After winning the Asian Wave 2012 Competition, a singing competition held in China featuring Asian contestants, 24-year-old Shila Amzah became an overnight sensation. The Malaysian singer-songwriter tells travel 3Sixty° how she became a recognisable face in China.
Compiled By: Chitra Santhinathan
HAVE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BE AN ENTERTAINER?
Even as a toddler, I used to tag along with my father (Malaysian singer and actor ND Lala) for recording sessions. I distinctly remember walking into the studio one day in the middle of a session and taking the microphone. I was five then and all I wanted to do was sing and have my voice recorded. That was the beginning of my career because that impromptu action resulted in a duet, which was featured on the album my father was recording at the time.
DID SINGING COME NATURALLY TO YOU?
I grew up surrounded by music. At home, my father would always be composing music and my mother sang too, so, it was only natural for me to follow suit. I’ve had to work at perfecting my technique and continue to do so, but I’ve never actually had formal vocal training.
DID YOU EXPECT TO WIN THE ASIAN WAVE 2012 COMPETITION?
Honestly, no. Joining the competition was a last minute decision, one that my manager and I made just a couple of months before the singing contest commenced. I didn’t think I’d actually stand a chance to win as the competition was held in China and I was up against Chinese contestants. Basically, I signed up for the experience and exposure.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BE THE SOLE CONTESTANT WEARING A HIJAB (HEADSCARF)?
I guess I stood out at the start of the competition when people were curious about the girl in the hijab. However, I never felt pressured to change my look and as the competition wore on, people were less concerned about my appearance; it was my singing that mattered.
HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU WERE CROWNED CHAMPION?
From the get go, I knew that whatever the outcome, I would do my very best to make my family and country proud. It was a huge risk for me to perform a Mandarin song at the finals in addition to the Malay and English songs that I sang, because I didn’t speak a word of the language and I had only a week to learn the lyrics. But, I pushed on and practised day and night, and when I was finally judged the winner, it was such an emotional experience for me, the culmination of all the hard work I’d put in, a feeling that I can’t put into words.
HOW HAS WINNING THE COMPETITION CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
After winning the competition, many of the Chinese dailies carried my picture on their front page. Overnight, I became an instantly recognisable face in China and everywhere I went people would come up to me for autographs and photos. Almost instantaneously, I gained a huge fan base outside Malaysia and I’m proud to say that now, I’m in the midst of recording my first Mandarin album.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO BE BASED IN CHINA?
I felt that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and strike out on my own. Before participating in the competition, I was known more for being the daughter of a famous singer than for my own music. Moving to China was necessary for me to grow as a person and also, to break into the international market.
WAS YOUR FAMILY SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR DECISION TO MOVE TO CHINA?
Even for me, it wasn’t an easy decision to make; more so, when I hadn’t really been away from my family prior to that. Once I had explained the reason I needed to make that move, my parents and siblings rallied behind me and I’ve been tremendously lucky to have their support.
HOW DO YOU REACH OUT TO YOUR CHINESE FAN BASE?
From the day I made the decision to pursue a career in entertainment in China, I knew I had to first learn the language. When I entered the competition, I couldn’t speak a word of Mandarin, but now, I’m confident enough to converse in the language. To be able to communicate with my fans in China, I had to learn to read, write and speak Chinese. I’m still learning but at least, for now, I’m able to post comments in both Chinese and English on my social media accounts for the benefit of my fans.
WHO INSPIRES YOU?
My father has been my biggest inspiration. When he first arrived in Kuala Lumpur in the 1970s, he was just a small town boy with a big dream and a little money in his pocket. He did a variety of odd jobs including driving a lorry before he managed to break into the entertainment scene. He is where he is today because of hard work, determination and perseverance and his life journey has been a huge inspiration.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO STAY TRUE TO WHO YOU ARE?
I think it’s really important to stay grounded and be true to who you are no matter how difficult it may be. For instance, when I first entered the competition and performed in China, my image – a girl in a hijab – was not the norm. But, I was confident and comfortable in my own skin and never once thought of altering my image to suit anyone else; eventually, that worked in my favour. Trying to be someone you’re not would only get you down in the end.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A ROLE MODEL?
Being only 24, I don’t think I qualify as a role model. However, I’ve always portrayed a positive image and I believe if my story or music inspires someone else, then that’s a good thing!
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTERTAINERS?
Step out of your comfort zone, believe in yourself and dream big.