S'porean makes good in Hollywood

S'porean makes good in Hollywood
Wee with US singer Harry Connick, Jr.

The name Lenny Wee might not ring a bell among many Singaporeans.

But in Los Angeles, the Singapore-born music arranger, composer and orchestrator is a shining star in the music industry, with a sterling resume to his name.

Reality singing competition American Idol, the annual star-studded Grammy Awards and talk show The Tonight Show With Jay Leno are just some of the popular productions with his name on them.

He has also worked with plenty of A-list superstars, from legendary singer Aretha Franklin to pop stars Katy Perry and Christina Aguilera.

Wee, 31, was namechecked by local jazz maestro Jeremy Monteiro in a recent Facebook post, in which Monteiro urged local musicians to stay humble but have confidence and conviction in their work. (See report on facing page.)

When asked about his thoughts on the post, Wee told The New Paper in a telephone interview yesterday from Melbourne, where he is on holiday: "I'm sure Jeremy (Monteiro) was speaking based on his experience. I believe it can be overcome and people can be proud of their work.

"It's Asian culture to be more reserved in presenting their work and not be boastful, but I don't think it applies to everybody, for sure."

The Berklee College of Music graduate, who majored in both music production and engineering as well as contemporary writing and production, moved to Los Angeles in 2009 soon after he graduated.

By a stroke of good luck, a former professor told him about a job opening as an office manager at American Idol music director Rickey Minor's office.

"While on the job, I was already offering my input on song arrangements that I felt didn't sound right. From there, they saw I had the chops.

'HAPPY ACCIDENTS'

"Another time, when the main person was not around during a rehearsal, they looked to me so I stepped up. My career has been a bunch of happy accidents happening," he said.

It led him to a job as an arranger and orchestrator for American Idol Season 8 in which Kris Allen won and Adam Lambert was the runner-up.

According to Wee, his "Singaporean mentality" definitely helped him be better at his job.

"Coming from Singapore, it was always 'go, go, go!'. I would always work hard, sometimes I would stay up all night working on an arrangement.

"I learnt to not say no to anything. I guess they started seeing me as someone who had the ability to do what they needed, fast and efficiently," said the former Anglo-Chinese Junior College student.

Wee, who was also involved in American Idol Seasons 9, 13 and 14, went on to work on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno for four years, the Grammy Awards for three consecutive years, The Voice Season 7, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and many more.

After six years in the industry, it is hard to be star-struck, he admitted.

"I remember, in the beginning, I was speechless when I met Natalie Cole (a US singer and daughter of legendary singer Nat King Cole) at a UNCF An Evening of Stars 2009: Tribute to Lionel Richie show. She is one of my favourite singers and her father is such an iconic musician."

Since then, he has met "too many to name", including US President Barack Obama in person - several times.

He described Jennifer Lopez as "the sweetest person and so hardworking", Miley Cyrus as "down-to-earth" and Quincy Jones as "attentive and fluent in Mandarin".

For now, Wee remains busy in Los Angeles with a schedule so packed he "hardly has time for a social life... or dating".

But he is open to doing projects back home.

"If the right opportunity comes at the right time, I am definitely open to it," he said.

tnp@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 22, 2015.
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