Nathan Hartono at the Bird’s Nest in between rehearsals on Thursday (Oct 6).ST PHOTO: CHONG KOH PING

Singaporean singer Nathan Hartono has been averaging only five hours of sleep a day since he arrived in Beijing on Monday (Oct 3).

In the lead-up to the finals of the popular talent show Sing! China on Friday (Oct 7), Hartono had been city-hopping  every few days – in Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei and now Beijing. His hectic schedule has been packed with rehearsals, confirming wardrobe choices and music arrangements, as well as tackling media interviews.

“Normally it takes me 30 minutes to an hour to learn an English song. But for Mandarin songs, I will need to take two to three days,” he told the Singapore media at the Beijing National stadium – also known as the Bird’s Nest – on Thursday in between rehearsals.

“I’d write the lyrics on paper, and put down the hanyu pinyin for the words that I can’t read and also use Google Translate to find out the meaning of words that I don’t understand,” said the 25-year-old, who is known by his Chinese name Xiang Yang in the show.

At the finals, he will sing at least two Mandarin songs – a duet with his mentor Jay Chou and a solo.

“I’m terrified that everything will go terribly wrong. Jay is very adventurous and experimental. He just keeps adding stuff to the performance,” he added.

He was worried that he would forget the Chinese lyrics, but everything went well at the rehearsal just before the interview, so he felt more at ease now.

Hartono said he will be trying out many things that he had never done before on stage, including dancing, rapping and performing an “interesting” instrument that he would not reveal.

Singaporean singer Kit Chan gave a shout-out to Hartono on Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo.

“During a competition, the most important thing is to relax, just try your best. Use your bewitching voice and charm to defeat the other competitors!” Chan wrote in Chinese. “Can I have a cup of iced Milo too?”

The show, which is the rebranded version of The Voice Of China, continues to be one of the most-watched variety programmes on the mainland this season.

It premiered on July 15 on Zhejiang Television with a nationwide viewership of 2.24 per cent, the highest among all programmes during the same time slot on a Friday night. It enjoys a market share of more than 30 per cent across China, nearly five times that of the No. 2 show, reported the Beijing Daily.

According to media reports, the show has also broken online records with more than 37 billion views for this season.

Despite a new name and a slightly different format due to a legal dispute over copyright, the show is still widely regarded as the fifth season of its previous incarnation.

It retained the four mentor-judges of pop star Jay Chou, singer-songwriter- host Harlem Yu, songbird Na Ying and rocker Wang Feng from season four of The Voice Of China.

In the show’s five-year history, Hartono is the first Singaporean to make it past the blind audition and all the way to the finals.

And he reached the finals with flying colours, having garnered the highest score of 93.65 among 12 contestants at the semi-finals aired last Friday. He received 47 out of 51 votes from industry professionals and 333 votes from a pool of 350 live audience.

On Friday for the finals, he will face five other finalists namely Guangzhou’s Wang Chengrui and Malaysian singer Jeryl Lee from Na Ying’s team; Xinjiang’s Jiang Dunhao and Shenyang’s Xu Geyang from Wang Feng’s team; and Jilin’s Yang Meina from Yu’s team. He is the only contestant from Chou’s team at the finals.

“I’m going into these finals without a competitive mindset,” said Hartono, adding that he did not think he would make it this far.

His personal favourites for the top spot are Xu and Jiang from Wang Feng’s team.

“They know how to pick the songs and interpret them nicely. I would personally vote for them,” Hartono quipped.

Xu, with her powerful rock vocals, has proven to be a crowd favourite, topping an online popularity poll with some 138 million votes, ahead of second place Jiang, who earned 90 million votes. The winners of the show’s last four seasons were all from China, and three out of four – Liang Bo (2012),  Zhang Bichen (2014) and Zhang Lei  (2015) – were from Na Ying’s team.  Li Qi, the winner in 2013, came from Taiwanese singer’s A-Mei’s camp.

The Sing! China finals will be held at the Beijing National Stadium on Friday at 8pm.

A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on October 6, 2016. For more stories like this, head to