By : DENNIS CHUA
Tiara’s latest challenge is to educate AF7’s students/contestants.
New Akademi Fantasia principal Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina aims to transform this year’s contestants into bankable names in showbusiness, writes DENNIS CHUA.
THE Transformasi (Transformation) tag line that accompanies the seventh season of popular Astro reality talent show Akademi Fantasia (AF7) rang loud and clear as the station picked Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina as its first female principal earlier this week.
Multi-talented Tiara is one of the most bankable names in showbusiness with an illustrious two-decade career and a reputation for perfectionism.
A dancer, film and theatre actor, singer, director and producer, Tiara recently wrapped up the third season of Puteri Gunung Ledang — The Musical where she played the mystical princess for the last time.
She was one of two “leading ladies” widely predicted as AF7 principal. The other was pop/R&B queen Datuk Sheila Majid whose husband Hashridz Murshim Hassim (Acis) was earlier picked the academic team’s music director.
As the sixth person to helm the “hot seat” of the country’s top-rated reality talent show (second season principal Ramli MS returned in the sixth season last year), Tiara will have under her charge seven male and seven female students-cum-contestants, and 10 weeks to groom them into artistes or television personalities (depending on where their talents lie).
Tiara will be assisted by Acis, Ida Nerina as acting and performance instructor, A. Aris Kadir as choreography instructor, Siti Hajar Ismail and Syafizawati Sharif as vocal coaches, and Fatimah Abu Bakar as motivational and English language coach.
Tiara and her team will mentor the wannabe entertainers at an undisclosed “academy” where, under the daily surveillance of Astro’s cameras for the Diari AF7 programme, they will learn the ropes of showbusiness.
Unlike previous years, AF7 has invited “starlets” as contestants.
Nas Adila Mohd Dan, 23, of Johor Baru, is the most prominent, having been a regular on the small screen and in various concerts for the past five years.
Another is TV3 talent search My Starz LG’s first season’s finalist Rubisa Tiasin, 23, of Kota Marudu in Kudat, Sabah.
Kajang lass Zuzafrini “Rini” Zulkifli, 25, once sang traditional Malay pop and nasyid with her twin Zuzafrina or Rina, while the oldest contestant, 30-year-old mother-of-five and part-time singer Ismaliza Ismail of Rembau, is the elder sister of New Boyz lead singer and One In A Million Season 3 (OIAM3) hopeful Shah Indrawan “Tomok” Ismail.
Among the boys, Khairil Azam Pilus from Malacca has an entertainer in the family.
His brother Izwan Pilus is a former Bintang RTM winner, host and recording artiste.
The other contestants are Zizi Tahil, 24, of Semporna, Sabah; Sarawakians Aishah Bujang, 18, Claudia Geres, 24, and Hafiz Suip, 19, of Kuching; Hakim Ahmad, 18, Sobri Hasmuni, 24, and Yazid Ibrahim, 22, of Johor Baru; Qhaud Rashid, 25, of Kajang; and Rashidi Isa, 27, of Ipoh.
AF7 was also open to Singaporeans. However, the response was poor.
The move of inviting the 40 to 45 age group, which began with the entry of grandmother Hairina Abdul Halim last year, has also failed to make an impact.
Johor (which produced pop phenomenon Mawi) and Sabah, which have traditionally sent the most contestants, have lived up to expectations, although there has been a steady decline of Sabahans since last year.
For the first time, Sabah’s largest ethnic community, the Kadazandusuns, is without a representative.
This community monopolised the runner-up spot from seasons two to five and produced its first champion in OIAM2 reject Stacy Anam last year.
Sarawak, which produced vocal powerhouse Yusrizan ‘Bob’ Usop in AF2, is back with more representatives this year, having sent only one student a year since 2006.
The Sarawakian students include “supermum” Geres, the OAG-loving Hafiz and the contest’s “baby girl” Aishah, who counts AF3 singer-songwriter Amylea Azizan and Dayang Nurfaizah as her role models.
Since Penangite Mila Jirin emerged as AF’s first female winner two seasons ago, “girl power” has been on the rise. With the presence of the relatively experienced Nas Adila, Rini, Rubisa and Ismaliza, a third female champion may be on the cards.
However, one cannot dismiss the male half, and the fact that most Short Messaging Service (SMS) voters who determine the champion are women.
Of the “boys”, Qhaud and Khairil stand out for their melodious voices, with Qhaud tagged by fans as “Mawi’s successor”.
But being compared to Mawi is more a curse than a blessing. AF4 champion Faizal Ramly and AF5 Mawi look-alike Aswad Jaafar were compared to the “SMS king” but today are singing back-up for singer-cum-actress Heliza Helmi of Syurga Cinta fame.
As for the show’s resident judges, Astro has yet to confirm if hard-hitting Fauziah ‘Ogy’ Ahmad Daud, Adlin Aman Ramlie (also from Puteri Gunung Ledang) and Hattan will reprise their roles.
The trio made a formidable team in AF5, and Hattan’s sixth season replacement Ning Baizura (now OIAM3 vocal instructor) was also commendable.
There has also been talk that Mawi and ex-AF2 contestant Fitri Zainal Abidin might be roped in to advise the contestants, especially Fitri who is a fashion designer, Project Runway Malaysia finalist and wardrobe consultant to the station.
The contestants will perform in weekly elimination concerts at 9pm on Saturdays, beginning this Saturday, with the contestant obtaining the lowest number of SMS votes from viewers being eliminated.
The concerts on Astro Ria are hosted by comedian AC Mizal, while the weekly AF diaries shows Diari AF, Diari Ext AF7 and Diari Int AF7 are hosted by actress and television personality Sarimah Ibrahim.
Diari AF7 is at 9pm from Mondays to Fridays while Diari Ext AF7 is at 10pm on Fridays and Diari Int AF7 is at 9pm on Sundays.
Big AF7 plans from a ’princess’
DATIN Seri Tiara Jacquelina’s latest challenge is to educate AF7’s 14 students/contestants, and she is determined to transform them from “zeroes to heroes”.
“It’s a monumental task and I’m ready to bring about a transformation to AF, a show which I have followed keenly from Day One,” said Tiara.
“My team and I are going all out to do the impossible and make AF7 the best AF ever.”
Tiara said she was determined to see AF7 produce “entertainment icons” who are capable of going global and taking Malaysian showbusiness to greater heights.
“We in the academic team have outlined several criteria for the participants. They must be outstanding singers and all-round performers; brave, confident, speak well in English, resilient, disciplined, professional, well-packaged, well-groomed and in the pink of health,” she said.
On her role as the first female principal, she said there was “nothing a man can do that a woman cannot”.
“In fact, I will strive to do even better,” she said.
While one or more students would be eliminated at the end of every weekly concert, Tiara said their journey “does not end there”.
“We will make every student soak up as much as he or she can in the academy’s daily lessons. The knowledge they gain during their stay in the academy will be a stepping stone to greater success.”
“Entertainment and music unite, for they are colour-blind and universal, and make us stronger than ever. That’s why shows like AF are always good for Malaysians,” she said.