Joi Chua: from restrained rookie to self-assured straight-talker

The local singer is finally holding her very first concert in Singapore after 20 years.

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Joi Chua has been having a very busy few months. In addition to gearing up for her upcoming concert, the singer and trained optometrist is also dealing with the relocation of her optical boutique, Eyecare People.

“We’re moving from Holland Village to Novena and will hopefully reopen by the end of this month or in November,” she told Toggle in an interview last week. As usual, the 41-year-old is very involved in her business, and while things are a little hectic, timing has fortunately been on her side: because of the move, her company is on a two-month break, allowing her to focus on preparing for her November showcase.

The gig, titled FLOW, will be her very first full-fledged one on our sunny shores - two whole decades after she released her self-titled debut album. Naturally, we were curious: what on earth took her so long?

She was refreshingly candid with her explanation. “There was nothing holding me back, just… sponsors?” she chuckled. Very honest. “And also waiting for the right organisers to come along. Having a concert in Singapore is not easy because it’s such a big project that you simply can’t do on your own, at least for one on such a large scale.”

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Now, Joi has been able to get a lot of support to hold her own concert in Singapore.

That’s not to say she never came close to staging a performance here. “My ex-boss from my previous company did ask me before, but it was going to be a very small concert, plus, I personally felt I wasn’t ready at that time, so I said no,” she shared.

These days, Joi is much more confident, not just when it comes to putting on a show, but also with expressing herself, whether it’s in her words, actions, or image. One obvious example would be the edgier new look she started sporting about two years ago, a dramatic departure from the docile demeanour she used to be known for.

According to Joi, the makeover “wasn’t meant to be a surprise”. “The transition was natural for me, but I can understand why it might not have been natural to everybody else,” she said, adding that she completely expected folks to be vocal about preferring her more girl-next-door style.

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If anyone’s wondering, her husband of 10 years, a fellow optometrist, is a fan of both looks. “He will like whatever I wear lah - he can’t say he doesn’t, right? He needs to be politically correct! (Laughs)”

Joi is also much more self-assured and straightforward when it comes to dealing with people, including us reporters. “If I were talking to you right now as a rookie, I would keep thinking, ‘Oh no, what is she going to think of me?’ Because I’ve had experiences with journalists who used very cheem (complex) words when I was promoting my first album, and I was like, damn, I don’t know how to react. I was embarrassed.”

Now, she’d just be frank and say, “Eh, very cheem. Can use simpler words?” No more BS.

Of course, she didn’t always dare to be so direct. “When I first entered the industry, we were taught not to be rude or too upfront, so I always had to stick to this [prim and proper] image in the past, but when you feel too restricted for too long, you’d definitely want to break through and do new things,” she mused. “I felt like I couldn’t say a lot of things that I wanted to as a modern woman.”

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(Left) Joi's debut album cover; (right) Joi at an event in 2013.

During her sharing session at the media luncheon prior to our chat, Joi revealed that this caused a lot of confusion when she was just starting out. “Before you join a record label, they’ll tell you that you’re just what they’re looking for, but after that, they’ll tell you to change this and that. It’s very conflicting. Then why did you sign me in the first place?”

Being too restrained - whether by external factors like being under contract, or internal factors like her own overcautiousness - also resulted in Joi missing out on some opportunities, such as acting. While she had offers in the past, it wasn’t until 2015 when she made her big screen debut in Royston Tan’s musical comedy film 3688. “I was very focused on singing and I still am, but if there are more acting opportunities, why not?”

This new(ish)found freedom of hers will be reflected in her concert, although she refrained from going into too much detail, other than the fact that audiences “will see a different side” of her, and that there will be “songs you’d expect to hear” (we’re guessing her biggest hits like ‘Watching the Sunrise with Me’) alongside other tracks she’s never performed before. She might even turn on her sexy side.

“It will break the idea people always had of me as the girl next door,” she grinned. We’re sure fans can hardly wait.

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Joi Chua <FLOW> Concert in Singapore is happening on November 29, 8pm at Hall 601-604, Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. Tickets are priced at S$208, S$178, S$148, S$118, S$88 (excluding booking fees) and are now available on SISTIC.

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Photos: Tammi Tan, Facebook/Joi Chua, IMC Captasia Group​​​​​​​

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