The Straits Times,
Jul 31 2014
Armed with a strong set of pipes and a closet full of military-style blazers, all-girl vocal group SASS sang their way to the top of an international talent competition two weeks ago.
The Singaporean trio - comprising Sophie Soh, 26, Salima Nadira Mafoot Moss Simon, 24, and Siti Nur'Ain Binte Mohamed Firdous, 24 - beat some 200 groups from 55 countries and were crowned Vocal Group of the World at the annual World Championship of Performing Arts (WCOPA) in Los Angeles, United States.
This is the biggest prize for a vocal group in the competition, which is the largest international talent search, reports The Straits Times.
Notable previous winners include Filipino singer Jed Madela, who immediately signed on with record label Universal Records and went on to launch seven double-platinum albums, as well as Australian dancer Michael Dameski, who had the titular role in the Australian production of the musical Billy Elliot from 2008 to 2010.
It is also the furthest a Singaporean team has gone in the competition's 18-year history.
So unexpected was their win - for a crisp, choreographed rendition of Christina Aguilera's 2006 hit Candyman - that when their name was announced, the trio's "jaws dropped in the ugliest way possible - on live TV", says Salima.
Ain is quick to add: "It's not that we thought we were bad, but we were just so in awe of the rest." After all, the group was formed only seven months ago after talking about doing so "for the longest time" since meeting at Resonance, an a cappella group at the National University of Singapore, where they were all studying, says Salima.
All three had previous singing experience. Soh and Ain auditioned for Singapore Idol 3, and Soh and Salima were in several music groups as well.
But the groups did not cater to their multi-genre cravings for radio-friendly hits, rap and R&B. And so SASS - an acronym for the singers' initials - was born.
After Soh found out that some friends were signing up for WCOPA online in January, the group jumped at the opportunity to test their abilities as a group.
To qualify for the finals, they had to go through several local auditions, including an online one and two live rounds, and another in Los Angeles.
In March, they embarked on a regimen of thrice-weekly vocal and dance practices, at least two to three hours each time, and prepared five songs for the competition, including one original piece.
When they finally reached Los Angeles two weeks ago, the trio had to overcome sore throats, get through a one-day dance and vocal bootcamp open to all contestants, and two fast-and-furious rounds of elimination to make it to the final three.
Each team had 60 seconds to perform in front of a panel of judges, made up of industry leaders. It was taxing, but as their mentor, former WCOPA contestant and singer-host Jules Jumari, puts it: "For them, harmonies are second nature."
The trio's dream is to eventually "go full-time" as singers and let their music support them, says Ain, an assistant producer at a local television production house. Salima is a digital marketer for a publishing company, while Soh is a freelance vocal instructor and private tutor.
Soh, who is an economics graduate, says: "My parents thought I'd end up in a bank, but if you're working in an office, you can't just suddenly run off to write a song when the urge hits you." SASS plan to release an album later this year.
The trio's manager, Mr Sean Wong, who is also WCOPA's associate director for Singapore, says: "We will chart their career path here, but we want them to make it in the US first. They have to understand the international standard, then learn to breach it."
The trio acknowledge that the road ahead is tough. But if anything, their win has convinced their families that they are on the right track. Previously, Ain's mother, a civil servant, had raised concerns about the number of hours her daughter was spending on her music.
But when it came to the WCOPA, Ain says: "My mum was the only one watching the live stream of the competition online at 10am and when she saw that we won, she ran into the room and woke my siblings up."
SASS are hoping to get more opportunities to showcase their talents, which they say include songwriting, beatboxing and dancing.
"We want to be the singing equivalent of role models for women, as far as possible," says Soh, the eldest of three daughters in her family. As Salima points out with a wry smile: "I mean, how many vocal bands do you know that are like us?"