Sufie Rashid overcomes high fever to become first S'pore winner of Akademi Fantasia
Sufie Rashid, the first Singaporean to win Malaysian singing reality TV show, sets his sights on regional music industry
It was one of the most important shows of his life, one that would determine the future of his music career.
He was a firecracker on stage, pouring his heart and soul into two intense, electrifying pop-rock performances that earned him standing ovations during the three-hour show.
But little did the audience know that Singaporean singer Sufie Rashid was actually nursing a 39 deg C fever.
Backstage, he was a wreck and could not hold back his tears. Several times, he almost blacked out.
The singer soldiered on at the finals of the 12th season of Malaysian reality TV singing competition Akademi Fantasia (AF) on Sunday night and eventually won the title.
The 24-year-old, also known as Sufi on the show, beat three Malaysian finalists - runner-up Syameel Aqmal Mohd Fodzly (Syamel), second runner-up Nurnajmi Nabila Samsaidi (Bila) and third runner-up Muhammad Shahrul Amin Kamarozaman (Sharul) - at the Shah Alam City Council auditorium in Selangor to become the first Singaporean to win the competition.
It was aired live on Astro Ria (Singtel TV Ch 608).
It was a landslide victory for the fan favourite - he earned 41.3 per cent of the votes cast online and through SMS.
He also walked away with a RM50,000 (S$16,880) cash prize, a holiday to Dubai and a trophy.
Speaking to The New Paper on the phone from Kuala Lumpur, barely 24 hours after his victory, he said: "I can safely say it was the craziest performance of my entire life and my biggest achievement to date.
"I took great risks in my song choices, nailed the high notes and gave it my all. My efforts truly paid off and I feel so blessed."
He added: "Because of my fever, I was suffering, but I had to fake it and get through the show. It might have been due to the haze and the fact that I only had four hours of sleep the night before.
"This was the first time I fell sick in the three months (of the AF competition) and it had to be on the day of the finals. I just kept drinking loads of water... My illness pushed me to do even better. I told myself, if I fainted, then so be it."
Sufi, who barely slept after his victory, might have felt weak but his performances were definitely not.
He went out of his comfort zone with his self-penned rock track, Kisah Dua Muka, and a cover of Andai Ku Bercinta Lagi by Malaysian rock act Mojo.
Malaysian rapper Joe Flizzow, who was a guest judge, along with AF6 winner Stacy, gave Sufi the highest score of 90 per cent among all the contestants after he sang his original song.
The Muse-inspired number was written in a week, with Sufi often skipping his meals to complete it.
But Malaysian musician and AF judge Ramli M. S. called it "complicated" and urged Sufi not to release it as a single until he improved on it.
Fellow AF judge and actress-singer Fauziah Ahmad Daud later told Sufi that he "needed to discover the gem within himself" and that he must "explore his capabilities to go far in this industry".
Addressing the comments, Sufi said: "These are established people in the industry and I take everything they say as a compliment and motivation to do even better."
Sufi is no newbie to reality TV talent competitions, but he has never snagged the top prize.
The former Singapore Idol 3, The Final 1 and SG Mania contestant also bagged his first award at Anugerah Planet Muzik last year in the Best Song (Singapore) category for Tiada Pengganti.
Sufi says he owes it to his mother, Madam Irma Suriana Mahamud, 49, for encouraging him to give AF a shot.
"She is my greatest pillar of strength. I contemplated joining because I never knew if I was good enough but she was the one who pushed me.
"Mothers know best. Never underestimate a mother's prayer," he said.
Madam Irma, who supported her son at the venue, told TNP in a separate telephone interview: "I encouraged him because I knew this was his passion. He has been singing since the age of three, he has a natural talent. I didn't expect him to win but this is God's will."
The journey throughout the competition was not only physically draining but emotionally taxing as well.
Sufi, who lost 4kg, had to be away from his family as he was only allowed minimal contact with them.
"I'm not the type to cry easily but for the past three months, I would cry at least once every week. I felt alone but I made new friends who kept motivating me. Whenever I felt lonely, I'd play the piano," he recalled.
With a bright future ahead of him, Sufi is determined to prove himself in the regional music industry.
He is already working on his next single, a pop ballad that is worlds apart from Kisah Dua Muka.
Asked if he was affected by comments that slammed him as undeserving of the AF title because of his nationality, he said he let them slide.
"People are entitled to their opinions. To me, this spurs me on even more to uphold the good name of my country and prove myself," said Sufi, who described his win as a "dream".
He is not looking back, despite a controversy that plagued him back in March.
Shortly after it came to light that 14-year-old Indonesian singer Tegarwas allegedly sexually harassed by his Singaporean manager Arif Dollah, Sufi came forward and accused the latter of sexually abusing him when he was just 13.
Mr Arif was then in a relationship with Madam Irma. The alleged abuse lasted about a year.
Of the incident, Sufi said: "It's a closed chapter to me now. I've never looked back and thought about it or allowed it to affect me."
Sufi is more focused on improving himself as a musician and being the best that he can be.
"I'm not sure about my game plan but I foresee a bright light in front of me. I pray and hope all will go smoothly and that I will make Singapore proud. I hope I shine bright like a diamond," he said.
His mother has even bigger dreams.
"I want him to be the next (local veteran musician) M. Nasir," she said.
'It'd be weird if he did not win'
He has been ready to take on bigger things for a long time.
That is what local singer and Akademi Fantasia (AF) 10 finalist Aisyah Aziz said of Sufie Rashid, also known as Sufi.
This is also the reason she was not surprised when Sufi ended up winning the latest season of AF.
Aisyah was one of AF's first Singaporean contestants in 2013 - the year AF opened its doors to hopefuls from Singapore - and finished in sixth place during that season.
She and Sufi are the only Singaporeans who have managed to crack the Top 10 so far.
She told TNP: "If he didn't win, it would have been weird. Compared to the other contestants, he has a lot of experience and exudes stage presence. He looks the most comfortable on stage."
The 21-year-old added that Sufi was one of the better contestants AF has seen and his impressive vocal range set him apart.
She shared the AF stage with Sufi during the semi-finals, performing Seluruh Cinta, a song by Malaysian singer Siti Nurhaliza and Indonesian singer Cakra Khan.
Sufi also looked to Aisyah, who is a rising star in Singapore and across the Causeway, for advice about the Malaysian and regional music industry.
She said: "What matters now is hard work, a positive attitude and the need to adapt quickly to the industry. Now that he has won, a lot of opportunities and shows will definitely come his way.
"If there's one thing to improve on, he needs to show soul in his performances. That is (first runner-up) Syamel's strength and something that Sufi can work on."
Aisyah has no doubts that Sufi will make it big in the music industry.
"He has legions of female fans who will support him. He is also very talented. As long as he's ready to work hard and adapt, he will succeed," she said.
Local fan 'ecstatic' about Sufi's win
Each time her friends or relatives went across the Causeway, Ms Norhayati Abdul Rahman would ask them to help her purchase a Malaysian pre-paid SIM card.
Otherwise, she would do it herself when she visited Johor Baru.
The reason? To vote for her favourite Akademi Fantasia (AF) contestant, Sufie Rashid, or Sufi.
She voted for him online daily throughout the competition and spent about RM85 ($29) voting for him via SMS.
The 43-year-old senior administrative assistant is such a big fan that she influenced her friends and family to support Sufi too.
On the night of the AF finals, she even held a mini screening party at home with them.
Naturally, she was ecstatic when her idol won - she screamed and jumped for joy when the results were announced.
"I felt that he has shown great improvement after joining SG Mania last year. He's also very humble, focused and consistent from Day 1 in AF. He can nail various genres," she said, adding that he won "fair and square".
She added: "I hope his career will blossom and that record companies will eye him from this point on."
Another fan, Ms Azlina Kassim, admitted she was shocked when it was announced that Sufi placed among the Top 2.
"It was good enough... but when he won, I was very happy. I'm all for supporting local artists. I hope he will be like what (popular local actor) Aaron Aziz is in the Malaysian entertainment industry," said the 50-year-old assistant manager.