Spilling the beans on reality singing contests

Malaysian singer Gin Lee was mentored by Mandopop king Jay Chou in The Voice Of China last year.
Malaysian singer Gin Lee was mentored by Mandopop king Jay Chou in The Voice Of China last year.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Reality singing competitions may look like glamorous events on television - with their celebrity judges and glittery production.

But that is not the whole picture and who better than Malaysian singer Gin Lee, who has taken part in Taiwan's Super Idol, Hong Kong's The Voice and The Voice Of China, to spill the beans?

Speaking to The Straits Times when she was in Singapore recently, she says of The Voice Of China: "It was an eye-opener for me because it was different from what I had been doing as an artist.

"I spent a good half a year there and always had to be on standby mode. I would receive calls in the middle of the night or when I was on my way to the supermarket, to go back to the set to do video interviews or rehearsals."

Her audition had 10 minutes of screen time, but took a month to film.

"There was one round in which I had to sing on stage at 5am in the morning. Nobody would know that on television. We were so sleepy, but we had to hang in there and concentrate on our performance," she adds.

The 28-year-old came in ninth in the fourth season of the contest last year, now rebranded as Sing! China in English while retaining its Chinese name of Zhong Guo Hao Sheng Yin. She was in Singapore last weekend to promote her new album, beGin.

Lee has advice for the three Singaporean contestants flying to China for the new season of the show: "Be ready to embrace many unexpected situations. When you're there, it's not so much about singing because many people can do that. It's more about showing your personality and you have to stay focused no matter how tiring it is.

"You just have to know that when you go on stage, those few minutes are yours, so make the most of it."

While the competition was physically and mentally strenuous for her, she also notes that such contests are effective platforms for up-and-coming singers to get their names out there.

"At times, these competitions take away the freedom of performing and having fun on stage.

"But you have to compromise in that sense because you have this opportunity to be on stage, when thousands of others have tried and failed. So, if you're there, you have to make good use of it," she says.

The other benefit is getting mentored by stars such as Jay Chou.

It turns out that being on the Mandopop king's team was not as stressful as Lee had expected.

"Surprisingly, he's a thoughtful person. He's not talkative, but he cares about our feelings and personal growth in the competition," she says.

Lee has since parlayed her singing-contest experience into a record deal with Universal Music Hong Kong.

On her decision to release a Cantonese album when all eyes are on the huge China Mandopop market, she says: "I want to establish myself in the local Cantopop market first.

"However, I also insisted on having at least two Mandarin songs in this album to cater to my fans in Singapore, China and some parts of Malaysia who don't listen to Cantonese songs."

The singer, who is fluent in English, Mandarin, Malay and Cantonese, has big plans for the future and working with international music producers is one of them.

She says: "I hope to perform and share my music with the world. At the same time, I also hope to spend more quality time with my friends and family.

"Hopefully, in 10 years' time, I can achieve this ideal balance between work and leisure."

•The album beGin is out in shops.

Review of beGin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Spilling the beans on reality singing contests'. Print Edition | Subscribe