SINGAPORE — Thirteen years after participating in Singapore Idol, Singaporean jazz vocalist Joanna Dong has made it through the blind auditions of Sing! China, which aired on Friday (July 14), and is on Team Jay Chou.
During her blind audition, Dong sang a jazz rendition of eighties Chinese classic Love Song 1990, complete with “vocal trumpeting” and scat singing.
All three coaches pressed the buzzer for Dong, but it was Mandopop superstar Jay Chou who was the first to do so for her, barely a minute into her performance, followed by Hong Kong singer/actor Eason Chan and Chinese singer/songwriter Liu Huan.
Dong, who was hoping for “someone, anyone" to select her, felt that Chou’s pushing the buzzer so early into the song was “the ultimate recognition” of her as a singer.
Although she initially struggled to choose between Chou and Chan as her mentor, Dong said that the former’s early response “made the difference”.
“(Chou) didn’t wait for me to... go into the big chorus and the showy improvisation at the end. He chose me when I was singing at the most straightforward and authentic me, early in the song. To me, that was so precious and so important,” she explained.
Speaking to TODAY, Dong said she has been singing jazz for over a decade, but her Singapore Idol experience back in 2004 had scarred her, which led her to shy away from competitions until now.
“With a really visible platform like Singapore Idol, it exposed me to a lot of criticisms and trolling, even in those days. That had a really negative on me and my self-esteem,” said Dong.
“It took me this long to recover from it and also be more self-assured and say: ‘I am ready to face the audiences’,” explained the 35-year-old singer.
Dong, who is also a theatre actress, has performed at various local festivals over the years, such as Mosaic Music Festival, Da:ns Festival, Baybeats, and Flipside, and even released a debut Jazz EP Lullaby Nomad in 2008. But these days, she is probably more recognised as a television host for Channel U and Channel News Asia, she said.
Sing! China, being “such a visible platform”, would “jolt everyone into the awareness that (she is) a jazz singer”.
Dong said: “First and foremost, I want people to remember me as a singer. It’s my first and biggest love, and the one thing I want to keep doing for the rest of my life.”
Despite her early success in the competition, Dong, who has been “elated”, “super over the moon” and feeling really “shiok”, reminds herself to “to keep (herself) grounded” following her past experience on Idol: “For every person who expresses their support for you in public, there is also someone who will criticise you and throw you to the dogs.”
For now, Dong, has humble expectations, having already achieved what she wanted in the competition.
“All I wanted to do was to have someone choose me in the blind auditions, to me that would be recognition enough. I wanted people to see me on the stage; I wanted people to hear something that was representative of jazz; I wanted Singaporean singers, young singers especially, to realise that there is a jazz scene in Singapore... Every round that I manage to make it past from now on is just a bonus.”
“The rest of the competition, I would say I am battling for my team leader Jay. For all the validation and confidence that he has now given me as a singer, I just want to help him become a champion mentor this year,” said Dong.
Last year, Singaporean singer Nathan Hartono took second place in the finals of Sing! China. Hartono had also chosen Chou as a mentor.
Hartono competed against five other finalists and performed the song Nunchucks with Jay Chou and a cover of the latter’s The Longest Movie at Beijing’s National Stadium.
“(Chou) was a game changer when he first started; he pretty much converted all the Chinese listeners to R&B or his brand of music. That’s the kind of huge ambition — if I were to have any ambition at all — that I hope for, for myself: Promoting jazz music among Chinese listeners,” said Dong.