Looking and sounding like Teresa Teng

Tong Yao.

China singer Tong Yao not only has sweet pristine vocals that sound like those of Teresa Teng, she also looks like the late Mandopop superstar.

She has even taken Teng as a role model in the way she conducts herself - elegantly and with dignity.

"My mother supports the fact that I'm learning from Ms Teng in every aspect. The only thing she warns me about is this: Don't remain unmarried," she says over the telephone from Guangdong, where she is performing.

Teng was 42 when she died from a severe respiratory attack while holidaying in Thailand in 1995. While she was linked to a few suitors, including action star Jackie Chan, she never married.

In her heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, she was without doubt one of the biggest singers in the world, with a repertoire that also included Japanese and English songs.

Tong, who last performed here in 2005, remains popular and more than 85 per cent of the tickets to her Best Of Teresa Teng 2013 concert at Esplanade Concert Hall on Oct 15 have been sold.

The Sichuan native's connection to the Taiwanese legend was firmly established when she won a singing competition in China in 2001, which sought to discover a singer who sounded most like Teng.

It attracted more than 1,000 contestants and was called Xiaochenggushi (Small Town Story), the title of a hit ballad by Teng.

Tong, who is in her 30s and single, recalls: "I was picked as the winner because the judges said my demeanour and overall effect was most reminiscent of her."

But she does not want to come across merely as a Teng impersonator.

"Early on, I watched many of her performances but I didn't want to copy her slavishly," she says. "So when audiences say they can see Ms Teng's shadow in my performances, which also bear the mark of my own style, I'm very happy."

She adds that she tries to imitate the singing tone of Teng's tracks, but not necessarily every movement of how she performed it live.

Expect to hear plenty of classic numbers at her gig here, including The Moon Represents My Heart and Small Town Story. The Cantonese and Japanese song, Stars (Subaru), is also a consistent crowd pleaser wherever she performs.

Tong graduated from the China Conservatory Of Music in Beijing and joined the People's Liberation Army's performance group for a decade before her contract ended last year.

She now does a few shows a week, including live performances and TV appearances, usually in China. She travels overseas a few times a year and has performed in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

While she says her income was "quite high" to begin with, singing Teng's songs has been a financial boon for her as her earnings have doubled.

Still, you imagine that basing one's career on another singer must be quite a risky move. What happens when audiences decide one day that she no longer conjures up Teng?

"Maybe I'll find another way of getting them to like me. Or maybe it's just a case of newcomers edging out the existing singers. I don't hope to be on stage forever."

She muses: "One's life has many stages. I started out singing folk songs in the army and now I'm singing Ms Teng's songs. I may sing other songs which are more suitable in future."

Asked if she was keen to sing her own songs, she confirms it but says: "There's so much talent in the country. It takes fate to come across that one good song and I believe every singer will want to have her own theme song."

 

Book it

TONG YAO - BEST OF TERESA TENG 2013

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall

When: Oct 15, 7.30pm

Admission: $68 to $98, from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

bchan@sph.com.sg


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