It was only hours before the grand finale of reality singing competition Akademi Fantasia and 24-year-old finalist Sufi could barely sing.
“When we had our soundcheck and dress rehearsals the day before, everything was going so smooth. I was prepared,” he recalls in an interview.
“When I got to the venue at noon that day and tried to sing, nothing came out,” says Sufi, eyes wide with bewilderment behind his oversized glasses.
“I almost had no voice.”
For the uninitiated, Akademi Fantasia (AF) is one of the country’s most popular reality talent series which gave birth to popular local singers such as Mawi, Stacy, Hafiz and Hazama.
More than just a singing competition, the show educates and grooms its contestants, also known as “students”, throughout its 10-week broadcast.
“I cried for a while and I asked myself why I had to fall sick now of all those 10 weeks? Perhaps God was testing me,” says the Singaporean singer donning a white tee, a light jacket and a cap turned backwards.
Down with a high fever (“I still remember it was 39°C,” he says), a shivering Sufi soldiered on and performed the vocally-demanding Kisah Dua Muka, an original, and Andaiku Bercinta Lagi made popular by Mojo.
“Towards the end of the second song, there was a break in the music for a few seconds (before he had to take on a high note) and I was wondering if I should go for that crazy note,” recounts Sufi. He did and nailed the note, drawing roaring applause from the audience.
“That was pure luck,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief. “Just pure luck.”
With 41.3% of the votes (runner-up Syamel scored 21.3%), Sufi was named winner of AF Season 12 – a first for a Singaporean. “I thought it was almost impossible. It has never been done before,” he describes the win.
Sufie Rashid – or simply, Sufi – first fell in love with music when he picked up the guitar at 15. “It became so addictive I started learning other musical instruments like piano and drums,” says the singer who credits Aerosmith and Queen as his earliest influences.
But Sufi shelved his passion, furthering his studies in biotechnology, and later worked in a bank for a year, until he started competing in a number of reality talent shows including SGMania where he placed second.
Although he never came out tops in any of them, the experience was enough to encourage him to pursue singing professionally. His self-penned Tiada Pengganti won Best Singapore Song at the Anugerah Planet Muzik last year.
“My friend Aisyah joined AF in 2013. We used to compete together on other shows. After her stint with AF, I saw a lot of differences in her. Her voice became something else. So I thought if I could better myself, why not?” the singer explains joining AF, his fourth reality singing competition.
Sufi says he doesn’t think he has an advantage over other AF contestants as the technical aspects of what goes on in a performance is different in Singapore compared to Malaysia: “There are only a few things I can apply based on my experience like my stage presence or things like holding the mic. Coming here, it’s a total fresh start for me.”
Sufi was a frontrunner from the start, delivering one solid performance after another, especially his turn on Michael Jackson’s Black Or White. “It was the first time in my whole life I danced and sang. I wasn’t concerned about my singing. It was fun. I was performing,” he recalls with fondness.
Another performance that definitely had people talking was Sufi’s rendition of Search’s Mentari Merah Di Ufuk Timur. Judge Rozita Che Wan commented his performance was too “soft” for the show’s rock-themed episode. AF principal Edry Abdul Halim disagreed, and in turn voiced his dissatisfaction of the actress’ comment. Disappointed, Rozita later pulled out from the show.
“She was just doing her job. She has her own opinions. I don’t blame her. Whatever that was happening between her and Edry, I’m not really involved,” he says.
Sufi shares that being on the show meant more than just the glitz and glam of getting to perform on the AF stage. From Mondays to Thursdays, the students leave around 7am for classes, which includes lessons on vocal techniques, dance and stage presence, and get back around 10pm, while Fridays and Saturdays are packed with rehearsals for the weekly concert which takes place on Sundays.
“But no matter how tired Iwas, I didn’t complain because I enjoyed it,” he enthuses.
On top of that, the students were cut off from the rest of the world, doing away with all electronic devices throughout the entire duration of the competition.
Sufi, who bunked together with three other contestants, says the experience definitely brought them closer. “I think I gave them bad ‘feng shui’ because those who shared the room with me, Openg, Wili and Iqwan, got eliminated,” he adds with a laugh.
To pass the time, the singing hopefuls naturally held impromptu jam sessions. “We got so many complaints from the neighbours because we sang so loud, but there was nothing else we could do,” he shares.
A month has passed since the win and Sufi has been busy performing and giving interviews to promote his current single, Kisah Dua Muka. It may be still a while before fans can expect an album, but the singer – who hopes to explore the pop-rock genre – assures he is working on new material.
Sufi now stays with a relative in Kuala Lumpur and returns to Singapore when he has free time. He says he doesn’t foresee much of a challenge venturing into the Malaysian market, as both countries are culturally similar.
“In Singapore, baju kurung refers to both the ladies and men’s traditional attire. I didn’t know that, for men, they call it baju Melayu in Malaysia,” Sufi notes a minor difference he spotted.
The singer also shares his experience on working in Malaysia’s music industry so far: “The musicians I’ve worked with (here) such as Edry are a bunch of perfectionists who take the music business seriously. They know what the community wants.”
The rising artiste is now experiencing his first taste of fame, whether it’s fans pulling at his jacket, wanting a selfie or asking for his number. This newfound popularity also inevitably means Sufi’s life is being seen through a magnifying glass.
There have been media reports regarding the police report filed by the singer early this year alleging that his ex-stepfather Arif Dollah had sexually abused him more than 10 years ago.
Is he worried of starting his career on a controversial note?
“I’m not afraid it will affect my career. If you’re not guilty, why must you be afraid about anything? I lead my own life as per normal. I enjoy what I’m doing now; I’ve been given a lot of opportunities,” he says, unperturbed.
Over the years, many AF winners have gone on to carve a name for themselves in the industry but quite a few have also fallen through the cracks. Regardless, Sufi is optimistic. “People get excited because I won AF, but then what’s after that? I’m making plans for myself. I’m composing my own songs, I’m improving myself and I’m mixing around with good musicians,” he says.
“Whether or not I become one of those who don’t make it, I’m not sure, but I have confidence and I will strive for the best.”
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