Watching local pop-folk duo The Freshman’s Carrie Yeo and Chen Diya’s unbridled banter with host Dennis Chew on this week’s episode of Toggle Originals’ Dennis Uncovers, one might never guess that they are the backup singers for none other than Hong Kong Heavenly King, Jacky Cheung.
We don’t think the girls themselves would have ever imagined that they’d ever land such an extraordinary gig either when they first signed on as Project SuperStar hopefuls almost 12 years ago. Although they were competitors (and even asked by the production team to act like rivals), they became good friends, even travelling to Genting to hang out together after recording the first episode of the show.
Given their quick and close camaraderie, it’s no surprise that when Carrie was looking for another person to form a musical duo, she approached Diya, who agreed without question. According to Carrie, who is clearly the more talkative and proactive of the two, she was thinking of a way to stand out in a sea of numerous female soloists, and believed that a duo would bring a fresh sound to the local market. Plus, they were already pals.
Together, they sent recorded demos to Rock Records (who signed them) and were taken under the wing of noted songwriter Jim Lim. “The learning curve was really steep because we completely did not know anything [about making music], but our teacher had faith in us and for that, we are always grateful to him,” said Carrie.
Scroll down to watch Dennis Uncovers featuring The Freshman, or read on for a recap of their heart-to-heart sharing session.
Dennis Chew played a part in landing them the Jacky Cheung gig?
According to Carrie, she and Diya were contacted by a friend in the industry after the release of their debut album, 2010’s Life Experiment 101. “He took pity on us because we weren’t bad as singers, and yet no label wanted to sign us, so he was a little bit nosy and wanted to try and link us up with a good arranger.”
Diya continued, “He told us he was bringing us to meet somebody, and we asked, ‘Is it Jay Chou?’ and he said, ‘He’s better than Jay Chou’.”
Their mysterious collaborator-to-be turned out to be none other than renowned music director, producer and composer Goh Kheng Long (who has worked with the likes of JJ Lin, Stefanie Sun, A-Mei, Wang Leehom, and of course, Jacky Cheung), and the “nosy” Good Samaritan who introduced them to each other was…Dennis Chew.
It took almost a decade, but one fine day, Kheng Long called the girls up and asked if they wanted to audition for the parts of Jacky’s backup singers for his tour, since their music career “wasn’t really going anywhere”, as Carrie and Diya recalled with a good-natured guffaw.
Well, whether that was true or not, it certainly isn’t the case now.
Continued on next page: Jacky Cheung is like a father to them
Jacky Cheung is like a father to them
Carrie and Diya’s work anecdotes include some really amusing and down-to-earth interactions with the Jacky Cheung, whom they said is “like a father” to them.
“Sometimes he would suddenly drape his arm around me and ask, ‘Eh, why are you so casual today? Wearing slippers ah?’” shared Carrie. “When I had just cut my hair, he pulled it and asked me why I did it, and I was like, ‘Huh, you don’t like it?’”
“When it’s happening to you in that moment, it feels very natural; it’s only after a while when it hits you and you’re like, ‘Jacky Cheung did that to me!?’” shared Diya. “It’s pretty surreal,” added Carrie. Us mere plebeians can only imagine.
When Dennis asked what are some valuable lessons they’ve learned from the revered Hong Kong Heavenly King, Carrie said that while there are “too many”, his humbleness inspires them the most.
“He’s such a big star and he’s at the top of his game, but during one of the Taipei concerts, he told the audience, ‘I’m a very lucky man. I can stand on stage because you enjoy listening to my music. I’m not that handsome nor that tall – I’m just blessed.’ I think this grateful attitude pushes you to do better and be a better person,” Carrie mused.
Diya’s mother objected to her singing dreams
Like many typical Singaporean parents, Diya’s mum was revealed by Dennis to be strict and totally not supportive of her idea to pursue music as a career. But we reckon this changed when, after a backstage visit to take a photo with Jacky, she was personally told by the music legend himself that her daughter sings very well.
Whoa. Talk about some major validation! Carrie also shared that since taking on this gig, their proud parents have seen how much they love doing what they’re doing and developed a newfound respect for them.
“I believe her mother was just worried about her future,” Carrie had said about Diya’s past family situation. That’s totally understandable – even the girls themselves admitted that they aren’t sure what’s going to happen when Jacky’s tour wraps up next year.
“We do think about it, but we don’t know what we want to do next,” said Carrie. “We’re used to the steady income and we’re worried we won’t find such stability again, so we’ll probably have to work a lot harder.”
Don’t fret, gals, we’re sure you’ll figure something out! After all, isn’t working with Jacky Cheung considered a glowing highlight on any resume?
Songwriting inspiration can hit them at any time
Like most – if not all – creative folk, The Freshman shared that penning tunes isn’t always a smooth-sailing process with ideas flying into their brains from every angle at every minute. In fact, some eureka moments hit them when they’re not looking for it, or when they least expect it.
Carrie gave an example. “I was struggling to write the lyrics for ‘Sheng Ming Shi Yuan De’ for so long, and then one day I just couldn’t take it anymore and went out for a jog, and while I was running, inspiration suddenly came to me, and when I got home and opened my laptop, the words just flowed out onto the screen.”
What’s more, she proudly declared this piece of work to be the one she feels proudest about. “Even if I never sing or write another good song ever again, I would be at peace, because I created this track,” she declared.