Q&A with Singer-Vocal Coach Ann Hussein

Published on 24 August 2017

A familiar face at Mediacorp, where she was a judge and vocal director on Suria channel and vocal coach for Singapore Idol Season 3 on Channel 5 (PHOTO: Ann Hussein)

In the lead-up to the Billboard Belles concert at the Esplanade, we get reacquainted with this veteran songstress and vocal coach who has contributed to Singapore’s music scene for over 30 years.   

By Pamela Ho

You may know Ann Hussein as the vocal coach of Singapore Idol (Season 3) – the one that launched Pop/R&B singer Tabitha Nauser and which Pop/Soul singer Sezairi Sezali won in 2009 – or if you’re familiar with the local music scene of the 1980s, you’ll know her as the singer/keyboardist of the popular band, Gingerbread, which released multiple Malay and English albums, including hits like Roses (1985). But she probably rose to fame as the talented 18-year-old who won Talentime in 1980.

Apart from being an accomplished singer, this multi-hyphenate has carved a name for herself as a vocal coach for Mediacorp’s Suria and Channel 5 shows. She’s also a vocal instructor with Yamaha, music director with Universal Studios Singapore (USS), and co-owner of Gingerbread Studios. In a career that spans over three decades, Ann continues to be a formidable force behind the scenes.

We catch up with this vivacious lady in the lead-up to Billboard Belles – a concert (with Sheila De Niro and Farida Ali) presented by the Esplanade under their Coffee Morning & Afternoon Tea series.

What do you consider milestones or turning points in your career?

I way I see it, at every point in my life, I learn something new. To me, these are the turning points. When I did Stardust (a 1978 musical by Pat Chan), I learnt how to do harmonies in groups. Being in Gingerbread taught me music direction, and being a music director at USS exposed me to training performers, catering to different types of voices, and developing shows for a theme park. Everything I know I’ve learnt on the job, so these are all milestones to me.

You wear so many hats. What’s your core, your first love?

I’ve always considered myself a singer, first and foremost, that’s my first love. But I can’t say anymore that I’m just a singer. It’s the behind-the-scenes work that really excites me now. I love teaching too, and bringing out the best in my students.

Does that drive you as much as performing?

Definitely! It excites me more actually because it allows me to create and I’m learning new things.

What does your staying power on the local music scene say to you about you?

Hmm, that I cannot fail. I don’t like to fail. I love a challenge – I think that’s what keeps me going. For example, I was nervous to take the job at USS because I’ve never worked in a theme park and I had no clue what was needed of me. But I knew that if I passed up on it, somebody else will take it and somebody else will learn. So I said to myself, ‘OK, why don’t you just try?’ There’s always so much to learn! And somehow, I’ll find a way to prove that I can. In this business, you cannot stop.

You’ll be performing again! What can we expect at Billboard Belles?

I’ll be performing with my good friends Sheila De Niro and Farida Ali, so it’ll be fun! Billboard Belles is a chance for us to do songs we grew up with. You can expect lots of medleys – like songs from ABBA and The Carpenters – and because we have a four-piece band this time, we’ll be doing a feel-good medley of our favourite disco hits from the 1960s to 1980s, including a tribute to Donna Summer.

You’ve accomplished so much. Do you have an unfulfilled dream?

I always wanted to compile an album of my own songs. With Gingerbread, I had to go along with what the band wanted, so I even had to sing techno songs! [laughs] But I grew up listening to jazz and singing jazz – that’s always been my thing. So if there’s one unfulfilled dream of mine, it would be to do an album of my songs, in my style.

Ann Hussein was just 18-years-old when she won Talentime in 1980. (PHOTO: Ann Hussein)
Ann Hussein (extreme right) with her band, Gingerbread, back in the 1980s (PHOTO: Ann Hussein)
Ann Hussein joined local band Gingerbread in 1982 as a singer and keyboardest. The band had a recording contract and went on to release multiple Malay and English hits. (PHOTO: Ann Hussein)
Ann Hussein was a judge on Anugerah talent competition series aired on Mediacorp's Suria channel from 2005 to 2014 (PHOTO: Ann Hussein)
Ann Hussein, Sheila De Niro and Cat Ong performing at Divas of the Decade on 7 Nov 2016, as part of the Esplanade's Coffee Morning & Afternoon Tea series (PHOTO: Six5 Productions)

Billboard Belles happens at the Esplanade Concert Hall, 4 September, 3pm. To purchase tickets, click here.

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