Anugerah 2011 Grand Finals Review…

(Graphics poster courtesy of Mediacorp Suria)

Anugerah 2011 came to an end this past Tuesday night, amidst feelings of general discontent with the competition as a whole and its direction, from the masses. We have heard and we have read how the public had commented about the performance levels, lacklustre displays, potentials or lack thereof of each contestant and the overall quality of the competition on various online platforms notably Facebook and Twitter. Myself, not withstanding, had also voiced my thoughts and what I have been feeling on a weekly basis, culminating in those comments I made in Berita Minggu, two Sundays ago. Truth be told, if vocal abilities were the only prerequisites and being the traditionalist that I am, discounting physical appearances and marketability factors, then Shalyza Rosly (Shalyza), Baby Sulastri and Siti Norulhuda (Norul) would have been my personal top picks who should have graced the Grand Finals.

Guest-of-honour Mr. S Iswaran enjoying the night’s proceedings…

For the first time in Anugerah’s history, we saw an all-female affair in the Grand Finals, a fair reflection of how the competition this year had progressed with the male contestants sorely lagging in many aspects, though it has to be said that I would not mind seeing Ace get his shot at stardom had he progressed till the end, by virtue of his gradual improvements weekly. The two-hour grand finale this year was graced by Mr S Iswaran, Minister from the Prime Minister’s Office, 2nd Minister for Home Affairs and 2nd Minister for Trade and Industry, a welcomed return after also gracing the 2007 Grand Finals edition.  All the three finalists walked away with MediaCorp Artiste Management contracts, recording contracts with Luncai Emas, R Records & Putrivision Empire, as well as holiday packages with Prestige Tours and Travel.

Some of the guest artistes and eliminated contestants of Anugerah 2011 

The champion also walked away with $10,000 cash and the opportunity to work with the legendary and highly respected singer-songwriter-composer-producer and Managing Director of Luncai Emas Sdn Bhd, Dato’ M Nasir, who was also one of the three guest judges of the night. Reshmonu, another one of the guest judges, is a singer-songwriter from Malaysia and the founder of record label, R Records. He will be producing the single for the 1st runner up, while the 2nd runner-up will be releasing her single with Putrivision Empire.  The night saw Reshmonu performed his hit single “Oh Anok Anok“, with Anugerah 2007 and 2009 Champions Aliff Aziz and Sarah Aqilah. There were also subsidiary awards for challenges in choreography (won by Epul), hosting (Norul), media (Shikin) and lyrics-writing (Rahayu Ridwan) throughout the course of the competition. These are challenges that the top 12 contestants had participated in. Winners of each challenge received a trophy.

Our resident hosts welcoming us to the show for a final time this season…

Observing the semi-final round, my personal picks who should have graced the Grand Finals would have been Shikin, Ace and Baby Sulastri by virtue of who performed better during that round. But of course that is not the name of the game, as general voters had their say to go along with the judges’ judging criterias. What the judging criterias are till this day, are still a mystery to me, but I believe looks and marketability factors are part of them, like it or not, for those who have a vested interest in these kind of competitions. Though traditionalists like myself would frown upon the looks above talents factor, on the flipside of it, you cannot deny that you need a looker to keep your interest on the google box going if you’re watching a particular programme. Or for the fact that looks sell in the industry, be it in endorsement deals or clinching coveted roles. Harsh as it may sound, but that’s the reality of the entertainment world. Just look at what’s happening in the West or in Korea where artistes are clamouring to look better by going under the knife, for popularity’s sake.

I thought the girls looked stunning in their outfit…

I know I have been harsh with my comments and reviews throughout the eleven weeks of competition. But I still approached the Grand Finals with a clear mind and starting everything on a clean slate. Well that has always been my approach in every episode. If I did not adopt it, I would not have attended the penultimate episode and just watched it from the comfort of home. Deep down, I still held on to the belief that one, if not all three finalists, would justify their rightful places and make it a truly grand final. My hopes were slightly raised when I saw encouraging words on Facebook by people who have been working closely with the finalists, to give them their opportunity to shine and let them do their thing on the night for they have been working hard for the past fortnight. Though I did not expect to be floored, my only hope was that the night would not end up as a total disappointment or an anti-climax. This is the grand finals afterall and that certain standards need to be met, since these are supposed to be the creme de la creme of the competition.

The show began with all three finalists singing the theme song “Anugerahku Gemilang” along with 2009 winner Sarah Aqilah. While I have to applaud all three of them for a rousing start, I only liked the first and the last part of their performance. They started off well but perhaps due to jitters and the pressure weighing upon them, all three seemed to have gone off-key in between. I did not exactly get to hear them going off-key clearly that night, as their voices were drowned by the cacophony of noise by the audience. Listening to them a second time at home brought out the negative part of their performance clearly. I felt the highest note in the song need not have to be done as none of them have showed their prowess in that particular aspect so far in the competition. They should have just stuck to their comfort zones as they were not judged on that performance. Still I thought they did quite ok overall and felt their positive energies, leading to a feeling of confidence that the rest of the night would not be so much of a disappointment as I had initially expected it to be, such is the pessimist that I am.

Round One – Finalist’s Song Choice

By virtue of being code number “1”, Shikin kick started things off with Jaclyn Victor‘s “Tiada Lagi Indah“, a song that needed her to control her vocals well and hit the high notes at the right moments. I agreed with judge Eddy Ali when he said she started off slowly but finished the song quite well. She sounded a bit bland in the beginning and went off-key slightly as she entered the chorus. But I simply loved her ending, so much so that for the first time in the competition, my hairs finally stood. Regular readers of this blog would note that I always use that as a gauge on whether a singer would impress me or not. By the end of the song, my goosebumps were clearly seen. For that I have to thank Shikin for making me forget momentarily of how disappointing and poor the standard of competition had been so far.

Erlina was up next performing “Takkan Pisah“, a song made famous by Eren of Kangen Band. While the song is beautiful, I could not help but feel that it was a wrong song choice, for the fact that the song was not challenging enough and not testing Erlina‘s vocals to the maximum. Still when she had it quite easy, Erlina did not quite performed to expectations. As had been the norm in the competition, her low notes were found wanting and she sounded as though she was shivering from the experience of gracing the final stage. She was pitchy almost throughout the song and it bothered yours truly so much that I thought, one of the earlier eliminated contestants would have done much better had they progressed and had their voters supported them well enough.

Rahayu Ridwan was next and she was another who had something to prove to the audience and viewers at home that she deserved to be in the Grand Finals over someone as vocally-accomplished as Baby Sulastri. Though she was not as bad as Erlina‘s earlier performance, it was not as controlled as Shikin‘s. I detected quite a few loose notes and parts that were pitchy when she performed Salma of Mentor 5 fame’s “Aku Permata“. However, to her credit, there was a degree of maturity in Rahayu‘s performance, in that she seemed to have slowly mastered the art of understanding the song that she sang and expressing all her emotions into it. Still, I was not entirely convinced even though I know and I heard that she was the favourite to win that night. The first round to me was won by Shikin.

Round Two – Group Performance

This was supposed to be the performance that should have salvaged Erlina from the brink of obscurity from this competition and also for the fact that she seems to be more at ease whenever she performs in a group. Somehow this performance was remembered more for their nifty footwork than their vocal prowess and this was very much reflected from the comments made by judges Ann Hussein and Reshmonu. I dunno if it was the song choice, or jitters, or having to balance their dance steps and singing, but it did not quite work out for me. Of course credit should be given for their dance moves but the basis of this competition is singing afterall. It was ordinary by standards and I was surprised that at this stage, Shikin who is considered more accomplished vocally as compared to the other two, could make the cardinal mistake of going off-key. In terms of showmanship, Rahayu won this segment hands down but like what Ann Hussein and Reshmonu had said, they would prefer to hear her sing, diplomatic but yet cryptic in their assessments.

Round Three – Lyrics Writing Challenge

This whole competition saw the contestants being put under extra pressure having to go through various challenges like hosting, choreography and facing the media. The most daunting task was saved for the Grand FinalsLyrics Writing. The three finalists were given only three hours during the recorded boot camp programme to come up with the lyrics to the melody composed by local musician Mansor Mohd. Being novices in the industry and raw to such a challenge, I did not expect much from them as I personally felt it was not fair to burden them with this sort of obstacle, without going through the basic foundations beforehand. There is only so much they can learn within those precious minutes during the boot camp and having to listen to the melody and putting them into words. But I’m sure the experience of learning from respected lyricist and guest judge Hartinah Ahmad was one that the finalists savoured and would put to good use in future.

As I was not expecting much from this segment, what I was looking out for was who would give a better account of themselves in terms of expressing their feelings into the song and how the lyrics would connect with the audience. Whilst Shikin (“Indahnya Kisah Kita“) and Erlina (“Perasaanku“) chose a more upbeat approach with the themes of “friendship” and “teenage love” respectively, Rahayu (“Pesan Rindu Buat Ibu“) stuck to a more sombre mood with “mother” as her inspiration. I dunno about you, but I felt that the lyrics to Shikin and Erlina‘s songs seemed like they were left hanging in the air with no proper continuity and in judge Sheikh Haikel‘s words, “phrasing”, which were left wanting. I also did not feel as though their songs were telling the audience a story.

Rahayu on the other hand, I thought came to the fore this time and made me forget her performances in the previous two rounds. Something special about her song was that the tempo and melody were slightly different and downbeat as compared to Shikin and Erlina‘s. I didn’t know they could change the tempo of the song, as I thought that everyone was given a standard template to sing from. Though Rahayu‘s low notes were still suspect, credit should be given to her for her attempt at lyrics writing. Not only did I feel a certain connection to her song, I felt the genuine sincerity that she put into her effort and that translated into her giving off an emotional performance. This was the start of her redemption for the night.

Round Four – Singing With Mentor

This particular segment has been quite a mainstay in recent years. The last edition in 2009 had the finalists singing with established singers like Nana, Iskandar Ismail (Eiss), Maman (Teacher’s Pet) and Azyza, whereas this year, the finalists were required to team up with those who have extensive backgrounds and experiences in music composition as well as in album production. The mentors this year were singer / producer Jaliboy, Razak (Ajaq) Bajuri who was a bassist with the uber-popular 90s group, SLAM, and Mayuni Omar, no stranger to local music lovers for his hit compositions, most notably Hazrul Nizam‘s “Kaulah Segalanya” and Nurun Nuwarrah‘s “Kau Ingin Ku Miliki“. The finalists were tasked to sing with or being accompanied by their respective mentors.

Shikin got things underway with Jaliboy when they performed “Kalau Berpacaran“, one of the current hits on our local airwaves and Anugerah Planet Muzik 2011 nominee for Best Vocal (New Duo / Group) and Best Malaysian Song. Though I love the original version immensely, this new arrangement did not go down too well with my tastebuds. It was rearranged to make it into a rockish song but there was nothing rockish about the performance other than the melody. Shikin I felt was playing second fiddle to Jaliboy instead of the other way around. I dunno what happened to Shikin, but this song certainly did not suit her at all judging by the fact that her voice cracked on quite a few instances during the song, especially when she tried hitting the high notes.

Erlina was up next with Rossa‘s “Ku Tetap Menunggu“, accompanied by Ajaq. I finally got to see the positive aspect of Erlina‘s performance in this round, but it was a little too late to have any bearings in the minds of the judges. Though she did not do much wrong and gave her best performance of the night, she still kept to her comfort zone and sang a song which did not challenge her vocals at all. I believe this kind of song is not competition-material and only retained a certain degree of feel-good factor to those who listened to it. It was too safe, when at this stage, you are supposed to wow the judges and audience watching. I thought at this point, Erlina‘s spot as the one in third place was finally sealed and it did not help when earlier we saw how the public votes were not enough for her to mount a serious challenge.

I said that the earlier round for Rahayu was the start of her redemption for the night. If that was her redemption, this performance, singing Radja‘s “Takkan Melupakanmu” accompanied by Mayuni Omar was more or less the signal that showed she was about to walk away as the champion in this year’s competition. Rahayu maintained her consistency at understanding what she was singing and putting all her emotions into it. She was also consistent at maintaining eye contact with her accompanying mentor on the piano even when she was drifting away from him. I felt that of the three finalists, Rahayu was the most fortunate to have Mayuni Omar as her mentor, as his strictness would have done wonders to her composure, showmanship and performance as a whole and it certainly showed. Finally saw the aura of a star in her, even though her singing still did not resonate in my head.

Round 5 – Jury / Producer’s Choice

I was inclined to switch off by the time this round came about, as I felt anything they do henceforth would not hold much bearing on the results. Scheming through my Twitter timeline, as well as taking in the atmosphere at the Mediacorp TV Theatre, it was clear in the air that Rahayu was about to be crowned champion. This was more or less confirmed when I saw the latest public vote standings, as at this point, Rahayu was merely lagging Shikin behind by about 4%. Taking in the judges’ assessments of the finalists so far, and what we would get would still be a win, unless Shikin‘s supporters worked harder by voting more for her. Still, I went through the motions and observed what the three girls had in store for the audience and viewers at home.

Shikin performed a classic hit “Cahaya” (anyone out there knows the original singer??? Is it Khatijah Ibrahim???) with a cabaret-styled arrangement. Deep down I was hoping for her to up her performance as the only one that stuck in my head was her very first one. But it was a little too much to ask for. There was nothing special about Shikin‘s performance here as surprisingly her low notes were found wanting. The dancer in her at least made up for it and saved this segment for her, but I was pretty convinced that Shikin would be the first runner-up.

The first thought that flashed across my mind when host Fauzie Laily announced that Erlina was about to sing Sherina Munaf‘s “Pergilah Kau” was, another safe song for her. Still I do not understand why when given a safe song, Erlina contrived to make things difficult for herself by not giving off a better performance than the last or at least maintaining that same level. I wondered if she had given up the competition by then and thought that no matter what she did, it would not matter at all. The whole performance was pitchy at best. A pity really as it only enhanced the feeling that she would come in third place.

Melly Goeslaw‘s “Risau” was the jury / producer’s choice for Rahayu to perform. What more can I say about her performance other than the fact that she has somewhat mastered the ability to put forth her emotions into a song and expressing them with such intensity that it momentarily makes one forget that her singing still needs lots of improvement to be worked upon in terms of pitching and other technicalities. Though I know most people who were watching have not heard of the song, yours truly included, at least she made the effort to tell the story of the song through her expressions and emotions. What was telling was her focus and this reminded me of what Ajai said about her performance during the Wildcard Round, that she was focused, she put her emotions into the song and what we had was a singer.

Anugerah 2011 Recap

Rahayu getting emotional when her name was announced the winner of Anugerah 2011

By the fourth round, it was no longer a mystery as to who would walk away as champion of this year’s Anugerah competition. Rahayu might not be the winner in some people’s hearts or the purists for that matter. She is also not the most vocally-accomplished in this year’s cohort, but she did the best out of what she possessed, and that is the ability to inject emotions and sincerity in her delivery, something which was sorely lacking in most of the contestants this year. Based on my observations and my approach to the competition, that is those who performed on the night deserved to go through, I thought Rahayu was the one who displayed more hunger and will to win as compared to the other finalists, even though Shikin was my favourite to win.

Sarah Aqilah was tasked to handover her mantle to the new winner…

The challenge for Rahayu now is to work on her singing and I’m sure a lot of people would agree that she has some way to go when compared to her predecessors who have won before her. No doubt her commercial value is her plus point, but that needs to be substantiated with what she has been introduced into the industry for – singing. My hope for her is that she would not disappear like past winners before 2005. Though I am not entirely impressed by her singing, I certainly do not begrudge her on winning as I personally felt she did better than Shikin and Erlina on the night. The song dedication to her mother was one that tugged the heartstrings and one that brought out the best in her, which throughout the competition, I did not see. I’m not ashamed to say I was slightly moved by her delivery on that song, as I felt the love and sincerity she put into it.

A very pleasant performance by Sarah & Aliff Aziz singing “Kalau Cinta

However looking at the bigger picture, the whole competition was a major disappointment and to readdress what I had mentioned before that this is the worst in its edition. The fault does not lie solely on the contestants and I feel it is extremely unfair for them to shoulder this blame alone or the bulk of it. The fans and supporters who voted relentlessly week in and out should shoulder a major part of it as they were the ones who had the power to vote, or did not do it for the other contestants who were much better than those who had progressed. A case in point was the Wildcard Round. So many of the better ones had to go through the ordeal and mental torture of that round just to prove themselves all over again, that they deserved to progress when their earlier rounds have showed us their true capabilities.

An energetic performance by Reshmonu with his hit “Oh Anok Anok“… 

I read comments from my Twitter timeline that guest judge Dato’ M. Nasir was being haughty and arrogant with his assessments. I beg to differ. I think he was trying to be very diplomatic and not kill the confidence of the finalists. How else can I explain his hemming and hawing during the first round, trying to find the right words to express himself nicely, and when he commented on Erlina‘s singing in the third round saying, “You are here because there is something good about you…“??? I certainly think he was using reverse psychology to express his disappointment and boredom at the quality on display. Just ask any body language teachers out there and they will tell you that when a person speaks with his hands resting on his cheeks and shrugging, it shows his complete boredom on what he’s observing, and can I blame him???

Ace and Baby Sulastri performing the first verse of “Bintang Yang Bersinar“…

Certainly not, since he is the one who is supposed to produce an album for the winner. Definitely he was not impressed with what he had seen and it was only the first round and we all know that first impressions last. Reshmonu was another one who was not impressed entirely but at least he was tactful enough to bring out other positive points in the finalists. As for our resident judges, I can safely say that having been on the journey with the contestants, it was just not right for them to slate the finalists on their grandest stage, as this might affect the public votes swinging against or for them. Any negative comments against them would surely result in sympathetic votes for them. We saw how this year’s competition have shown that the voters are irresponsible and this was what happened when they contributed to such a poor competition for their blind faith on some of their favourite contestants.

They were followed by Epul and Shalyza

Looking at the smses that appeared during the programme as well as comments made online by those who followed the competition, also highlighted and questioned how come the better ones were eliminated. The answer was in the hands of the public who voted. Nothing the producers or the resident judges could do to save the better ones when they are being audited by professional auditors. I also personally feel that it is not fair to Shahridzuan Selamat and Zaharian Osman who had composed the lyrics to the theme song, which till this day is still stuck in my head for its catchiness. The quality of the competition and how it panned out did not lend credence to the lyrics of the song which said, “Anugerahku nan gemilang, Anugerahku nan terbilang…” It felt more like “Anugerah kurang gemilang, Anugerah kurang terbilang…” as was stated by someone on Twitter.

The Top 12 performing “Aku Bukan Superstar“…

Anyway, the competition is over. Whatever negativities that was brought up by the public should be taken into consideration for the next edition, whenever that will be. The system should be set such that we do not allow our good talents to fall by the wayside and this can only be done when the public votes are limited to a certain percentage or scrapped once and for all. Only with that, can we then perhaps hear more truthful comments by the judges and not diplomatic ones. I think the one who was very consistent, upfront, blunt and honest was Rilla Melati. The judges, resident and guests, no matter how much I love some of them, either need to change or should learn to brush up on their usage of the Malay language. We want to produce contestants who speak good Malay, we should also have judges who have that capability as well and not struggle to find the right words to use whenever the cameras start to pan on them.

Rahayu singing “Aku Permata” once again after her coronation…

The various challenges introduced into the competition this year were good and refreshing ones. However, in the search for the all-round entertainer, the competition lost its way and the very basic from which the entertainer should be good at, and that is singing. I also feel that too little time was given to the contestants to work on their lyrics writing skills. It’s what we Malays like to call “Bidan Terjun“, the finalists were heaped added pressure to produce something that they have not done before and somehow it made them looked silly on stage during the Grand Finals, and this I feel is not fair on them on their most memorable night in their lives so far. I think all the contestants should have gone through a workshop right from the start and not confined to just the finalists. Many of them could learn from the experience. Who knows if they are not cut out to be singers, they could at least be good lyricists in future???

With the pressure off, she certainly sang much better than the first round…

No matter how much some of us still feel aggrieved by the elimination of certain contestants or not agreeable to the winner, let’s close ranks and continue supporting the local music industry, Rahayu being the winner, as well as Shikin and Erlina who have gotten themselves the opportunity to record singles with R Records and Putrivision Empire. They are still very young. Given time and ample opportunities, they would want to prove that they are not flashes in the pan. What we saw last Tuesday night could have been much better but the girls gave off everything they got in those two hours, performing seven songs, something which they have not done before during the competition, a test of their stamina and mental resolve. Just that I was surprised the last segment involving the Top 12 contestants was quite an anti-climax with them miming, and certain contestants singing over the lines of others as they were not at the recording.

Introfucing the new winner of AnugerahRahayu Ridwan

Yes there were few hits and many misses in this year’s competition, but there is still hope yet for the vanquished to improve themselves and come back better the next time round. They should look no further than resident host Fauzie Laily who is a stunning example of one who did not give up, and look at how he has progressed since then. Congratulations once again to Rahayu Ridwan!!! It has to be repeated that no one should take that away from her nor begrudge her on winning. I sincerely hope that she would carry our flag high and do a good job when she takes the stage alongside other big names in the industry on the night of Anugerah Planet Muzik 2011 in less than a fortnight away. I already know the segment she will be in but I will not disclose it to you, as it is meant to be a surprise for viewers out there. All I can say is that I am looking forward to that particular segment and so should you. I end this entry with Rahayu thanking her supporters for their votes and undying support for her…