Shawn Tok was an impish 13-year-old when he won the student reality Mandarin singing contest Campus Superstar in 2007.
Now a university student, he is back with an English EP called Chapter 22, which was launched on his 22nd birthday on Jan 8.
Looking as boyish as he did a decade ago, he says he still gets mistaken for a teenager. While celebrating his birthday earlier this month at a restaurant in Finland, where he was on holiday with a friend, a waiter came up to him and wished him "Happy Sweet 16".
Tok says with a laugh: "I still look like a little kid, it's a fact I can't run away from. I'm okay with it."
The University of Queensland student is back home on school vacation. He is in his first year majoring in film television as well as media communication.
After winning Campus Superstar, he signed on to TV station Media- corp, where he tried his hand at acting. He was in local movie Heng Or Huat (2008) and Channel 5 telemovie Seven Days (2010). He also sang at countdown and charity shows - all this while studying at Loyang Secondary School.
He released his debut Mandopop album Travel With Time in 2011. The following year, he enlisted in national service and disappeared from the public eye.
But his passion for music has stayed with him. He released an English single Tomorrow, before leaving for his studies in Australia in 2014. It made the No. 2 spot on iTunes Singapore's single charts and had about 200 to 300 downloads.
"I didn't think people would remember me. But some people actually paid money to download my song," he says.
Spurred by the good response to Tomorrow, he decided to release an EP. "I've always wanted to release an album with English songs. The summer breaks in Australia are quite long, so I thought I'd keep myself busy by preparing an EP," says Tok, who is an independent artist.
This year, he followed up with Chapter 22, which peaked at No. 2 on the iTunes Singapore albums chart. Download figures are not available yet.
The English EP, featuring five songs, is a collective effort by friends, including former Singapore Idol contestant Daphne Khoo. They helped produce it, from penning tunes to designing the album cover.
The cost of the album, about $10,000, was funded by his 47- year-old father, who owns a construction business.
Tok, the older of two sons, is also a photography enthusiast and has his own company here called Backstage Photography Studio. He is grateful for the unconditional support from his family.
His 48-year-old mother is a property agent and his brother, 20, is a polytechnic student. He says: "My family members are always there for every show - my parents, brother, grandparents and cousins try to show up.
"My mother will ask me before the show, 'Is this dress nice?' Some of the fans do ask to take photos with her too."
1. Why did you release your EP Chapter 22?
I was hesitant at first. A single costs $1.28 to download. I wondered if people would pay more money to download an EP at $6.40. It would also be challenging to do my own promotions.
While I was lying in bed in my Brisbane apartment, I told myself that I would go ahead if I got a sign. An hour later, I got it through a Facebook notification, informing me that I got the blue tick verification (given to public figures to prove the authenticity of their account). I was pleasantly surprised to get the tick.
2. Do you get recognised by people?
I always feel that no one will recognise me and I'm not as famous as before. People look at me, they find me familiar, but they don't remember which show I was on.
On a recent trip to Switzerland and Venice, some Singaporeans pointed at me, but didn't approach me. Instead, they tweeted me saying that they had bumped into me.
3. After you won Campus Superstar in 2007, what was life like in school?
A lot of people wanted to make friends with me, but I wasn't sure whether they were genuine or if they had a motive. I kept to my small circle of friends.
I would get fan mail sent to my school. My form teacher would hand them to me and say: "Shawn, you have another letter." Once, I had 16 floating balloons sent to my school for my birthday. I still keep my fan letters in boxes in my room.
4. You are currently single. What is your ideal girl like?
Definitely not someone who likes to party because I don't party and I don't really drink.
Someone who is not taller than me too. It'd be embarrassing to have a girlfriend taller than me. (He is 1.66m.)
I would like to date someone as adventurous as me. I enjoy outdoor activities including skydiving and trekking. I would want her to do these activities with me. I wouldn't want to date a girl who hides from the sun.
5. What career do you hope to pursue after graduating in 2018?
I'm still trying to figure this out. I hope to be a lot of things - director, photographer. I also want to try out stage management and concert lighting. I haven't really acted for a while. Though I am not that good at it, I want to try it out more.
6. Why did you get former Singapore Idol contestant Daphne Khoo to help pen the melody for the song Shine For You on your EP?
I started singing because of her. I watched her on Singapore Idol (2004) and really liked her. She's my inspiration. Her songs are perfect for listening to at night. Most of them are slow songs and the lyrics are relatable.
7. Why do you release your songs in physical copies rather than just in digital format to cut cost?
If it's only in digital form, it might disappear if iTunes doesn't exist in future. A physical copy is more meaningful. It's something I can hold on to when I'm old.
8. How would you like to be remembered?
To my family and friends, I'd like to be remembered as the one who is always rounding up people for gatherings. To the public, they will remember me as the little kid from Campus Superstar. But I also want them to remember me as someone who enjoys performing.
Chapter 22 is available on digital platforms iTunes, Tidal and Spotify.
Physical copies are available at Beesket outlets.
This article was first published on Jan 18, 2016.
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