The reluctant star

Singer Elizabeth Tan talks about the unconventional start to her career, and her struggles with fame

30 Mar 2020 / 15:09 H.

PICTURE this: a Malaysian girl studying at a bible college in Texas posts videos of herself singing cover versions of popular Malay songs, and becomes an instant YouTube sensation.

Sounds odd, but that is exactly what happened to Elizabeth Tan, who not only signed with a major record label (Warner Music) after that, but who is also enjoying a fruitful career as both singer and actress.

Tan said she did not set out to become a social media sensation or had thought about a career in showbiz when she posted her videos.

“Even now I still have no plans to become a professional singer. I don’t enjoy performing. I was just doing it for fun. I just randomly covered some Malay songs and it got noticed. One thing led to another, and here I am.”

She explained that while she was in college, most of her friends happened to be seniors and had graduated when she was in her final year. “I had nothing to do, and so I did videos of cover songs.”

She started posting videos in 2013, and it was her cover of Joe Flizzow’s Havoc that got her noticed.

The timing for Tan’s cover version could not have been more perfect, as it coincided with the rise of Instagram.

“I was lucky, I guess. People like Faizal Tahir were tweeting me.“

Faizal was especially impressed with her rendition of the evergreen single Selamat Hari Raya.

Faizal would later write Tan’s first single (Knock, Knock in 2014) and was her duet partner on her track Setia.

Elizabeth Tan is hoping for more acting opportunities in the local entertainment industry. – Sunpix by Zahid Izzani
Elizabeth Tan is hoping for more acting opportunities in the local entertainment industry. – Sunpix by Zahid Izzani

Tan explained that she really had “no plans” back then as to what she wanted to do with her life. (However, she knew that she did not want to become a pastor.)

She did, however, sing in her church, and during the two years she was in Texas she did get some vocal training lessons.

“I am not the greatest singer, I will be the first to admit that,” laughs Tan.

However while still in the US, she was already contacted by people who wanted to manage her career.

“I asked my mum what to do. So I decided to check it out and see where it went. Worse comes to worst, I could always go back to school and study.”

Singing professionally worked out well for her, and acting offers and modelling jobs followed suit.

“I really like acting. I have been given such a great opportunity that my singing career has led to an acting career. Skop Production offered me my first drama series My Darling, Inspektor Daniel in 2017. I was so lucky because they just offered it to me. I did not have to go for casting, or anything. I think I did quite badly, but they still had faith in me. They then offered me a role in Mimpi Delilah, which went okay.”

She will next be seen in Abang Long Fadil 3 with Zizan Razak, and will also be featured on the film’s original soundtrack singing a duet with him.

“I am banking on this movie to get me more roles. Skop has given me so many opportunities with my acting career and I am so grateful for that.”

She dreams of directing her own production someday. – Sunpix by Zahid Izzani
She dreams of directing her own production someday. – Sunpix by Zahid Izzani

Starring alongside in films with the likes of Rosyam Nor, Aaron Aziz or Zizan was intimidating, but Tan said that she practised her scenes as much as possible so that she would be prepared in front of the camera.

Despite all her fame. Tan admits that performing live scares her.

“I am trying to cut down on performing. I don’t like performing. It gives me a lot of anxiety. I am trying to write songs to give to other people and hopefully that works.”

Tan’s stage fright is not a joke. She said she would cry, and sometimes get anxious even if the concert was weeks away.

“I knew this wasn’t good for me mentally. So I tried not to do it so much.”

Incidentally her brother Andrew also has musical talent. He made it to the top four of the first Malaysian Idol back in 2004. He, too, found himself hating being on stage.

“He is now a lecturer in a local university, teaching computer game programming,” she said.

Admitting that she is more comfortable acting, Tan adds: “As a Chinese, my roles in Malay productions are limited. But so far it has been okay.”

As for the singers she looks up to, she said: “Definitely Yuna, she is a genius songwriter. She inspired me to take up songwriting in the first place. Faizal Tahir is still my mentor and he is my number one.”

She also plans to do some acting in English language productions, which her manager is working on.

“I need more experience, I know the level of my talent,” said Tan on trying her luck in Hollywood.

Tan is planning to go behind the camera eventually. “It has always been a dream of mine to one day direct. I did direct my music video Police Entry.

“It was just that one time, I saw the final product and said: ‘No, we need more practice’. But people seemed to like it and so that is okay.”

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