I bought a ticket to Joanna Dong’s concert when it was announced that a second show would be added at 5pm on 1 July 2018. I wanted to witness her show-stopping vocal trumpeting and be dazzled by her jazzy Chinese numbers.
Known for her hosting capabilities (for TV travelogue shows) and her punctuality, her voice was heard at 5pm sharp, in a banter with multi-hyphenate Danny Yeo. Her opening number was I Want Your Love, the song that she sang during the second round of the 2017 Sing! China contest which shot her to fame, but without the vocal trumpeting.
After Honest Love Song (which she sang as a duet with Harlem Yu during the Sing!China contest), she began thanking the sponsors for this concert before embarking on the first of the many good-humoured banter and self-deprecating jokes with the audience. This is followed by her special cover of Jeff Chang’s I Can’t Resist You and a jazzy version of Sky Wu’s An Unique Love for a Special You (both newly minted in her latest EP).
She then began to regale the audience with stories of taking part in singing competitions from when she was 5 years old (with lots of photos flashed on the big screen on stage) before she spotted Mrs Carmee Lim (ex-Principal of Raffles Girls’ Secondary School) and thanked her for being such an inspiration to her and Ruth Ling (music producer at Red Roof Records). After that, she continued with her stories; this time, there were not only photographs and video footage, she even had her costumes (all sewn by her mum) brought on stage, and explained how her mother made some of them (eg the head gears) using a latex glue gun for the beading, and how these often earned her bonus points in competitions. She also revealed (by demonstrating) how she did all her own choreography and started Scatting from a very age (while singing Gao Shan Qing). She proceeded to ‘undress’ on stage before picking one flamenco-style skirt (which her mother took a week to sew specially for this concert) from the rack and put it on. At this point, she sang a medley of Mandarin and English songs, including I’m the One Who Loves You Most, How Could You Let Me Be Sad and Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.
The next two songs (which were unfamiliar to me) represent her life two years before the Sing!China contest, during which she travelled to remote villages where she met people with such extraordinary will power that really changed her perspectives and gave a boost to her courage and confidence. She mentioned that one of the songs, Long Way Round (written by Ruth Ling with lyrics by Chen Jia Ming), a reflective, folksy jazz number is also included in her new EP.
One of the songs she sang at the Finals of Sing!China is Applause, which was given a different take at this concert. She also sang the song that she didn’t get to sing – a Jay Chou number Fade Away coupled with My Funny Valentine, a medley suggested by Eason Chan (another judge). These came before the medley of Open Arms and Lover’s Tears.
The audience also participated in an impromptu lesson in jazz singing when Dong used a Chinese nursery rhyme Ke Ren Lai (‘The Guest is Here’) to explain how improvisation is like a call-and-response thing. A part of this was incorporated into her next song – an original composition for her by the Godfather of Jazz, Jeremy Monteiro (with lyrics penned by Dr Liang Wern Fook) – In Time For Snow.
She also sang her version of Doris Day’s By The Light of the Silvery Moon, sharing how the same song can have a different interpretation that is exciting, and how she hopes to build a bridge between jazz and pop music. Songs performed in this very energetic segment include The Grasshoppers’ Sorry Baby, Love Alliance and Frank Sinatra’s L-O-V-E.
After another video presentation and banter, Dong performed an English song (which I’m unfamiliar with but has meaningful lyrics like ‘nothing comes for free’) and Waikin Chao’s I Truly Give My Love. The piano solo accompanying this song (by musical director Chok Kerong), with its jazzy improvisation, is one of the highlights for me.
The last song she sang was a medley of Jay Chou’s Love is Straightforward and The Carpenters’ Top of the World (which they performed as a duet in the Finals of Sing!China). The long-awaited-for song that she sang during the audition round of Sing!China (Love Song 1990), with all its vocal-trumpeting, also came during the encore. This alone was worth the price of admission.
Despite her earlier declaration that she was nervous all the time on stage (‘like a swan that looks very calm but paddling furiously underneath’), Joanna Dong is really full of calm energy. She not only put everyone in the audience at ease but also displayed her prowess through her ability to sing non-stop for more than two-and-a-half hours with no special guest besides her dancers and musicians. (There was no intermission either.) I believe with her distinct phrasing and vocal acrobatics, she would go really far.