The actress with the juicier role took home the coveted Best Actress trophy at the Star Awards on Sunday night.
That is the conclusion of fans and judges after Joanne Peh, 26, scored an upset win, beating her The Little Nonya co-star and hot favourite Jeanette Aw, 29.
Ms Tan Geok Keow, executive entertainment editor of Chinese newspapers Shin Min Daily News and Lianhe Wanbao and one of the judges for the annual competition, says: 'I gave Joanne a very high score during judging because she had a difficult role to portray. It required a high level of acting skills. She portrayed it very well.'
In the wildly popular drama about a Peranakan family in 1930s Singapore, Peh, a seven-year showbusiness veteran, played Huang Yuzhu. She goes mad after she is raped, abused and tortured by the villainous Robert Zhang (Zzen Zhang). She is also forced to eat bugs, worms and rats, and is left for dead in an abandoned shed by Robert.
Another judge, Ms Kwan Seck Mui, second entertainment editor of local Chinese papers Shin Min and Wanbao, says: 'It is not surprising that Joanne won because her acting was quite good, especially the part where she became depressed and mentally ill. She had a very good role to work with.
'It is a pity that the lead character Jeanette did not win though. I could see that she put in a lot of effort as well.'
Aw, who has eight years of acting experience under her belt, played both the lead character Yueniang and her mute mother Juxiang. They are ill-treated by their Peranakan family because Juxiang is the daughter of a maid who was raped by her rich Peranakan employer.
Fans of the show feel Peh is a deserving winner.
Welder Teh Siow Guan, 57, says: 'The hot favourite whom many people expected to win was Jeanette but I preferred Joanne because she was more natural and portrayed the role more realistically and vividly.'
He adds: 'Jeanette seems to be more popular with fans but this is an acting award - the one who acts better wins.'
But Aw and Peh's colleagues express shock at the result.
Veteran actress Xiang Yun, who bagged the Best Supporting Actress award together with Ng Hui for their roles in The Little Nyonya, says: 'Frankly, I thought Jeanette would win as she was the lead character and had more screen time.
'Since there were two winners for the Best Supporting Actress, I thought it would have been better if both Jeanette and Joanne could win the Best Actress award.'
Aw is tactful about losing the trophy although she did get a better-than-consolation prize in the form of a spot in the Top 10 Most Popular Female Artistes category, which was decided by fans voting via SMS. She was not on the list in 2007.
The actress says not winning the Best Actress award is an incentive for her to work harder: 'When I was watching the show, I liked Joanne's role a lot as there were a lot of emotions involved. We worked hard in our own ways and I would like to congratulate her on her win.
'Of course, every actress wants to win the Best Actress award as it is a graduation to the next level. I will work hard towards it and, meanwhile, I thank the show for the exposure it has given me.'
The acting awards were judged by top personnel in the media industry, including the entertainment editors of local Chinese papers and MediaCorp vice-president of Chinese drama productions, Ms Kok Len Shoong.
Judges were required to give the nominees points on a scale of one to six, with six being the highest score. The one with the highest accumulated score bagged the prize.
Peh, who is shocked but thrilled on the big win, says: 'I did not expect to win but it is a very big encouragement for me.
'This award is meaningful and serves as a great motivation for me to keep producing good work and make every role Best Actress-worthy.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.