Local jazz singer Joanna Dong, 35, is a household name many of us would know by now, since her remarkable breakthrough into the Chinese pop scene through her impressive performances at the singing contest Sing! China.
She has made it to the finals after being handpicked by mentor and Mandopop superstar Jay Chou to represent his team in the finals on Oct 8.
This makes her the second Singaporean after Nathan Hartono to make it to the last stage of this high profile competition.
Her outstanding performance on Sept 29 won her the ticket to the finals, where she will be singing to 80,000 people in the audience at the Bird's Nest (Beijing National Stadium).
Speaking to Chinese-language broadsheet, Lianhe Zaobao before the finals, a cheerful Dong mused about her preparations for the final (she will get to sing two songs, and a third one if she gets into the grand final), how she sought advice from Hartono, and her professional and emotional journey throughout the competition.
However, near the end of the interview when asked about what it means to represent Singapore, Dong turned visibly introspective and emotional as she spoke about the the lack of confidence and the need for external recognition outside Singapore, especially because we're from a small country.
We translated that segment of the interview below. Here's what she said in her own words:
On representing Singapore
"Since I joined such a big regional contest, it's natural that everyone will think that I'm representing Singapore. So I have to repeatedly ask myself: 'What is the significance and meaning of representing Singapore?', 'What is Singapore?', 'How are Singaporeans like?', and 'How should I best represent everyone?'. These questions made me feel and think deeply."
On Singaporeans' lack of confidence
Soon after, she said, "As I'm saying all of this, I feel deeply moved."
Following that comment, it seemed she was struggling to hold back her emotions. She then continued with a teary-eyed sniffle:
"Because I really love Singapore. And I feel that Singaporeans generally don't have much confidence in themselves. This includes me. It's because we're a small country. I also feel that Singaporeans like me lack a certain kind of confidence, and we feel that we need the recognition of others to be able to believe in ourselves. From my experience journeying through the Sing! China competition, I hope more Singaporeans will realise that we should believe in ourselves and our own inner voice."
Citing herself as an example, she elaborates on:
"Actually, I am already aware since many years ago that I'm different from others, and that I'm actually able to perform in front of a bigger audience. However, I never had the confidence to do that."
At the end of the interview, she encourages us all: "If you also have such an inner voice within you, I hope you will believe in yourself."
Recognizing "made in Singapore"
Despite her new found fame, Dong's comments showed that there's still a sense of insecurity in her, after striving for many years to make it as a performer in a country where audiences tend to support local brands and stars only after they make it overseas.
It took a second-place finish in last year’s Sing! China competition to propel the previously little-known Hartono into the local limelight.
While we feel proud for what Dong has achieved, perhaps it's also timely for us to reflect on her thoughtful words, and start cheering for our homegrown talents even before they have tasted international success.
You can see the full 14 minute Chinese interview below. Her comments on representing Singapore and Singaporeans' lack of confidence starts at the 12 min 30 secs mark:
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Top image screenshot via Lianhe Zaobao's video