There is a Chinese proverb that says: To achieve one minute of glory on stage, it takes 10 years of hard work backstage.
Brian Chew Yi Bin knows exactly what that feels like, having taken 10 years to achieve his goal to become a singer.
Growing up, the Penang-born Chew, 19, always knew what he wanted to be: An international singer. While he knew better than to take it easy, the boy did not anticipate the many challenges he had to overcome.
Chew’s perseverance finally paid off when he won the TVB International Chinese New Talent Singing Championship in Hong Kong in February. He beat a dozen other singers from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States to the prize.
“It is my childhood dream come true. I grew up watching reality singing competitions and this was the most exciting experience for me,” said Chew, who is the third Malaysian in a row to win the title. Fellow Malaysians Uriah See won in 2014 and Jacqueline Ng in 2015. Earlier winners include Amy Wong (2004), Andrew Tan (2006) and Chen Keat Yoke (2009).
As a child, he would watch various singing competitions on Astro and wished he could be the one on stage. Though he also loves Astro Hua Hee Karaoke, the one he really wanted to be on was Astro Star Quest.
When he was 10, he heard that releasing an album would disqualify one from participating in the singing competition, and decided he would not sign on to any record label.
“Taking part in Astro Star Quest was one of my childhood dreams, so I decided very early on that I would not release an album until I had achieved what I set out to do.”
Vocal changes; a challenge
Chew had his first taste of glory at age 11 when he bested more mature singers to become the champion of Astro Hua Hee Karaoke 2008, a Hokkien-language singing competition with no age limit that offered an opportunity to sing in China.
At the time, the future looked especially rosy for the primary school boy with a lilting voice. But not long after that, his voice started to break. He stopped singing from age 12 to 15, in order to adapt to the change in his voice.
“I trained hard and developed my skills while I waited for my time to come. I took dance lessons for three years … so dancing is not an issue for me,” said the cheery guy. Brian also started learning how to play the guitar, keyboard and drums.
“I fell in love with drumming, so I bought myself a new drum set last year and started to spend my time at home exploring drumming techniques.”
By 16, he started to sing again but had to wait till he was older before he could finally take part in Astro Star Quest, which has a minimum age limit of 18.
“When I turned 18, I got very excited as I could finally enter the competition. Sadly, the cut-off date for registration was before my birthday, so I had to wait another year,” lamented Chew.
When his chance finally came, Chew grabbed it with both hands, eventually finishing as the first runner-up of Astro Star Quest 2016, which paved the way for his big win in Hong Kong.
“I’ve learnt a lot, and benefited from experiences that other similar competitions do not offer. I even got to travel during the Astro Star Quest and received professional coaching from experts in Japan and Taiwan.”
He was elated that the Astro Star Quest competition gave him the opportunity to fly to Tokyo to train with Egu Splosion. Egu Splosion is a popular Japanese comedy dance duo whose YouTube videos have been viewed by millions.
“They are really cute and incredibly creative, and I am glad I had the opportunity to learn from them. They are so inspirational because they also started from zero. It was winter when I went to Japan, so that was a very fun learning experience for me,” said Chew.
The fresh-faced crooner has now set his sights on furthering his career internationally.
“I want to continue to better myself and polish my skills by studying music and training in dance and musical instruments. I also want to work with interesting artistes,” he said.
Tackling other languages
The Mandopop singer is eyeing a bigger market and hopes to venture overseas. He is now working on expanding his repertoire to include songs in languages like Cantonese, English, Japanese, Korean.
“I enjoy K-pop, so I’ve added some Korean songs in my repertoire like Big Bang’s latest hits. For Cantonese, I like to sing songs by Eason Chan and I love songs by Leslie Cheung.
“For English, I’ll usually sing songs by Westlife,” shared Chew, who started collecting albums when he was eight.
Other plans include a training stint in China and a collaboration with fellow Astro Star Quest participant Timothy Tan.
Chew, whose motto is “no music, no life” mused: “Music has made my life simply awesome. Without music, life would just be unremarkable for me. If I could not hear music or sing beautiful songs, life would be so miserable. Music is a crucial part of my life. I just wouldn’t have it any other way.”