Left to right: Charlene Su, Odelle Sabrin, Jermaine Leong, Isaac Ong
Photos: Tammi Tan, Channel 5
Video: Vina Chia, Tan Shi Qi
If you’re looking for a brutal, Hunger Games-like talent competition where it’s “every man for himself”, you won’t find it with Channel 5’s The Final 1, which is in its second season this year. Sure, the contestants give their best and do what it takes to make it to the top (after all, there’s a glittering $100,000 recording contract waiting for the champion), but it seems that friendship and mutual support are just as important.
We got a first-hand glimpse at this camaraderie when meeting the last four standing – Odelle Sabrin, Jermaine Leong, Charlene Su and Isaac Ong – for an interview on Wednesday. Even with the finals looming overhead, jokes and playfully ruthless jabs were still constantly being exchanged, giving off an air of pals instead of rivals.
This is why it’s not hard to believe them when they claim that every time someone was booted from the Top 10 in previous weeks, the remaining hopefuls would feel just as down – if not worse – than the one who was axed.
“We don’t see each other as competitors; we see each other as friends, so (it’s tough to see) someone get eliminated or not doing well,” said Isaac, who, at 26, is the oldest of the quartet. Odelle, 21, reaffirmed his statement (“Even when we’re the winners of each round, our faces are still black”) while 19-year-old Charlene added that the production team sometimes has to remind them to look happy for the cameras after seeing a buddy go.
“Actually, it’s quite strange: it’s the eliminated contestants who are the most supportive people in the world!” said 16-year-old Jermaine, the youngest. “At one point everyone is sad and disappointed, but after that they always text us and encourage us.”
Isaac had a few examples of such good sportsmanship to share with us. “The week after [Lee] Wei Lun left the show, he came back and sat in the audience to support us as if nothing had happened! And others such as Azhar [Aziz, who was eliminated last Sunday] are telling us that they’re excited for the finals.”
The Top 4 with Azhar Aziz (second from right), who was the latest to be eliminated from the competition last week.
Of course, their empathy for their “fallen” friends doesn’t mean they are lax about their own standing. Recounting the time she found herself in the dreaded bottom two, Odelle confessed, “I felt very small and like I wasn’t good enough – I didn’t even have the mood to practise for the next song.” Charlene, too, battled feelings of defeat and distress when she was in the same position.
Although they have all come a long way since the auditions kicked off in February, there are still the semi-finals, which will see two more finalists out the door, to get through. Then, the grand finals on October 4 will see a shift in the system: public voting will commence, putting the Top 2 at the mercy of the viewers. But before that, the four of them will still have to make an impact on judges Ken Lim, Taufik Batisah and Jaclyn Victor at the semis, which has been the case for the last few months.
Having to pander to professional opinion may sound more daunting that trying to ace a popularity contest, but the finalists are grateful for the validation. “It’s a confidence booster to hear from people in the industry that you have what it takes,” said Isaac.
Jermaine is also happy that they didn’t need to stand out to spectators on a purely superficial level. “People judge others by how they look so they might not had the chance to get to know everyone,” she mused.
On September 27, the Final 1 contenders will graduate from having pre-recorded sessions at *SCAPE, to strutting their stuff live at the refurbished Capitol Theatre. As 2013’s finals featured an array of exciting guest performances from the likes of local actress Rui En and South African singer Jody Williams, audiences can likely expect more star appearances this time around, although nothing has been finalised at the moment.
But that doesn’t mean the Top 4 don’t have a list of dream partnerships: Jermaine voiced her admiration for English musician Ed Sheeran (“I’ve never liked a singer so much before”); Odelle wishes to share a stage with Ed’s fellow Brit Adele or our very own The Sam Willows; and Charlene has a much more down-to-earth vision of herself singing with her very own dad, whom she credited for her singing talent.
As for Isaac, he had quite an interesting request that we’d honestly like to see become a reality too. “I’d like to collaborate with Ken Lim,” he said with a cheeky grin. “I just want to see Ken Lim with a mic!”
Catch The Final 1 semi-finals at 8pm (part 1) and at 9.30pm (part 2) on September 27, and the finals at 8pm on October 4, LIVE on Channel 5. For more information and features on The Final 1, visit our microsite.
Toggle is also giving you the chance to win tickets to catch the grand finals at the Capitol Theatre, so stay tuned!