“My dream has always been to become a singer. So even though I’m not handsome, I just really want people to hear me sing. I am confident that I can sing, so I just want a chance to prove it to everyone.”
That was Daniel Cheah Chee Lik’s heartfelt plea during the preliminary rounds of last year’s Taiwan’s Top Million Star, after moving judges and the audience close to tears with a heartfelt rendition of Valen Hsu’s If The Clouds Know.
A few weeks later, last November, the 24-year-old singer from Kuala Lumpur was crowned champion of the talent compeition, which is one of Taiwan’s most highly rated singing competitions.
Best known on the show as “Che Zi” (which is a play on his Chinese surname, and means “car”), Cheah is the second Malaysian to win the competition.
Jess Lee, who is now a singer based in Taiwan, won the competition in 2011 when it was called One Million Star.
Cheah was not the only Malaysian to do well in the 2015 competition – Astro Star Quest champion Apple Kho took fifth place, while Susean Yong came in sixth.
During an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, recently, Cheah said that he had approached the competition with the intention of winning.
“What’s the point of joining a competition if you don’t plan on winning? There’s no such thing as just getting experience for me!” he said with a laugh.
“For me, that’s the kind of respect you should have for a singing contest like this. If I just thought, ‘I’m just here to learn and gain experience’, I might as well give up my place for someone who is in it to win it.”
With his determination to win and can-do attitude, his cuddly chubby image, and of course, a voice that sounds like a cross between Jacky Cheung and Eason Chan, Cheah managed to beat 49 other contestants from China, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia on his way to victory, singing songs such as Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You and Chan’s Love Is Dubious along the way.
It’s been a rocky road to the top for Cheah though, who started his singing career at 16 when he joined a talent audition.
“Singing only used to be a pastime for me. But I got ‘conned’ into participating in a school singing competition, and surprisingly, I won. That gave me more of an interest in singing,” he recalled.
When he was 17, his friend Thomas Kok (of Malaysian singing group ThomasJack) invited him to go for an audition, and he got accepted into a programme for aspiring artistes, where he underwent three months of training.
Two years later, he was unexpectedly grouped together with another two aspiring artistes, a pair of twins, to form a group called Double Cheese Burger.
“I didn’t even know who they were at first!” he said, adding that Double Cheese Burger was less of a singing group, and more of a comedic group. “At the time, in Taiwan, the hottest thing were comedy groups that could do anything – sing, perform, and just be funny on stage. So we were put together to do that, but we were not trained for it.”
It proved to be one of the toughest periods of his career so far. After having such high hopes of becoming a singer, he felt that he was going further and further from his dream.
“I’m not a comedian, and comedy is not my strong point. I didn’t understand why they didn’t just let me sing, which was what I was good at,” he said dejectedly.
Cheach stayed with the group for around two years, releasing an EP that, sadly, was not even available in stores. “We would go for meet and greet sessions, but we wouldn’t have any fans there. We even had to bring our own banners and posters, and sell our own CDs!” he said.
After finally buying out his contract, he entered and won a small singing competition in Malaysia called Pop Star, and that caught the eye of his current manager, who recruited him to sing Hai Shi Hui Xiang Ni (I Still Think Of You) the theme song from a movie called The Gathering in 2014.
“That one song gave me more exposure than the two years of what I had done. The shows I did, the support I got … it was the first time I actually felt like a proper artiste,” he said with a laugh.
That exposure led to Cheah competing in Top Million Star in 2015, and the rest is history.
“Winning the competition was very important to me. It is proof to myself and my family that I can actually make it as a singer,” he said, adding that he will most probably stay in Taiwan to further his career.
“This is a stepping stone for me. It is a title that can give me a lot of opportunities, so this is the real beginning of my career.”