New path for Hartono

His star may have risen after his enthralling runner-up finish in last year's popular televised talent show Sing! China, but home-grown singer Nathan Hartono is distancing himself from the Zhejiang show.

Though the 25-year-old plans to develop his career in China this year, he will not take part in televised singing programmes there that are associated with Sing! China.

He says: "These shows are like 'as seen on TV' type of commercials. So I want to avoid doing them for a while as I am trying to define myself outside of the show and depart from the image portrayed there."

While Hartono found it interesting to discover what mainstream audiences expected from him, he adds that he had "very little control of his image on the show that was at the mercy of the show's marketing and how they edited it".

True enough, the crooner did not mention Sing! China during a showcase concert, Up-Close With Nathan Hartono, at the Millian Singapore club in St James Power Station last Saturday.

During the 11/2-hour gig, he only alluded to Sing! China as "a certain Chinese show" each time before belting out four Mandarin songs that he had sung for the competition. These included Moonlight On Rooftop by Mandopop superstar Jay Chou, who was his mentor on the show.

Hartono's emotionally charged rendition last Saturday received the loudest applause from the 600- strong audience, who were mostly in their late teens to mid-20s.

We are now live at the "UP-CLOSE WITH NATHAN HARTONO" showcase. Check out Singtel's Instagram and Snapchat (@singtelofficial) for more footage.

Posted by Singtel on Saturday, January 21, 2017

The show is part of a series of music events organised by telco Singtel.

Fans had won tickets to it by participating in a giveaway contest, buying selected Samsung handsets or Singtel Music subscriptions last month.

Hartono gave an energetic and heartfelt performance throughout his 13-song set peppered with anecdotes. The setlist included his old songs; a cover of his childhood song, Careless Whisper, by the late British singer George Michael; and two songs from his upcoming EP that is slated for June this year.

These new songs include Electricity, an upbeat pop song, and Tell Me Something, an English duet with local songbird Daphne Khoo.

The EP, which will be released through Warner Music Singapore, will contain four or five tracks in Mandarin and English. The first single will be a "not particularly happy" Mandarin ballad.

Hartono is using this EP, his second in the last four years, as an experiment of sorts. Although he has been singing for 11 years, having released his debut album at 15, he is "still looking for a nice home for my sound".

He says: "The songs on this EP will have a lot more groove and elements of free-flow jazz and I am finding a way to incorporate some R&B that I have been messing with in my live shows."

With a rare mix of English and Mandarin songs in an EP, he admits that he is entering uncharted territory.

"Some people may view this as inconsistency, but I have been doing English music for too long to throw it away suddenly," he says. "I want to be true to myself and, hopefully, I can find ways to reflect my style in my Chinese music."

Despite counting Chou as a mentor, there will not be a collaboration between the two.

"I don't think I have that kind of pull factor," he says with a laugh.

"For that to happen, I need to go through the ring of fire and prove myself in the Chinese music scene before I can have the audacity to say I want to collaborate with Jay."

On his stand-out factor in the massive Chinese music scene, he quips: "If you put me on stage, I will not suck at the very least. I do not have stage rust."

His down-to-earth onstage charm was a hit with Saturday's audience. Fresh graduate Priscilla Chew, 23, says: "He sounds exactly the same as on the Sing! China video clips on YouTube. I like how he creates mash-ups that are infused with jazz."

Arts school student Haziqah, 22, who waited 1 1/2 hours to be the first in line to enter the gig venue, says: "I enjoyed listening to his voice. I can relate to the lyrics of his songs."

Student Charlene Kho, 17, says: "His new songs sound more mature and he is a charismatic performer who knows how to hype the audience up."

This article was first published on Jan 23, 2017.
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