stage in no more than a few shots, bringing most of the tension over to the next round.

4) The Chair Challenge, where contestants sing for the top spots in different categories.

Each of the judges will be assigned a category to mentor, and this edition of The X Factor Australia has only three chairs per category.

The categories this time are:

1. Under 22s (mentored by American Idol alum Adam Lambert),

2. Over 22s (mentored by first Australian Idol Guy Sebastian),

3. Groups (mentored by Australian rapper Iggy Azalea), and

4. The Underdogs (mentored by former Spice Girl Mel B)

This is arguably the most nail-biting stage, as those who have already earned a seat can still lose their spot if a contestant who performs after them is deemed to be more deserving.

For instance, Lambert's three chairs were already full when Natalie came on stage to perform the blues classic I'd Rather Go Blind. But her rendition of the 1968 Etta James hit was good enough to knock fellow contestant Ivy Adara off her seat.

5) Judges' Houses: This usually sees six acts in each category perform for their respective mentors in their homes. The top three picks by each judge will move on to the live shows.

The current edition of The X Factor Australia skips this stage, which means that by earning one of the three chairs from Lambert, Natalie will be part of the weekly live knockouts.

This essentially means she currently has a 1 in 12 chance of winning the competition.

The Judge Factor

One Scary threat to Natalie's chances would be Mel B's team of "Underdogs".

The judge has yet to reveal her team of three acts, which will come from the contestants rejected by the other judges in the earlier Three-Chair Challenge.

Some to watch out for include Beatz, the energetic all-female trio known for their tight harmonies, snappy dance moves and coloured boots, as well as Zebulen Howell, the 22-year-old hairdresser who sounds like an intoxicating cross between James Bay and James Blunt.

Perhaps Natalie's coach Lambert would be able to give her some first-hand tips about being in a singing competition. He did, after all, finish runner-up on the eighth season of American Idol back in 2009.

And seeing as how judges on reality TV shows these days drum up support for their contestants on social media, the popularity of their mentors can influence how far the finalists go.

Lambert has already posted pictures of his top three singers (Natalie Ong, Amalia Foy and Isaiah Firebrace) on his Instagram account, which has 950,000 followers.

The Asian Factor

Of the past seven seasons of The X Factor Australia, at least three have been won by contestants of Asian descent.

Dami Im, who emigrated from South Korea to Australia with her parents when she was just nine, was crowned X Factor champion in 2013 at age 25, under the tutelage of coach and Australian songstress Dannii Minogue. She even went on to represent Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016.

In 2014, Marlisa Punzalan, only 15 then, became the youngest contestant to win the show. Her coach was former Boyzone member Ronan Keating. Marlisa - whose parents emigrated from the Philippines before she was born - first wowed the judges with a soulful rendition of The Beatles' Yesterday.

Just last year, 19-year-old Cyrus Villanueva - also of Filipino descent - stole thousands of hearts across Australia with his buttery vocals and suave looks, and went on to win the seventh season under the mentorship of American rock musician Chris Isaak.

So if history repeats itself, as it occasionally does, perhaps we could be looking at another winner of Asian descent in Natalie Ong?

What's next for Natalie?

Catch her next performance on the first of the weekly live knockout shows on Sunday, Oct 23.

Featuring the top 12 acts of the season, this is where contestants will be at the mercy of the audience, who have to vote to keep their favourites in the contest.

Each week, contestants will perform songs to a theme, and one of the two acts with the least number of votes will be sent home by the judges. If the judges reach a deadlock, they lose the power to decide and the contestant or group with the least votes will be eliminated.

Natalie has crossed quite a few hurdles to get this far, and she seems to have won over the judges for now.

But the live shows, known for their heavily produced sequences and concert-like spectacles, have proven tough for even the strongest of singers. Many have floundered because of poor song choices, clumsy dance moves, tacky costumes and simply the sheer pressure of having to perform week after week.

Lambert himself has cautioned Natalie against a lack of originality.

"In this competition we want to produce artistes, we want people that are individuals, and we want your version of a song and a lyric," he told her after her performance of The Voice Within.

It's now up to Natalie to take in Lambert's advice, hold her own on the big stage and win over Australia's votes .