S'pore singer rejected by regional record labels released album in Spain

A few years ago, he was just another aspiring Singaporean singer who was rejected by Chinese and Taiwanese record labels because of his height.

Wiltay, 25, who was told that, at 1.7m, he was too short to become a star, is having the last laugh.

The home-grown Spain-based musician won Best Pop Album Of The Year for his debut English album WTF at the Hollywood F.A.M.E Awards two weeks ago.

The Hollywood F.A.M.E. Awards, also known as the Los Angeles Music Awards, is a celebration of film, art, music and entertainment and is considered the first officially recognised opening ceremony for awards show season in Hollywood.

Past recipients of the Best Pop Album Of The Year category have been big names like will.i.am, Gwen Stefani and Paula Abdul.

Wiltay was nominated in three other categories: Best Pop Artist Male, Best International Artist and Best Music Video for his single Less Is More.

Artists' submissions are eligible for nomination only if the artists are not signed to any major record label. Winners are chosen by a judging panel of industry professionals.

At the awards ceremony, Wiltay also presented a career achievement award to Latin-American actor Danny Trejo, the star of movies like Machete and its sequel Machete Kills, Desperado and the Spy Kids flicks.

Speaking to The New Paper over the phone from Los Angeles, Wiltay, whose real name is Willie Tay, sounded exuberant as he shared the story of how he was discovered in the West.

He said: "What the people who rejected me said to me years ago doesn't matter any more.

"They said I was too short, I didn't have the looks that they were looking for.

"I never gave up and I want (my fellow) Singaporeans to know that.

"This is why I have achieved what I have today."

The former Catholic High School student was born in Singapore to a Taiwanese mum and a Singaporean dad.

At a young age, he discovered his love for music and studied it when he pursued his tertiary education at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

To chase his dream, he wrote an essay to his professors on why he should complete his last semester at the Hollywood Musicians Institute, a privately-owned, for-profit college of contemporary music in Los Angeles.


After he was granted permission to study there, all that was left was a lucky break.

But it was not meant to be then.

His chance came two years ago, when he went to Madrid for a holiday with his parents. He was discovered the day before he was supposed to fly back to Singapore.

Wiltay said he had been alone at the park singing while playing his guitar when an old man approached him and handed him his mobile phone. He said: "The old man looked like a drunk so I was wary.

"When I answered the phone, the guy on the line said that his friend (the old man) had heard me singing and said that my voice was interesting. "He invited me to a party that night and told me to dress well.

"I knew it could be dangerous, but I'm a big risk-taker so I agreed to check out the party."

At the event, Wiltay realised that the host was none other than Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.

According to Wiltay, the 65-year-old filmmaker was screening his Spanish film I'm So Excited! there and asked Wiltay to sing his original composition for the guests.

But, he said, he felt quite mortified after he performed when no one said a word or clapped.

But before he knew what hit him, a record label spokesman asked him to go to their company for an audition the next day.

Wiltay was in two minds about it.

At the airport the next day, he decided to miss his flight home and he headed for the audition.

At the audition venue, there were nine people ahead of him in the queue. It made him nervous, but he was eventually signed on by Mr Walter Dean, an international press agent, and Warner Music Singapore.

Wiltay went on to perform at a Madrid song festival, write his first single Hola and record his first album WTF, which is available in Singapore and on iTunes.

His recent win at the Hollywood F.A.M.E Awards was the validation he had wanted for so long.

Said Wiltay: "It's funny when I think of being turned down in Asia.

"In Spain they are like, we love it that you are Chinese, we love it that you are Singaporean and we love it that you are a Chinese-Singaporean singing a song with Spanish touches to it.

"It's incredible to wake up in the morning and feel so happy because you're doing what you love. My parents are very happy for me because they've always told me to follow my dreams."

What the people who rejected me said to me years ago doesn't matter any more.

This article was first published on Nov 20, 2014.
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