Nathan Hartono

Overcame fear of failure to hit the high notes

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Singer Nathan Hartono reached new heights when he came in second at the Sing! China competition.
Nathan Hartono says Sing! China has "opened up a whole new world" for him.
Nathan Hartono says Sing! China has "opened up a whole new world" for him. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Jazz-pop singer and Sing! China star Nathan Hartono is working on an EP with Warner, which will be a mix of English and Mandarin songs.

He is also looking to be big beyond China where he has made a name for himself.

"My goal for music is to perform all over the world. Now that the market in China has opened up, it would be a pity if I didn't try anything there," said Hartono, who is mulling over various contract offers from China.

To think he was close to turning down Sing! China producers again this year, after saying no to the competition last year. After all, Mandarin was not his strong suit, and the 25-year-old was already a fairly established musician in Singapore.

"The biggest risk was that I'm already an established performer and musician. To join a competition is to get (your abilities) stacked against others', and that may not go down so well. I've seen auditions where people who are perfectly good singers end up not making it through," he said.

Well, not only did he become the first Singaporean to make it past the blind auditions, but he also had all four of the show's judges, who were also coaches, fighting for him to be on their teams.

Working closely with Mandopop king Jay Chou, Hartono finished second last month, out of an initial pool of 48 contestants, after a narrow loss at the finals.

Thanks to the reach of Sing! China, which is the rebranded version of The Voice Of China, his popularity has soared both at home and abroad. The show enjoys a market share of more than 30 per cent across China, and this year's season - its fifth - broke online records with more than 37 billion views.

"It's one of the biggest shows in China, and to have a Singaporean represent the country in a show like that, it attracted a lot of attention. It helped that I was in Jay Chou's team, and he is one of the best-known judges."

Not too bad for the Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) and Anglo-Chinese Junior College alumnus who had struggled with Mandarin in school and did not care much for Chinese music when he was younger.

Hartono, who had attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, one of the most established contemporary music schools, has a distribution contract with label Warner Music Singapore, and three albums, an EP and several singles under his name. He had also taken on acting and modelling gigs, including a role in HBO Asia's fantasy action television series Halfworlds.

The show "has definitely changed the way I view Chinese music. It also gave me a better grasp of the language and opened up a whole new world for me to explore", Hartono said.

Correction: An earlier version of the story described Hartono as a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston. In fact, he has been on sabbatical.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2016, with the headline Overcame fear of failure to hit the high notes. Subscribe