Amy Mastura definitely knows a thing or two about being a contestant on a singing competition.

After all, she got her start in the entertainment industry through winning the popular talent programme Asia Bagus in 1993.

Today, the 45-year-old artiste – who has established herself both as a singer with seven albums to her name and an actress, even nabbing a Best Actress win before at the Malaysia Film Festival in 1999 for Puteri Impian – finds herself on the opposite side of things.

Instead of being judged as a contestant, she is now a judge on reality talent competition Gempak Superstar.

“I try my best not to hurt the contestants’ feelings because I’ve been there once. They need the encouragement to make them feel positive while on the show,” she says in a phone interview, her voice already sounding bright and chirpy despite it being quite early in the day.

“Because this is something they like to do, I don’t want them to give up on their singing because of my words.”

However, Amy – who is taking on the role as a full-time judge of a competition for the first time – does agree tough love is necessary at times. “Sometimes they need harsh criticisms, they need that push. But they can’t get that from me,” she says with a laugh. “That’s something I cannot do. I don’t have that talent.”

Gempak Superstar is a little different from reality talent competitions we’re used to watching. For one, its contestants are made up of actors. Yes, you read that right.

Names such as Nazim Othman, Soffi Jikan, Raja Ilya and Tasha Shilla that usually grace films or drama series are trying their hand at singing.

As a judge, Amy brings her wealth of experience as a singer and an actress on Gempak Superstar. Photo: Astro

As a judge, Amy brings her wealth of experience as a singer and an actress on Gempak Superstar. Photo: Astro

But more than just a vocal showcase, the show’s weekly format involves a bit of acting too. Contestants act out a scene before launching into a song, making each performance a bite-sized musical if you will.

“For me, it’s not about whether they can or cannot sing. As long as they can entertain people, that’s good enough. It’s not just about the singing, I look at their acting, their charisma, how they carry themselves on stage and how they connect with the audience,” she shares about what she looks for in a performance.

“I don’t expect them to sing so perfectly like a Malaysian Idol.”

Having the experience as both a singer and an actress, Amy understands exactly what the contestants have to do. While acting and singing are entirely different, she says the skills the contestants have as actors actually does help them in their singing.

“In singing, you have to be able to feel and imagine the lyrics. For them, they already have the acting experience so it’s easy for them to put their feel into the lyrics and in what they sing,” Amy explains.

She believes singing also benefits the contestants: “In acting, you need to bring some other person’s character. In singing, you need to bring your own character to tell the story. Singing helps you find your true self.” She adds the show’s live element also trains the contestants to nail their performance in a single take.

Gempak Superstar is down to five contestants now – Nazim, Soffi, Sherry Ibrahim, Siti Elizad and Arja Lee. With the grand finals approaching this weekend, Amy hopes the finalists will do their best and think out of the box.

Commenting on actresses such as Fazura and Janna Nick who have branched out into singing recently, churning out radio hits Hancur Aku (a collaboration with Estranged) and Mungkin Saja respectively, Amy responds: “Why not? If they don’t sing, other people will.”

Over the years, Amy has built a repertoire of cheerful, uptempo pop hits such as Bintang Hati, Sha Na Na and Akan Datang.

The recording artiste whose last album, Happy, was out in 2009 will be releasing a ballad instead this time around titled Kalimah.

Kalimah, in Malay, means words. Listeners can interpret the song in their own way. It’s about wanting to forget about someone but you just can’t do it,” she explains, adding the song has been recorded and is slated for release some time this year.

“For a change why not?” she says about her decision to sing a ballad. Now I’m old already you know,” she adds before letting out a chuckle, her voice, on the contrary, is full of youthful exuberance.

The finals of Gempak Superstar airs May 15 at 9pm on Astro Ria (Astro Ch 104). Catch up on previous episodes on Astro’s On Demand (OD) Free.