S'porean takes different track to global talent search title
She had been a track-and-field star for close to 10 years.
But with barely a few years of being in a vocal group during her time at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Miss Siti Nur' Ain Mohamed Firdous, together with Miss Salima Nadira Mafoot Moss Simon and Miss Sophie Soh, has won the championship title in the World Championships of Performing Arts (WCOPA).
The competition, the largest international talent search with 200 teams from 55 countries around the world, was held in Los Angeles, US, from July 11 to 20.
In 2009, Miss Siti Nur' Ain, 24, took her first step away from track and field by auditioning for the third season of Singapore Idol.
She failed to make it past the first stage.
But she did not give up hope and formed a vocal group called Sass with two friends.
This is the first time a Singaporean team has won a title in the 18 years of the competition, said Mr Sean Wong, the Team Singapore associate director for WCOPA.
Notable previous winners include Filipino singer Jed Madela, who signed on with Universal Records after winning the competition and had seven double-platinum albums.
The irony, though, was that Miss Siti Nur' Ain almost did not pursue her interest in singing.
When she made it to university, she had to make a decision between track and field, and singing.
She said: "I even got into junior college through Direct School Admission through track."
She had been in the top eight during the finals in the Nationals for track and field for the past 10 years, and won medals in inter-school competitions.
But singing beckoned. She said: "I had never publicly performed before, but there was some interest in singing. So Singapore Idol was the first time I tried something radical."
It took her half a year before she could tell her coach, who was also the coach for the NUS track and field team, that she was letting it go for singing.
"I was so scared to tell him. He had been my coach since secondary school."
The time came for her to tell him the truth when she had to perform her first concert at NUS with the school acapella group Resonance.
Miss Siti Nur' Ain, who is an assistant producer in a film production firm, said: "He was surprised, but not unhappy."
Sass was formed eight months ago after much thought by the girls who sang in Resonance for four years.
Miss Soh, 26, had been surfing the Internet when she saw the poster for WCOPA 2014.
After speaking to their mentor and vocal coach Jules Jumari, a former WCOPA contestant, the girls decided to go for it.
She said: "It wasn't about winning at all. We just wanted the experience and to meet new people."
Although the competition was tough, the girls made an effort to choreograph moves and revamp their costumes.
"I have some experience in dance, and I did try theatre for a while as well," said Miss Salima Nadira, 24.
The digital marketing executive then became the choreographer and manager for the group.
Miss Soh, a freelance vocal instructor and private tutor, said: "Ain took care of finance and costumes, while Salima did choreography and socialising. I was in charge of the administrative stuff."
The night before the finals the girls were engrossed in sewing jewellery and pinning badges onto their blazers.
"It was intense, the concentration we had on the costumes before the finals. Everything had to be great," said Miss Salima Nadira.
When it was announced that the winners were from Singapore, the girls said the moment felt surreal.
They performed a choreographed rendition of the 2006 hit by Christina Aguilera Candyman.
Miss Siti Nur' Ain said: "We just couldn't believe it. The cameras were focused on our faces - my friends took a photo of the webstream where my mouth was wide open when they made the announcement. They're not going to let me forget it."
"It wasn't about winning at all. We just wanted the experience and to meet new people."
- Miss Sophie Soh