Profile: Joanna Dong

Published on 26 August 2017

PHOTO: Red Roof Records

After a decade in the business and a highly successful appearance on Sing! China, it’s show-time for Joanna Dong!

By Jo Tan

Even before that now viral clip of her dazzling Jay Chou on Sing! China — the reality TV singing competition — with her vocals, you might have spotted Joanna Dong about town in Singapore where she’s starred in musicals like If There’re Seasons (for which she was named the Life! Theatre Awards Best Supporting Actress in 2008), played the leading lady in Wee Li Lin’s movie Forever (scoring her a Star Hunter Award at the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival), hosted local info-tainment TV shows Life Extraordinaire and Homeward Bound (netting a ‘Best Female Host’ nomination at the Macau Rainbow TV Awards in 2016), and even taught Lindy Hop as part of TheatreWork’s 50/50 performance.

Yet, first and foremost, Dong’s greatest desire is to be known as a singer. “I love acting, hosting and dancing, but not as much as I love singing,” explains the Red Roof Records artiste. “People were starting to recognise me from other things, and I thought stepping onto the biggest televised platform for Chinese music was one way to say, guess what, I’m actually a singer!”

‘One way’ is an understatement. The video clip of her Sing! China blind audition has racked up hundreds of thousands of views, and led to appearances in just about every Singaporean media outlet, and huge online support. Yet, as suspected, many have expressed surprise that Dong can sing, despite her 14-year catalogue of performances and recordings.

She is unperturbed. “Some people still believe you have to get recognition overseas before you are celebrated in Singapore. The fact is, there is so much happening here that it’s hard to get attention in the first place. On my daily Facebook feed alone, there are gigs being announced, people releasing singles, events being promoted. That abundance of art isn’t being celebrated enough.”

Dong adds that being celebrated is less important than having opportunities to do worthwhile work. “I have musician friends who are recognised as great artists, but they cannot make a living playing jazz in New York because there are too many cats. Everyone is hustling. But they’ve found that by coming to Singapore to teach and play corporate gigs, there is a balance between feeding a family and being creative.”

She acknowledges that jazz, her favourite music genre, is not doing as well as she’d like. “This digital age presents difficulties for the music industry worldwide. Jazz, especially, is considered more esoteric. But, by joining Sing! China and having Jay Chou as my mentor, I have pretty ambitious plans. When Jay started out, almost no one was listening to his brand of music, so he carved out that niche. I hope he can help me find that voice to bridge the music I love with the mainstream music people love.”

Dong is especially sanguine about Sing! China. “Whatever my placement, I hope my mentorship and exposure will help grow the jazz audience pool in Singapore. Hopefully, even my more cutting-edge friends can have gigs that will pay the bills, which, in turn, will give them the freedom to make music that pushes the boundaries.”

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