Apple Kho was about to give up on singing, but little did she know her big break was just around the corner.
“I felt tired,” recalls Kho, who performed regularly at cafes and weddings in her 20s.
In 2015, Astro Star Quest (ASQ), a local Chinese singing competition that gave birth to Mandopop star Nicholas Teo, extended its age limit from 25 to 28.
“I was really lucky. I think it was fate,” says Kho, who was exactly 28 when she signed up for the competition. “From that day on, my life changed.”
Kho went on to win the competition. “I didn’t expect to win. My aim was just to get into the top five. I thought if I got into the top five, I’ll get to record the annual Chinese New Year songs and maybe become a radio deejay or TV presenter with Astro.”
But there were bigger things in store for her.
At the end of 2015, Kho joined Million Star, a Taiwanese singing competition, and came in fifth. Though she didn’t win, Kho caught the eye of record label Media Asia, which boasts big names like Hong Kong stars Sammi Cheng and Miriam Yeung among its roster of artistes.
She joined the label and left for Taiwan in February 2017 to undergo training as an artiste and to record her debut album.
The 31-year-old singer says leaving for Taiwan was scary at first, as it meant being away from her family for the first time.
But Kho is glad she made the decision, as she was afforded various opportunities to hone her craft.
“My management asked me if there’s anything I’d like to learn, they’ll make it happen. So I enrolled in acting and dance classes,” she says, adding she found dancing the most challenging for her.
“There were also classes to prepare me for media interviews. There’s a big difference between Malaysian and Taiwanese Mandarin.
“In Malaysia, if you can’t think of a word in Mandarin, you can substitute it with a Cantonese, English or Malay word. In Taiwan, you have to speak in proper Mandarin.”
Kho also got the opportunity to join label mate Richie Jen’s concert tour and sing with him. “It gave me a chance to learn and experience what performing at a concert is like.”
She released her debut album, One Carat, last December. Kho shares she was able to put a lot of her own input into the release.
“Everyone on my record label really put their hearts into making this album. They don’t skimp on anything or do things shoddily.
“Which is why, the first two months when my album came out, I kept crying because I felt so stressed. I knew roughly how much my company had invested into the album. And not just in terms of money, but time as well.
“I was scared that I couldn’t deliver the success they expected me to deliver. But my manager told me I just needed to focus on doing my best and it would be fine.”
As it turned out, Kho had nothing to worry about. The album’s lead single, I’m Fine, received substantial radio airplay in Taiwan.
“The Taiwanese radio deejays have been kind to me. They’ve been playing my songs on the radio. My friends in Taiwan have also commented that they’ve been hearing my songs on the radio every day.”
Never in her wildest dreams did Kho think she would one day be pursuing a music career in Taiwan.
She reflects: “I come from a small town near Kuala Selangor called Sasaran. I didn’t think that if you loved playing the guitar, for example, you could one day be a guitarist, or compose songs or do something music-related.”
“I just dreamt of a simple life for myself.”