Whether spoken, written or sung, Cheryl Lee’s life is always surrounded by words.
Lee (also known as Xin Yi on air) begins her day as a deejay on Chinese radio station, 988. For eight years now, she listens to problems big and small and shares her thoughts on them.
She even prepares a three-minute speech during her slot Stand By You (weekdays, from 10am to 1pm) to inspire listeners with lessons she has learned along life’s journey.
Lee shares in an interview that she feels honoured to be able to speak to people at such a personal level. “Every time I go to roadshows, although these are people I have never met, when they come up to me, it’s like meeting an old friend because they’ve been listening to me for so long.”
Lee – who started out originally as a TV host on reality singing series Project Superstar in 2006 – then rushes off to host Ntv7 lifestyle programme, Living Delight, about two to three times a week.
After work, Lee is back in the business of words, pursuing her other passion, songwriting. “It’s the best time for me to write, to be silent. I talk to myself and try to see what’s inside me,” she says.
She moonlights as a lyricist for artistes local and international, including Singaporean singer Kit Chan.
Today, she has even branched out into singing her own songs, releasing her first solo album, Here And After, last year.
Her single Mei You Ai Qing Bu Bei Shang (Without Love, I’m Not Sad) was named one of the Top 20 Hits Of The Year at the Global Chinese Music Awards 2016.
“I see myself in words. For example, sometimes when I talk, I would think ‘how would I write it first?’ Sometimes words will appear in my mind. It’s my style of thinking,” she explains her love for words.
1. Having no radio broadcast experience when you first started at 988, what challenges did you face?
I had to spend some time learning to talk more like a deejay because I used to be a debater in school. And as a debater, you’re not supposed to sound friendly. You have to argue against your opponent’s points. But as a deejay, that’s a bad way to deliver your ideas.
So, I had to unlearn what I learnt as a debater. 988’s DJ Sam trained me. I did lots of demo sessions between 2am to 4am, as there weren’t many listeners at that time. And gradually, she corrected the way I spoke.
2. There’s a segment on your show where listeners share their problems. What’s the most interesting story you’ve heard?
People write to us about all kinds of problems, from relationships and motherhood to health issues. But I love stories about first love.
There was this listener in his 40s who jogs a lot. While jogging one day, he passed by a hawker centre and saw a woman selling noodles who looked very much like his first love. But he didn’t dare approach her.
He wrote to us and asked what should he do? Should he say hi? So, other listeners called in and advised him, “Why don’t you just buy some noodles from her so you can talk to her and see if you can recognise her voice.”
After a while, he called us back and shared he had followed the advice and discovered that it was his first love after all. Now every time he goes for a jog, he will buy noodles from her. It’s very cute.
3. You’re making your mark as a singer-songwriter too. What can you tell us about your latest single?
Mei You Ai Qing Bu Bei Shang is inspired by my listeners because sometimes they will share with me how it feels to be single and wonder why no one is interested in them.
I wanted to write a song to tell them they shouldn’t be sad. Life is wonderful. Those who are in relationships also have their difficulties. So whether or not you’re in a relationship, you need to find a way to live happily.
4. As someone who depends on your voice for a living, what do you do to take care of it?
I drink a lot of Chinese soups especially those with muk yee (wood ear) and suet yee (white fungus) in it. Also, after work, I tend to focus more on my writing anyway, so I don’t talk that much, which helps me preserve my voice.
5. Name three songs that are always on your playlist.
I’m drawn to the folk genre. I love Jonathan Lee’s Shan Qiu (Hill), Mika’s Grace Kelly and my all-time favourite, Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter.