Royal Pirates and Astro Star Quest are a match made in heaven.
The Korean-American rock band is the master of reinvention. From its early underground heavy metal rock origins to its current mainstream urban pop sound, Royal Pirates continues to evolve while remaining true to its music.
EXSY (Kim Soo-yoon), 27, plays the drums, while Moon (Kim Moon-chul), 28, is the lead vocalist and plays the guitar. James (Lee Joo-hyun), 28, used to play the bass guitar, but following an accident, he is now the programmer/keyboardist.
Likewise, Astro Star Quest has also been constantly evolving since its inception in 1996 and went on to become the most popular singing competition in Malaysia, as well as the best platform from which to launch one’s music career.
After 20 years, Astro is staying on top of its game with fresh ideas to transform the Chinese-language singing competition into a more exciting show.
For the 20th edition of Astro Star Quest, Astro decided to sweeten the deal by throwing in a bunch of overseas training stints for the show’s top 10 finalists, a first for the popular singing reality show.
First of all, the 10 contestants got to spend some time in Singapore training with Mandopop singer Ang Jun Yang. Then, they were divided into five groups of two, and sent to train and be mentored by international professional musicians in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
One of those mentors was Royal Pirates. The band was invited to not only coach two of the contestants, but also to serve as guest judge for the semi-finals and the grand finals of the competition.
One chilly autumn day in late October, Astro Star Quest 2016 contestants Timothy Tan Heng Jia, 20, and Pung Wai Yao, 24, found themselves in Seoul, South Korea to meet their new mentors.
Stepping into the dance studio to begin his training, Pung could hardly believe his luck, even when he was shaking the hands of the members of the Korean band.
“I never expected to meet any superstars in my life. But this competition not only allowed me to meet and interact with Royal Pirates, it also brought us to Korea to meet them,” Pung exclaimed.
It may be the first time Royal Pirates is coaching rookies for a singing competition, but the band was definitely well-prepared.
First, the trio analysed the boys’ past videos and live performances. Then, the members pointed out the contestants’ individual strengths and weaknesses, and followed that up by offering some sound advice.
To liven up the training sessions, they rigged the sound system to test the contestants’ ability to manage stressful situations during live performance. To increase performance dynamics, they even took Pung and Tan out for an unexpected busking session.
The boys were naturally excited when Royal Pirates suggested that they extend their training outdoors by doing a spot of busking on the streets of Hongdae, an area best known for its urban arts and indie music culture.
Tan found it very challenging, as it was his first time busking in front of so many people, while Pung felt proud of himself for making it through despite initial challenges. “After a song or two, I quickly adapted to the situation and began to enjoy singing in the street surrounded by the crowd around me,” he said.
Tan said there were all sorts of people cheering them on. “We had female students asking for our Facebook, Hong Kong tourists requesting Chinese songs, and there was even a guy who danced along with us during our busking session,” he added.
After his first taste of Korean-style training, Pung noted how different the entertainment culture was. “Compared to Korea, I think the entertainment industry in Malaysia is more flexible and more dependent on self-motivation in terms of individual development. Once, at the vocal training studio, I could hear people singing in the other room, and this girl was being instructed to repeatedly sing the same line of the same song over and over again for over half an hour. Tim and I were really surprised at how strict and serious the Koreans are,” he recalled.
Besides training with Royal Pirates, Pung and Tan also had to shoot a music video in South Korea.
EXSY thought it was quite unusual that they were making music videos so soon. “I was surprised to see that they already made full-on music videos. It’s pretty interesting to watch. Korean talent shows only make the music videos after the whole show is over. But in Malaysia, they are already making high quality videos during the show. I was very impressed with that,” he said during an interview when the band was in Malaysia to judge the Astro Star Quest semi-finals last month (the episode will air in mid-December).
Moon added: “I think it’s their way of turning a regular person into a star. They want to see what you would look like as a star, so they make a music video. That’s a little different from how it’s done in other countries. I also noticed that Malaysian talents have a natural pop element to their voices and the way they perform. That’s really hard to achieve, and I think that is really appealing.”
While Tan and Pung got to go to South Korea to train with Royal Pirates, their fellow Top 10 contestants were not left out either.
Steve Eer Xiao Hui, 21, and Eugene Wen Keng Soon, 26, got to spend some time in Taipei training with three Taiwanese singers – Eric Chou, Rachel Liang, and Princess Ai (Dai Ai Ling).
Four contestants were sent to Hong Kong. Aaron Lui Cheng Yew, 20, and Andrew Lim Yi Yang, 19, trained with Cantonese singer-songwriter Eric Kwok; while Wengdyy Ooi Wen Lih, 24, and Phoenix Chew Mei Chuin, 23, were mentored by hip-hop duo FAMA and Cantopop quartet C All Star.
Ooi also got an exclusive training session with Korean-Taiwanese singer Bii, a reward for winning a challenge in the first episode.
And last but not least, William Tan Kian Hong, 24, and Brian Chew Yi Bin, 19, went to Japan to be coached by Japanese dance group Egu Splosion.
For Royal Pirates, mentoring Pung and Tan in Seoul, then judging them during the semi-final round in Malaysia gave the band members lots of satisfaction. James described Pung and Tan as two very different types of potential stars – the former radiates purity and innocence, while the latter has charisma and style.
Moon said he was really proud to see Pung and Tan perform as he noticed the changes in them. “I could see that Pung and Tim really thought about all the comments that we gave them in that short time we had, and trained themselves. I was super proud. They have improved so much from the first time we saw them,” he said.
The Astro Star Quest 2016 grand final will be held at Desa ParkCity, Kuala Lumpur on Dec 31 at 8pm.
The show will see each of the top five finalists performing a 20-minute mini concert, with Royal Pirates, Bii, Eric Kwok and Astro Star Quest 2002 champion Nicholas Teo as judges.
Royal Pirates has also confirmed that it will perform at the show, together with Teo and Bii. The live show is open to the public with no tickets required.
Astro Star Quest airs on Astro Wah Lai Toi (Ch 311/HD Ch 310) every Saturday at 9pm. The final show on Dec 31 will air at 8pm.