Singaporean YouTube stars make their mark online and offline

In the last few years, some Singaporeans have gained large followings on YouTube through their brand of comedy or talents such as singing and dancing. Some make enough money from advertisements and sponsorships to go full-time.

(From left) Clifford Yow, 22; Elliot Lucas Marcell Tan, 23; Aaron Khoo, 27; Janice Chiang, 26; and Ho Zhen Jie, 27. -- PHOTO: AARON KHOO 
(From left) Clifford Yow, 22; Elliot Lucas Marcell Tan, 23; Aaron Khoo, 27; Janice Chiang, 26; and Ho Zhen Jie, 27. -- PHOTO: AARON KHOO 
Tosh Zhang. -- PHOTO: TNP FILE
Tan Jianhao. -- PHOTO: TAN JIAN HAO
Maimunah Bagharib (right), 25, and Hirzi Zulkiflie (left), 24. -- PHOTO: FLY ENTERTAINMENT
Husband-and-wife team Ryan Tan and Silvia Chan (above), both 26. -- PHOTO: RYAN TAN
Fredy Kosman. -- PHOTO: AARON LOW
Chua Jin Sen and Jin Chou. -- PHOTO: MELVIN LAU


Managed by: Mr Michael Chua, 47, managing director of an IT firm, and his older son, Chua Jin Chou, 14

Number of subscribers: More than 52,200

Most popular video: Singlish - 20: Singlish Minister (853,000 views)

Watching brothers Chua Jin Sen and Jin Chou, nicknamed Dr Jiajia and BigBro, in their videos, you may think that they have no problem acting in front of a camera.

But their father, Mr Michael Chua, 47, managing director of an IT firm, says Jin Chou is in fact a shy boy who prefers working behind the scenes to acting.

As for Jin Sen, eight, who is dyslexic, Mr Chua says he is enthusiastic about acting, but has to learn his lines sentence by sentence.

"He enjoys that kind of attention and acting because being a dyslexic child, he doesn't have a lot of confidence in school. He can't read well, he reads slowly and does his homework wrong," says Mr Chua.

"I think it's good that he found confidence in this area and it helps him boost his overall perspective in life and be more self-assured."

As a result of the videos' popularity, Jin Sen has gone on to act in a 2013 movie, Taxi! Taxi!, alongside Gurmit Singh and Mark Lee.

Mr Chua writes the scripts for their humorous videos, which generally involve local issues and Singlish, and runs his ideas by Jin Chou. Mr Chua then films and edits the videos.

They have also made Chinese New Year video greetings last year and this year. For these videos, OCBC donated $6,000 to the Red Cross and New Moon donated $6,000 to World Vision Singapore, says the boys' mother, housewife Caren Wu, 45.

Mr Chua believes that the family's YouTube journey has helped his children loosen up a little.

He says: "Everybody is cramming so much knowledge into his head these days. What is lacking in our society is laughter and creativity. This helps them to speak up in the public and become more creative."

Amanda See


Managed by: Fredy Kosman, 28, dance teacher

Number of subscribers: More than 131,000

Most popular video: Rihanna - Where Have You Been (10.7 million views)

Fredy Kosman, a dance teacher at O School, started his YouTube channel in 2008 for his students to review their moves during his lessons.

Then, something unexpected happened in 2009: American singer Adam Lambert tweeted the link to Kosman's video of a dance he had choreographed to Lambert's song, For Your Entertainment.

"That was the very first time people other than my students and dancers in Singapore knew about my YouTube channel. I think that was the start of everything," says the Indonesia-born, Singapore permanent resident. "When a celebrity tweets about your YouTube channel, all his fans will probably click on it and then it goes viral.

"I'm a pretty huge fan of his, that's why I used his song. I was shocked and excited when he tweeted it. But it got to a point where the fans were intensively commenting about it. So it was a bit overwhelming as well," he adds with a laugh.

The video was viewed more than 40,000 times before YouTube administrators blocked it two weeks after it was tweeted by the American Idol alum due to copyright infringement issues.

But there is a happy ending to the Lambert affair - the dance teacher got a chance to perform in an opening showcase for the singer's mini-concert in Singapore in 2010.

Kosman's YouTube subscribers can look forward to more of his dance class videos - he intends to stay true to his original intentions for the channel. But he says he wants to do more videos that are out of the classroom and professionally produced.

"If I could do that, I would be showcasing more than just my teaching, but also my choreography and my work."

Amanda See


Managed by: Husband-and-wife team Ryan Tan and Silvia Chan, both 26

Number of subscribers: More than 159,000

Most popular video: 11 Reasons Why Singaporeans Complain (1.87 million views)

Before married couple Ryan Tan and Silvia Chan started doing this full-time 11/2 years ago, they were working in the food and beverage industry, running a franchise of Western food eatery New York New York at Parkway Parade as well as Malaysian food restaurant Shi Wei Tian at Joo Chiat Place.

They realised, however, that they were not cut out for the "very hectic" restaurant business.

So they sold the restaurants around two years ago and started dabbling in wedding videography, despite not having any experience in video editing.

"While doing that, we would shoot other videos for practice and post them on YouTube just for fun, and one of them (S*** Singaporean Girlfriends Say) went viral. So, we decided to keep doing this."

These days, the duo upload between two and four new videos every month, most of them being sarcastic comic sketches about Singaporean behaviour.

One video, 17 Types Of Ah Lians, is a tongue-in-cheek clip about the different things that pretty but crass local girls typically do, from getting jealous easily over their boyfriends to scolding others for no reason. The clip has more than 413,000 views.

Chan says: "We make enough to feed a team of four full-time staff, including my husband and me and two assistants. We also pay our extras."

Tan is the director, videographer and editor, while Chan scripts, produces and takes care of casting, wardrobe and sourcing locations.

Says Tan: "We love satire and sarcasm, hot girls and Hokkien guys, comedy and short films. Our videos appeal to intelligent viewers who can be self-deprecating and to those looking for a channel with diverse content."

Yip Wai Yee


Managed by: Maimunah Bagharib, 25, and Hirzi Zulkiflie, 24

Number of subscribers: More than 79,500

Most popular video: Run The World Parody (Asian Beyonce) (446,800 views)

When the comedic duo began their YouTube journey in 2008 and uploading vlogs and videos from their lives, such as executing dares on the streets, they did not know that they would become a YouTube hit.

Hirzi says: "The YouTube scene in Singapore boomed in 2011. People who came on board were successful overnight. But when we started in 2008, we never saw that overnight success."

Their videos include song parodies, often featuring Hirzi cross-dressing as a woman. The duo also had a drama that was loosely based on their lives, titled Munah And Hirzi, that aired on Suria in 2012.

The two, who are friends and also fellow Fly Entertainment artists, say they have different plans for their videos every year. Last year, they embarked on a strategy to increase the number of subscribers on their channel from 30,000 to 70,000.

This year, they will be making videos that carry messages about issues they are passionate about, such as the foreign labour policy.

The two often receive requests for videos from fans, but they say that they will not accede to requests that they do not think reflect who they are.

Maimunah, known as Munah on YouTube, says: "It has been that way every since we started. We always had the goal in mind to come up with content that is true to ourselves, but could also be very relatable to our viewers.

"We are not the kind to force ourselves to do anything that's not relatable to us, like Gangnam Style. We don't listen to K-pop," she says with a laugh.

Hirzi adds: "But if you want me to do anything by Beyonce, I'll do it anytime."

Amanda See


Managed by: Tan Jianhao, 20

Number of subscribers: More than 132,000

Most popular video: Singaporean Gentleman (1.05 million views)

He sounds and acts self-confident in his videos, but this young man says that he is actually "very shy".

"I'm actually the type of person who sits in the corner by myself if I'm in a room with 10 other people. I'm not that confident in real life," he says.

But YouTube is a platform for him to showcase another side of him. "My online personality is funny and loud. It's not like I'm lying or trying to be someone I'm not - it's just that I have a different personality in front of and behind the camera."

The son of a civil servant father and a self- employed mother started YouTubing full-time only 11/2 years ago, but already his channel is among the most popular in Singapore.

It is a feat especially as his is the rare comedy channel among the most-subscribed in Singapore that is helmed by one person alone - most of the other top comedy channels are managed by groups of people.

"I make a steady income - and it's quite a bit more than what I would be able to make with a regular job," says Tan, whose highest qualification is a diploma from an international school in Vietnam, where his father was based at the time.

His quick rise in the online popularity ranks is something that continues to surprise him.

"In the past, when I got 1,000 views for a video, I would be happy and celebrate. Now, I have more than 100,000 views a video. Sometimes, I ask myself, 'Who actually watches me?'," he says with a laugh.

His most popular video is Singaporean Gentleman, a parody of South Korean singer Psy's Gentleman music video. In the video, Tan and two friends sing about being men in Singapore.

But Tan sounds more excited talking about some of his other videos, which are often comedy skits about Singaporeans.

He says: "I think every Psy parody can get popular. But my other videos, such as Types Of Singaporean Students and Types Of Singaporean Teachers, can really connect with Singaporean youth. People watch and identify with what I'm saying in the videos and laugh at themselves."

Tan, who uploads two to three new videos every month, says his video content is steeped in reality.

"I get inspiration from things that happen to me and my friends daily. Maybe, sometimes, people won't understand the inside jokes, but most of them are relatable for the general Singaporean."

Yip Wai Yee


Managed by: Tosh Zhang, 25, artist with JM Artiste Network

Number of subscribers: More than 60,800

Most popular video: Ah Boys To Men Recruit's Anthem Acoustic Cover (519,400 views)

Most may know Tosh Zhang as Sergeant Alex Ong from Jack Neo's Ah Boys To Men movies and it was after the movies that Zhang saw a spike in the number of subscribers to his YouTube channel.

Zhang says he has been uploading content to YouTube since 2006, starting with his dance videos and recordings of dance competitions he had participated in.

It was only in 2010 that he started vlogging about "social" issues such as people with body odour.

Neo has made it known that Zhang and fellow YouTuber Noah Yap were cast in the movie as they already had some online popularity, and Zhang agrees that YouTube was important in launching his acting career.

"If it wasn't for YouTube, Jack Neo wouldn't have discovered me. From there, people also understood what I do."

He says his secret to success is that he does not sugarcoat his opinions and viewers appreciate his honesty, although he also gets "negative comments all the time".

"My opinions are usually very strong and I don't expect everybody to agree with or like them," he says. "They can say things that are very mean, but I guess that's part and parcel of being on the Internet."

Even though Zhang is getting busy with his acting career, he says he will not abandon his YouTube channel.

He says: "My priority right now is acting and doing the upcoming Ah Boys To Men musical. But I'll never abandon the channel, because it is where I came from and a place where I can directly interact with my fan base."

Amanda See


Managed by: Clifford Yow, 22; Elliot Lucas Marcell Tan, 23; Aaron Khoo, 27; Janice Chiang, 26; and Ho Zhen Jie, 27

Number of subscribers: More than 158,000

Most popular video: 11 Differences Between Dating & Marriage (1.17 million views)

Avid social media users will recognise some of these faces from another popular YouTube channel, Wah!Banana.

Khoo and Chiang were in fact the core duo who had kickstarted that channel, producing and starring in various video clips for their former employer, gaming company Garena.

Says Khoo: "We created Wah!Banana for our former employers and, therefore, we had no ownership over the channel. We branched out because we wanted to create something we could call our own."

Their own YouTube channel, TreePotatoes, launched in November last year, gained popularity with viewers very quickly, riding on the same tongue-in-cheek brand of comedy that made their former project work. (Wah!Banana is now managed by a different team of people.)

Khoo says they were also lucky to have loyal fans cross over to their new channel.

Even better, they now "make enough to be comparable with what someone with a college degree and a few years of work experience would make outside".

TreePotatoes' most popular video, 11 Differences Between Dating & Marriage, is exactly what the title says - it shows the comedy of how couples treat each other differently before and after marriage.

"The best way to describe the channel is that it is Western humour with a local flavour, plus generous servings of crazy. We don't know much about Mandarin entertainment," says Khoo.

"And we're inspired by everything that happens around us."

Yip Wai Yee

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