How Olinda Cho turned haters into fans

The former ‘Sing! China’ finalist is set to release a new song inspired by her disappointments and unfulfilled promises in life

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Photos: Tammi Tan, Instagram/Olinda Cho

Olinda Cho is no stranger to being the target of online vitriol. She got her first taste of netizen nastiness when she was a participant in the first season of reality singing competition Singapore Idol in 2004 - and it used to really hurt her.

“For every 10 people that liked me, there could be five that really hated me, and back then I thought, ‘Why am I getting all this [hate]? I just want to sing!’” the 38-year-old recalled during our chat at Botany, the new restaurant owned by her actress pal Julie Tan. “So it was quite shocking, and I would sit down and think about it and start to doubt myself.”

Today, however, her general response to such hostility can be summed up as one insouciant shrug, a fact that was proven when she was met with more rage-fuelled remarks after joining Sing! China in 2017.

“The DMs (direct messages) that I got on Weibo were very, very harsh, and I thought to myself: if I saw these when I was 20 years old, it would really take a toll on me,” she said. “But now I don’t care - I know what I am, so [negative comments] are like water off a duck’s back to me."

What’s more, the singer took things one step further by actually replying to four of her cruelest critics, who wrote things like “please go and die”. “I messaged them back saying, ‘Hey, are you okay? Did you have a bad day? I’m sorry if my face offended you, but I was there to do my best and not for attention’, and they actually replied to say sorry!”

In the end, her haters ended up being her supporters. Problem solved.

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Olinda’s directness is also apparent in her songwriting methods: her new single, titled ‘Sandcastle’, which will be released May 18, is “for people who have had enough, and who were promised certain things, believed the promises, but were let down at the end of the day”.

And yes, it’s inspired by her own real-life ordeals. “I wrote it because I went through all these competitions and was made a lot of promises that were not really met, and I’ve had my share of disappointments in love as well, but instead of moping around and being like, ‘Oh, I had a s***ty experience’, I thought, why don’t I put my feelings into music instead?”

“I don’t write happy songs,” she continued. “It’s always either a rant or something empowering, because when you’re happy, you don’t want to write - you’re busy being happy! But when you have something to say that you feel strongly about, you would want to put it in song. Plus, it’s nicer when you nag in melody. (Laughs)”

The track, as well as its accompanying music video starring Julie (hmmm, is that why Olinda chose Botany as our interview location?) and Andie Chen, took about a year to plan, produce, and perfect. “I’m quite a control freak,” she confessed. “I didn’t want a generic music video and I didn’t want to play it safe, so I took my time, and I quite like the final product now.”

That said, she emphasised that her goal is not to churn out a people-pleaser, but to explore a different side of herself. “I think now is the best time for me to try something new because I have nothing to lose - when you’re younger you might doubt yourself, but at my age, I believe what I say and I will have no regrets even if it’s not well-liked. I’m fine with that.”

(Continued on next page: Olinda reveals why she stopped her involvement with Sheila Sim's model management company)

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Olinda's mentor on 'Sing! China' was Mandopop superstar Jay Chou

With ‘Sandcastle’ finally done and dusted, Olinda has her sights set on dropping another track in the near future. This time, it’s a critique on the damaging aspects of social media culture.

“I like Instagram, just not the culture,” she clarified. “You can use 37 apps to filter your face, but you can’t filter a personality. Some people look so colourful and fun online, but in real life, they’re not. [Instagram culture] is all about impressing other people and looking good, but what about feeling good? So I wrote this song to mock the whole thing.”

Aside from that, the busy bee also runs her own entertainment company, Oli Mgmt, which works with production house Bert Pictures to create online content that’s focused on empowering women. “Women tend to be harsher on themselves, so that’s why they need that little extra boost,” she explained.

With a philosophy like that, we guess it should come as no surprise that about a year and a half ago, Olinda stopped her involvement with Nu Models, the talent agency she used to co-own with model-turned-actress Sheila Sim.

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Olinda and the Nu Models team

“I don’t think I was made for that scene - it’s brutal,” she shared, adding that she was never quite comfortable with “viewing a woman as a product”, nor “dissecting” a human’s every feature - part and parcel of scouting for recruits for a modelling agency.

“I used to weigh 100 kg and I know what it’s like to be told you’re fat, and I would see these perfect girls who weigh 50 kg get told they’re fat. The rejection is instantaneous, and it was just way too harsh for me,” she said. “It’s like singing - if you’re rejected, you might start to wonder if you’re actually good enough, and it’s that wondering that kills your passion.”

This is why she says one of the best parts of taking part in Sing! China was not just getting to be herself, but actually being told to do so. “Elsewhere people would say, ‘Don’t be yourself. You’re not feminine enough. You’ve got to tone down’, but I’m like, I kind of have to be the real me to sing wat - you can’t put me in a gown, I won’t feel like myself! But in China they asked me to just go ahead and be myself.”

We don’t know about you, but we’d take a good dose of realness anytime.

Olinda Cho’s new single and music video ‘Sandcastle’ will be released on May 18 on Spotify and YouTube.

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