Judge Ken Lim (centre) and nine of the The Final 1 Season 2 Top 10.
Photos: Tammi Tan
Videos: Tan Shi Qi, Teng Siew Eng
Nine out of the top 10 contenders for the second season of Channel 5's The Final 1 were introduced to local media for the first time yesterday, and Hype Records head honcho Ken Lim, who returns as a judge on the singing reality show together with Idol winners Taufik Batisah (Singapore) and Jaclyn Victor (Malaysia), had something interesting to say about them.
"This season, I'm happy to say that we probably have the best Top 10 contestants in any local competition that I've seen," he declared.
High praise from someone who has been likened to Simon Cowell, a name synonymous with straight-faced and sharp-tongued -- albeit often painfully true -- comments.
And the reason for such polished quality, he deduced, is thanks to the programme's new way of whittling down its candidates: in the first season, public voting was responsible for selecting each week's hopefuls as early as the Top 40 rounds. This time, however, the three judges will be the ones to decide which two deserve to stand on the final stage before letting viewers decide on the ultimate winner of a S$100,000 recording and artiste management contract.
"This judging criteria has instigated the fact that they want to build on their talent, rather than their popularity," explained Ken.
WATCH: The finalists delight us with spontaneous singing performances
Another factor that could contribute to his generous appraisal is that a majority of the contenders already have a foot in the industry: 24-year-old Gareth Fernandez (who is the younger brother of local actor/presenter Brendon Fernandez and could not attend the press conference due to work commitments) released an EP last year; 21-year-old Lou Peixin and 19-year-old Charlene Su perform at weddings and events; and Isaac Ong, 26, has a few threatre credits to his name.
Perhaps that is why, when we asked if they would ever, like season one champ Farisha Ishak, give their studies or other endeavours a break to focus on music, most of them expressed their confidence in being able to handle both at the same time.
"Right now I'm playing a lot of gigs and doing well in school at the same time, so I don't see myself quitting school (for music)," said Charlene, who is studying journalism at the National University of Singapore. Peixin, a corporate communication major, concurred, saying she's already been juggling singing and studies for the past two years, while American-born Indonesian-Chinese Bernard Dinata, 19, hopes to pursue both simultaneously after he completes his National Service next year.
Bernard Dinata, Lou Peixin and Shanice Hedger.
Odelle Sabrin, Jermaine Leong and Charlene Su.
Giving us a completely different answer was 16-year-old Jermaine Leong (the youngest in the Top 10) and 21-year-old Odelle Sabrin.
"My mum told me that if I have to put school on hold (for music), I can because while I can always go back to school, I won't always get the opportunity to sing, so I would do it," said Jermaine, as Odelle added, "(Music) is one of my priorities so if I have to put things on hold for it, then yes, I will."
Whether or not these lads and lasses are prepared for multi-tasking is one thing -- getting used to all the inevitable public attention is another. In fact, some of them have already had their first fan encounters, both online and offline, which they recalled with great amusement.
Isaac and Odelle had some pretty hilarious social media tales to regale us with: Isaac discovered an Instagram account where the profile picture was a collage of the female owner and himself, and the name was "[fan's name] loves Isaac", while Odelle met her very own overenthusiastic admirer. "She followed me on all my pages, commented on everything and asked for my number -- I really felt the love! (laughs)"
Isaac Ong, Azhar Aziz (19) and Wei Lun.
Shanice, who joined the last round of The Final 1 but did not make it into the Top 11, had a sweet fan encounter back in 2013. "She came up to me and asked for a picture and it made me feel elated because I could tell she was so excited!" she gushed. "It's nice to have positive feedback and assurance from your community."
22-year-old Wei Lun (who does an impressive impersonation of the judges), however, had a comedic twist at the end of his story. "The day after the first episode aired, I went out for supper and was feeling a bit self-conscious about anybody recognising me," he began. "Sure enough, I saw a group of teenagers looking at me and I thought, 'Oh no, this is it!' but in the end they said, 'Excuse me, can you take a photo for us? I was relieved and disappointed at the same time."
Well, now that he's made it into the Final 10, we're certain the next time they see him, they'll ask for a picture with him actually in it instead.
Catch The Final 1 Season 2 every Sunday at 9.30pm on Channel 5.
WATCH: Wei Lun does an impression of judges Taufik and Ken.