“Wafiy is afraid of the dark!” dishes one Mouseketeer. “Faiz spends hours in the shower!” exclaims another. “The girls couldn’t stop crying on the last day of filming!” yet another reveals.
The Mouseketeers are spilling the beans on each other when asked about their experience living together during the filming of Club Mickey Mouse.
Just a few months ago, seven Malaysian youngsters from all walks of life came together to be a part of the Malaysian edition of the Mickey Mouse Club, a popular American variety programme that first went on air in the 1950s.
Malaysia’s very own Club Mickey Mouse comprises Head Mouseketeer Charis Ow, 26, and Mouseketeers Dheena Menon Jayadeep (Dheena), 13, Erissa Puteri Hashim (Erissa), 14, Ahmad Faiz Najib (Faiz), 15, Gabriel Noel Pountney (Gabriel), 16, Nur Alianatsha Hanafi (Natasya), 14, and Mohd Wafiy Ilhan Johan (Wafiy), 15.
Judging by the vibrant discussion about each other’s living habits during our interview, it’s clear the group has forged a strong bond.
“Staying together helped us create a strong bond. We’re always full of laughter when we’re with each other. And I think that comes through on camera,” Gabriel says.
Wafiy adds: “Within just two to three days of meeting each other for the first time, I felt like we’re a family already. The chemistry came immediately.”
Indeed, finding a group that had that chemistry was the first order of business for the producers of Club Mickey Mouse.
The Walt Disney Company South-East Asia vice president and general manager for media networks Amit Malhotra says a nationwide search for the Mouseketeers spanning a month-and-a-half was held back in May.
Hundreds showed up but only two Mouseketeers – Faiz and Natasya – were chosen through the open auditions while the remaining five were cast through talent agencies.
Naturally, prior to Club Mickey Mouse, these kids have been performing in one way or another from an early age. “I’ve been singing since I was five,” says Natasya. “My mum used to own a restaurant which had a stage and a karaoke set. I would always go up there and sing.”
Meanwhile, Gabriel has starred in commercials since he was only two! “I’ve acted in commercials for diapers and milk formulas but my first big job was two years ago, starring in a TV drama and telemovie,” he says.
Charis started singing on YouTube at 18 and her fanbase has been growing ever since.
“To be honest I didn’t think I was going to get the job. My manager told me about the opportunity but the age range (for Head Mouseketeer) was between 20 and 24. I’m 26. But they wanted me to try out anyway,” Charis says.
Amit is full of praise for Charis: “We needed to find someone who could lead the other Mouseketeers in a ‘big sister’ kind of way, to nurture them and be there for them. We felt that Charis fits this perfectly. She is a fantastic role model not only for the Mouseketeers but also for Malaysian kids.”
Natasya recalls the first round of auditions required her to sing, act, dance and host. “The audition was less than an hour. I sang my own original song, Biar Aku Pergi Sendiri, while playing the guitar.”
Two weeks later, shortlisted candidates were notified to attend a final callback, which confirmed the fate of the seven Mouseketeers.
Recorded in Bahasa Malaysia and English, the 13-episode Club Mickey Mouse will see the Mouseketeers singing, dancing, playing games and interviewing celebrity guests revolving around the week’s chosen theme.
As such, before filming, the Mouseketeers went through a five-day workshop to teach the kids a variety of skills, from projecting their voices to working the camera.
Despite having prior experience as a singer and actress, Erissa, who was finalist on the second season of (kids’ singing competition) Ceria Popstar, shares: “Even if you have talent and experience, you have to further sharpen it.”
Wafiy, who also has more experience under his belt as a contestant on Ceria Popstar, says the Mouseketeers are always helping each other out.
“I don’t say I know more than them. I learn from them and they learn from me. We’re a family,” he adds.
True enough, when filming began, one of the biggest challenges Faiz faced was dancing and hosting. “I’ve never hosted a TV show before. So when I had to host one of the segments, Wafiy told me I don’t have to memorise everything. I just need to understand the meaning of the script and improvise.”
Gabriel reflects on the difficulties of juggling multiple responsibilities: “Trying to host, act, sing and dance all at the same time, while looking natural, was tough. If you act too much, it doesn’t seem real. On Club Mickey Mouse, we’re not playing a character, we’re being ourselves.”
On top of all that, as Head Mouseketeer, Charis has an additional role to play – looking out for the younger Mouseketeers.
“I’m a friend to them 90% of the time and I’m stern with them the remaining 10%,” says the bubbly Charis. “When I’m serious, they would know. The kids were very professional.”
The process of equipping the cast and filming the show took about two months. While the Mouseketeers had to be away from school intermittently throughout that time, Dheena says being a student is still her priority.
“As most of the show was shot during the school holidays, I only missed a few days of school. We also got a lot of notice prior to filming so we could make arrangements with our teachers,” says Dheena who also harbours a career in medicine.
Wafiy, who is sitting for his PT3 (Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga) this year, says he studied in between scenes on set. “It all depends on yourself. If you’re lazy, even if you’re not shooting, you won’t study. Filming doesn’t disrupt my studies.”
The sacrifices the kids make will soon be worth it. The show will air across South-East Asia, and being fans of Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake – who all came from the Mickey Mouse Club – the kids all agree it’s an honour to be a part of the show that was a platform for some of the world’s biggest pop stars.
Faiz says: “My dad was a big fan of the Mickey Mouse Club back in the 1970s. He was really proud when he found out I would be one of the Mouseketeers.”
Get to know Malaysia's Mouseketeers
Charis (Head Mouseketeer)
From: Kuala Lumpur
Favourite Disney character: Mulan (Mulan) stepped out of her comfort zone and fought the war even though she’s a woman. I can relate to her because I went into (singing on) YouTube as my career even though my parents wanted me to be a doctor.
Favourite idol: Taeyeon from Girls Generation. Her voice is to die for.
Favourite Disney character: Woody (Toy Story 3) because he’s an understanding, rational leader to all his friends, and I look up to him. I want to be a leader someday too.
Favourite idol: I admire Shawn Mendes. He inspired me to be a professional singer.
Favourite Disney character: Elsa (Frozen) because I have a younger sister. And like Elsa and Anna, we used to fight a lot and then make up. (Elsa) inspired me to fight less and be a good big sister.
Favourite idol: Christina Aguilera started as a Mouseketeer and became a great singer. I want to be a superstar like her.
From: Negri Sembilan
Favourite Disney character: Merida (Brave) as she goes to the ends of the world to save her mum. I want to be loyal and brave like her.
Favourite idol: I love BTS. It’s a South Korean boyband who started out in the hip-hop genre and now they’ve branched out and they’retheir music is a mix of everything.
Favourite Disney character: Aladdin (Aladdin) mainly because he wasn’t your typical prince. He started out as an urchin from the streets. I loved how he built his way up to become a prince.
Favourite idol: I’ve been listening to Daft Punk for a long time. Their music is never the same, they can switch from sounding romantic to metal, or pop synth.
From: Kuala Lumpur
Favourite Disney character: Moana (Moana) because I admire her courage. She went beyond the reef to save her island.
Favourite idol: I was a fan of Charis even before I joined Club Mickey Mouse. So when I met her for the first time, I was speechless. She can sing, act and dance, and she’s really friendly and humble.
Favourite Disney character: I like Tarzan because he’s an outdoorsy person like me. I grew up in the kampung, climbing trees, playing in the mud and fishing.
Favourite idol: Charlie Puth because I like the fact that he started from the bottom and made his way to the top.
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Club Mickey Mouse premieres on Sept 15 at 1.30pm on Disney Channel (Astro Ch 615).