Singaporean Seah Hui Xian doesn't fit the typical profile of a winner.
While winners are generally perceived as bold, outgoing and confident, the petite, sweet-looking 19-year-old champion of StarHub TV's inaugural reality singing competition Sunsilk Academy Fantasia is, by her own admission, "very shy and meek".
"All the way from primary to secondary school, I was always this invisible girl in class," said the second-year student at Lasalle College of the Arts, in an interview with The New Paper on Monday.
"For my CCAs (co-curricular activities), I would choose to be a librarian.
"Every year, without fail, my teachers would write the same comment on my report card, 'Hui Xian is a quiet and well-mannered child.'"
But the reticent lass morphed into a fledgling young star on Sunday night.
She beat rival finalists, fellow home-grown budding singer Irwin Fua, 25, and Chinese national Zhang Chi, 19, to bag the coveted top prize - a two-year artiste contract with record label Ocean Butterflies, among other prizes.
Her win comes after a gruelling 10-week journey on the reality programme, which had 14 contestants housed under the same roof with more than 20 surveillance cameras recording their every move.
Not unlike the UK's legendary reality series, BigBrother, live and unedited footage of the contestants training, eating and mingling with each other were aired on Academy Fantasia Channel (StarHub Ch 110) for 18hours a day.
Miss Seah said that the voyeuristic concept of the show petrified her initially.
"I had a hard time adapting to it, because of my personality," she said.
"Some of the instructors on the show, like UFM 100.3 deejay Huang Wenhong, would constantly encourage me to speak up and be more vocal."
As one of the show's more subdued competitors, she also inadvertently steered clear of any drama that was happening.
"Sometimes, during our confession-camera interviews, the producers would ask me for my opinion on contestant A reportedly having a crush on contestant B, or contestant C having a spat with contestant D... I'd be so surprised, because I wasn't even aware that was happening!"
She learnt to open up
Gradually, she learnt to open up to others.
Not only did she lose her inhibitions on Sunsilk Academy Fantasia, she also lost plenty of weight.
A spokesman for the show's production company, Refinery Media, said that over 10 weeks, she "dropped three dress sizes" and her waist went from "29 inches to her current 25 inches".
"I lost about 4kg," said Miss Seah, who attributes her weight loss to the intense physical regime that the contestants had to go through daily. "Every morning, we had to attend mandatory exercise class, it was very tiring... Then, there were also dance classes in preparation for our weekly performances."
Viewers who missed Miss Seah's crowning moment can catch an encore telecast of Sunsilk Academy Fantasia's grand finale on E City (StarHub TV Ch 111 or 825) on Saturday at noon.
Her fate was decided by a judging panel of industry experts (30 per cent) and SMS votes by the public (70 per cent).
Miss Seah, who is now all geared up to pursue a singing career, said: "I would love to start out from Singapore, then make it in Taiwan and perhaps, hold a solo concert."
But she added that she would not have attained today's success if she hadn't encountered her "turning point" as a 13-year-old fresh-faced teenager.
"Before I was 13, I didn't know if I had a good voice or not, I just sang for fun," she said.
"One day, I decided to give the school choir auditions a shot. Partly, I also wanted to try and make more friends.
"It was my then choir teacher who told me I had 'potential' and encouraged me to join Channel U's singing competition Campus SuperStar."
As it turned out, Miss Seah was so good that she emerged one of the top six finalists in the 2007 season.
While she didn't win then, she called Campus SuperStar a "great experience".
"It was the first time I had to face so many cameras and a huge audience."
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