Getai star Hao Hao reveals why he stopped cross-dressing on stage

6 November 2013 / 2 years 11 months ago

Waving their LED-light signs and handmade posters with gusto, a group of fans scream their idol's name repeatedly.

It is behaviour typical of teenage girls at South Korean pop concerts - except that these fans are "aunties" in their 50s and 60s, and their idol is a getai performer.

The object of their affection is 32-year-old Hao Hao, the Singapore-based Taiwanese getai singer-host who is beloved as much for his lavish stage costumes as his ability to sing in both male and female voices, reported The Straits Times.

The chatty bachelor, whose real name is Cheng Shih-wen, admits to Life! in an interview this week that he "never expected" this level of fanaticism, especially not in the getai world.

He says in Mandarin: "My fans may be older but they definitely do not lose out to teenagers at concerts."

He confesses to being "shocked" by his auntie-killer appeal. He muses: "I like to talk to older folks and I spend time chatting with them and I'll ask how they are. Maybe they like that about me. They treat me like a son or a grandson."

One of his superfans is Madam Lily Seah, 51, a housewife who has been following him since he came to Singapore in 2007. She is a member of his fan club, whose Facebook page has more than 900 "Likes".

She tries to attend all his shows, regularly checking his Facebook page for his performance schedule. While speaking to this reporter on Thursday evening, she was on the train, on her way to one of his shows.

Like other popular getai performers, Hao Hao is hired to put on shows throughout the year and not just during the Hungry Ghost Month. They include public charity-related events at temples as well as private functions.

Madam Seah, who is married with three children in their 20s, says: "I like Hao Hao not just for his costumes and his singing talent but also because he is a good guy. He always tells older folks to walk carefully and I always see him holding on to them when they walk."

She admits sheepishly that she screams for him but "only on special occasions", such as at the annual Shin Min Daily News-Wanbao Getai Awards 2013 held in September, where he won for Most Popular Male Singer and Best Costume. She says, after a pause: "I don't only scream, I blow my whistle too."

At the same awards event, Hao Hao made headlines when he was presented with a $10,000 money garland made out of $1,000 notes by an unnamed supporter from the property industry.

He often receives red packets from fans after his gigs but declines to say how many he gets. Each hongbao can contain sums ranging from $2 to $100.

Madam Seah claims credit for coming up with the idea of making LED signs of Hao Hao's name, which was adapted from a stage name given by a fortune- teller in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

She recalls: "I was at an autograph session in June for the Channel 8 TV drama I'm In Charge, which Hao Hao had a role in.

"At the session, I saw that actor Elvin Ng's fans had these LED lights but I didn't. So I told Hao Hao fans that we should also get them made."

The squealing and fancy lights are just one side to the story of this fandom.

Many auntie fans often whip out their aprons too, preparing home-made dishes for their idol.

Madam Seah says she cooks for him on a regular basis, for "about eight out of 10 shows" that she attends.

"I'm worried that he won't eat well or he's not eating right. I want to give him food to make sure that he's okay. It's just my way of showing my support."

Hao Hao tells SundayLife! that he often receives "a whole table" of homecooked and store-bought food after every performance, ranging from soup to fried beehoon to dessert.

He says matter-of-factly: "You shouldn't ask me what type of food I have received. You should ask me what I haven't received yet."

He adds that he feels "very paiseh" (Hokkien for embarrassed) about the food treats.

"Many of the older fans don't have a job and I really don't want them to spend money to do this for me. But if I don't accept the food, they won't like it. Some of them even demand that I eat it in front of them," he says.

Auntie groupies also often throw themselves at him, showering him with hugs and kisses.

Hao Hao says with a chuckle: "They treat me like their son or grandson, so it's fine. But sometimes, when a fan kisses me on the cheek, I can tell that other fans don't like it and they pretend to be jealous."

Getai organiser Peter Loh, 62, who has been organising getai shows here for 43 years, says: "I've never seen fans get so excited over a getai performer like they do over Hao Hao."

Hao Hao's star appeal comes at a price.

Mr Loh says the performer charges $1,200 to $1,500 to host a three-hour show during the Hungry Ghost Month, which is about $300 to $500 more than other performers.

Hao Hao, who declines to reveal how much he makes a month, is booked out daily during the Hungry Ghost Month, performing at least one show a night. On regular days, he typically gets at least three to four bookings a week. The longest he has gone without putting on a show is one week and that, he says, is "quite rare".

Mr Loh says: "Fans love Hao Hao for his singing and when he hosts, he can really banter well, so he has good stage presence too. His elaborate costumes are another highlight."

The getai star says he has almost 500 costumes, all of which he either designed himself or with input from his tailors in Malaysia and Taiwan. Each costume, usually a bejewelled design with intricate details, can cost between $900 and $2,000, and is rarely recycled.

The costumes take up two bedrooms in his five-room HDB flat.

He does not work with the tailors and designers here as the few who make getai costumes are hired by other getai performers. "I want my costumes to be different, to stand out."

"I want something that will wow audiences. Besides the musical content, the visual spectacle also makes up part of the fun when watching getai."

Still, it is probably his unique singing ability - he can do both male and female voices - that is his biggest selling point.

He used to be known for cross-dressing as well, but stopped after getting in trouble for dressing up as Marilyn Monroe and flashing a G-string underneath his skirt at a show in late 2009. He was summoned to a police station for breaching getai rules, including not having a permit to cross-dress, and also being indecently dressed. He was let off with a warning.

"These days, I make my look more androgynous. I can have a big skirt below but still look very 'man' on top. I am willing to cross-dress, but only if the show organisers have applied for a permit."

Ms Katherine Lee, 52, says she enjoys his performances, whether he is singing as a man or woman.

"He is very handsome as a guy but he is also very pretty when he cross-dresses as a girl. When he performs, he has this amazing ability to switch between both guy and girl voices," says the office administration executive, who is also a member of his fan club.

Taipei-born Hao Hao, who has been singing since he was 13, came to Singapore in 2007 on a two-year performance contract with NTUC Club - NTUC's lifestyle arm that includes clubhouses and resorts - where he would put on live performances.

In early 2008, on a day off, he performed at a getai show and did such a good job that he was called back to perform the next day. Soon after, the getai bookings started streaming in.

An only child, he lives here alone while his housewife mother, 58, lives in Taipei. His father, a retired soldier, died of an illness in 2004.

His mother visits him and he also goes back to Taiwan whenever he can. He says that he always goes home for Chinese New Year even though he can command three times his show fee if he stays in Singapore.

His mother has been asking him when he would settle down and get married.

With a laugh, he says: "I'm really busy so I haven't had time for a girlfriend. Anyway, I think it's not good for a girl to be my girlfriend.

"My first priority in life is my mother. After that comes my career. The girl would come in only at number three."

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