SINGAPORE - Jazz songbird Joanna Dong has performed many times, including at the finals of hit competition Sing! China, but at last Saturday's (July 14) National Day Parade (NDP) rehearsal her hands shook so much she was afraid she would drop the microphone.
"I still feel a good amount of nerves going into this because it is the biggest platform that will be viewed by Singaporeans, specifically people I care about," said Dong, 36.
Dong, who performs in the parade's show segment as well as this year's song, said it's different to falter in front of people you would never run into at the coffee shop.
"But if I make a fool of myself at NDP I would be very embarrassed to go eat at the hawker centre where I might be recognised. So it matters to me that I do well in front of my countrymen," she said with a laugh.
Dong was first approached to take part in NDP last November (2017), and accepted without hesitation.
"I got to sing at the Beijing Olympic stadium, and that is perhaps the biggest stage I will ever get to perform on. But the Floating Platform is the biggest for Singaporeans and that, in terms of how much it means to me, is way more monumental," she told The Straits Times in an interview at the platform, at Marina Bay, on Friday (July 20).
Dong also likes that this year's NDP song is the classic We Are Singapore.
"I love that it's not a new song. I think sometimes Singapore is very concerned with the new - we're constantly building new shiny things. But having now come into our own, I feel like we can look back at the past with fresh eyes."
She said: "It's also something that resonates with me as a singer. Because with my jazz music I take a lot of old songs and I reinterpret them. So this year's choice was a great one."
Though she attributes Sing! China as a large reason for her recognition, and her becoming a voice for Singapore on the international stage, Dong said she never intended to be a representative for the country.
"When I first signed up for Sing! China I just wanted to be recognised," she said, adding she never expected to carry "the aspirations of an entire nation".
Modestly, she said she felt "a bit of a fraud", insisting she was lucky to get as far as she did, and that there are Singaporean jazz singers who are more talented than she.
"Even now I'm not sure if I'm really a successful singer. I mean, I'm popular or rather, more well-known. But am I really successful? I still don't know because there is no PSLE for singers," said Dong, who is married to theatre educator Zachary Ho.
The last time she watched the parade was more than 20 years ago as a primary school student, and she said: "I'm so glad I got to be part of NDP. It's always one of those things which is like a landmark event in any Singaporean performer's career. There's no higher recognition in the nation."