Joanna Dong: Jay Chou's fans tell me to win it for him

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Singer Joanna Dong is proud to represent Singapore in Sing! China and hopes that her journey will inspire others to follow their dreams.
Singaporean singer Joanna Dong has performed jazzy numbers throughout the competition and is the second Singaporean to make it to the final of the contest. PHOTO: SINTEL JIA LE CHANNEL

Music industry experts say that Singaporean singer Joanna Dong should play to her strength and perform in a jazz style at Sunday's (Oct 8) grand final of Sing! China, which will be broadcast live from Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium.

While she cannot reveal the solo songs she will be performing in the popular Chinese singing competition, she does not rule out jazz.

Dong, 35, tells The Straits Times in a phone interview from China: "For my solo songs, they are well-known numbers, but will be given fresh interpretations."

In fact, she has performed jazzy numbers throughout the competition, including I Want Your Love and Love Song 1990, and become only the second Singaporean to make it to the final of the contest. Nathan Hartono was the first when he reached the final last year, ending up runner-up to China's Jiang Dunhao.

Perhaps Dong's and Hartono's excellent showing at the singing contest, one of China's biggest, could give confidence other Singaporeans. This is what she hopes, she tells Lianhe Zaobao in a recent video interview.

"Everyone knows that I'm representing Singapore on a big regional show. It makes me think, 'What does that mean? What is Singapore? What are Singaporeans? How can I best represent Singapore?' That makes me very reflective.

"I feel moved the more I talk about this, because I really love Singapore, and Singaporeans, including myself, often lack confidence in ourselves as we are such a small country. We always think that we can only believe in ourselves if we get recognition from other people first. I hope that my Sing! China journey can let more Singaporeans see that we should believe in that voice within us."

Dong will be up against four other contestants in the final: Chinese student Guo Qin, 17; Tibetan teacher Zha Xi Ping Cuo, 30; Chinese singer Xiao Kaiye, 26; and Chinese rapper Ye Xiaoyue, also 26.

The final comprises two rounds of performances. In the first round, the five finalists will sing duets with their respective mentors, who are Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou, China's Liu Huan and Na Ying and Hong Kong's Eason Chan.

After the duets come a solo song from each of the five finalists. The two contestants with the highest number votes from the audiences will move on to the next round.

Then the final two singers will each perform another solo song for the top spot.

The winner will be decided by audience votes and a panel of industry professionals.

For Dong's duet with her mentor Chou in the final, she will do something different.

She says: "The duet song will be a song from his earlier albums - Simple Love - something from the time when I first became a Jay fan. It's a departure from my usual jazz style, but we're keeping it quite lighthearted."

Music industry veterans here are impressed with her jazz performances and thinks she should stick with her strong suit.

Mr Colin Goh, co-founder and managing director of music company Ocean Butterflies, says: "Her jazz roots are her great advantage. I would like to see her interweave her jazz performance with some hip-hop piece. If it is meticulously planned and properly delivered, I think it would be amazing."

Singer-songwriter Roy Loi concurs: "If jazz is her forte, why not be adventurous? She could sing and perform a modern jazz dance, I can imagine it will be stunning.

"To make it to such a big stage, the finalists are all considered winners. Many think that a Singaporean will not win. I feel that isn't important, what's important is whether your performance, your singing is recognised by the masses."

Dong's gameplan in the final will be what it has been for her till now - to "forget about winning or losing and simply enjoy each performance".

That said, she is still feeling the pressure.

"My teammates and many of Jay's fans have told me that I need to win the championship for Jay, so the pressure is definitely on.

"Jay, on the other hand, has been pretty chill, and has simply reminded me that this is a game."

Another major difference for her is the venue - she will standing onstage at the massive Beijing National Stadium filled with thousands of spectators. Previously, the contest was recorded in Hangzhou.

Giving Dong a morale booster are her family, who will be among the audience in the stadium.

"My mother, husband, aunt, mother-in-law and five very close friends will be flying up. They booked tickets soon after I told them I made it to the finals. I think they were more excited than I was."

Her mentor Chou wanted her to get a sense of performing at a colossal arena and invited her to soak up the atmosphere at his Taipei concert last month.

While she was seated among the audience, Dong was called up to sing with Chou a mash-up of his songs - Sailor Afraid Of Water and Cowboy On The Run.

She says: "It was a last-minute decision and normally I would have freaked out, but I think the competition has trained me well, and I was quite game it for it."

" I also got to meet JJ Lin who was his guest performer for the evening. Both JJ and Jay were very sweet, and reassured me that I would be fine in spite of my anxiety about singing at such a large venue."

She has also received tips from Hartono.

Hartono, 26, says: "I've spoken to Joanna personally and won't bore you with the details. Very roughly, we spoke about the technical aspects of performing in that space, plus the rough production schedule for the day and what to expect.

"I just want to wish her a great show - go up there and give it all you've got, just like at any other gig."

The finale of Sing! China airs on Jia Le Channel (Singtel TV Channel 502) on Sunday (Oct 8) at 8.30pm. Singtel TV subscribers can watch Jia Le Channel for free on the day.

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