Asian pop diva Coco Lee is all for supporting Asian talent: It's also one of the biggest reasons why she's such a fan of shows like Asia's Next Top Model (AsNTM).
"You don't see that many Asians in American television," says Coco Lee, when we spoke to her recently in a phone interview with other Singapore media. "Maybe one or two Asian faces but that is it. Whereas in shows like Asia's Next Top Model, every single [contestant] is from Asia."
Now into its second season, the reality television show will feature the singer-songwriter as the guest judge and mentor for the upcoming episode seven, premiering on February 19, 2014, on StarWorld.
As one of the first Asian pop divas to make it big internationally, the outspoken singer would love to see more support for up-and-coming talents in the region. She was on the judging panel of Chinese Idol Season 1 in 2013 and her upcoming appearance in Asia's Next Top Model has her openly gushing about the contestants that she had worked with.
In particular, Lee has high hopes for Singapore contestant Nicole Lee. "I just fell in love with her," exclaims the star. "I can imagine her on the cover of Elle, Vogue, you name it; I can imagine her representing Asia! She did really well on the show and I really liked her. I told her 'you gotta keep believing yourself'."
She also praised Malaysia contestant Sheena Liam for her "cool, strong" confidence and image, while picking out Katarina Rodriguez from the Philippines as one of the "very marketable" models on the show.
"I'm rooting for these girls [of AsNTM] because I believe they can represent and do well in the fashion world," says the singer. "You know the whole world is looking at Asia now."
Just like AsNTM host and judge Nadya Hutagalung who describes herself as a "mother hen" to the girls, Lee too, is protective of the aspiring models that she had worked with for this season.
"I was trying to be like a big sister to the girls," shares the star. "I actually talked to every single contestant, to try to understand their background, their sources of motivation, to help them reach their goal. I give honest critique. I don't have that mean bone in me but it's through honest critique [that you improve]."
The singing sensation knows her fair share of the hard work that goes into modelling - she has her own horror stories to share too.
"Models often have to be in extreme conditions; it's the same for these girls," says Lee.
She recalls a photoshoot in Venice, held in the middle of winter. Back then, the star was "wearing very little and freezing my butt off pretending as if this was the most beautiful, hot place in the world"; much like the recent arctic-themed photoshoot seen in Season 2 of AsNTM.
Her experience modelling for fashion spreads has also taught her a few modelling tips and tricks: "I usually try not to eat too much, not after 5pm the night [before] so that my face is not puffy the next day."
But as Lee would know, beauty is more than skin deep; she thinks that models too should cultivate other interests for that inner confidence to shine through.
"Honestly, looks fade. You need to have 'substance'," says Lee. "It could be knowledge from books or a special talent you have, 'cos that's going to give you confidence."
At the end of the day, the singer believes self-affirmation, along with the determination to improve are the key to success.
"You just gotta believe in yourself when you're out there doing your thing. Believe you're doing what you do best," advises the star. "I could be singing it a million times but I still practice. So practice and being well-prepared will give you confidence [too]."
The songstress does have powerhouse vocals and a big heart too.
"I'm working on a charity concert in Hong Kong right now, that's what I always want to do, to give back to society," shares Lee. "[In 2013], I was in Chinese Idol and I released my Chinese album [Illuminate]. I'm really happy about everything last year, so this year it's all about giving back."
For fans here would can't get enough of Lee - her last Singapore concert was held in 2010 - they may just see Coco Lee on our sunny island soon enough.
"It might be sooner than you think but you just don't know that now," teases the star. "I do love Singapore a lot, I've great friends, great food, great memories in Singapore. Hopefully I can do another concert here soon."
Catch Coco Lee in episode 7 of Asia's Next Top Model Season 2, airing on February 19, 9.40pm on StarWorld (SingTel mio TV Ch. 301, StarHub TV Ch. 501).
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