The 30-year-old singer-songwriter started her singing career at age 15, when she formed a J-pop group named Mirai – Japanese for “future” – with two others in 2000. When she was 17, she was offered the opportunity to move to Japan to further her career as a solo artist. There, she released her breakout album, A Girl Meets Bossanova, at age 19.

In 2009, she performed at the Mosaic Festival at the Esplanade. She went on to hold her own ticketed concert at the same venue earlier this year in March. She has also released more than 10 albums – in English, Chinese, Cantonese and Japanese – as well as the theme song for popular Channel 8 drama The Little Nyonya in 2008.

olivia ong

Ong’s talents go beyond performance. She has signed on as a Strepsils ambassador. As one of the three judges for its singing competition, The Right Note, she acts as a mentor figure to young aspiring singers and has noted that it “provides a good platform for local talents”.

Although she is more comfortable performing in English, she says her experience recording Chinese labels has made her appreciate the Chinese language better. She adds: “I’ve learnt that emotion is equally important when performing in both languages.”

Unlike other songwriters, Ong does not play instruments to compose her music; she hums the melody to herself and gets the help of producer Will Peng, whom she met in 2011, to form the chords. “It’s really important for every singer to find his go-to person, someone who knows his style,” she says.

She plans to return to Taipei soon to complete her new singles by the end of the year, as her equipment, producers and musicians are based there. Aside from singing, she has a role in a local SG50 drama, Crescendo, which is set to premiere in October. This will be the first time she will be appearing in a local TV series. Previously, she starred in It’s A Great, Great World, a movie directed by Kelvin Tong.

In the drama Crescendo, Ong stars as a xinyao singer, a role that she feels “is out of my league”. She says: “I do have a personal interest in acting, but I find that acting in a TV series is different, in that it is very technical and you need to pay more attention to your actions.”

When asked if she would ever consider full-time acting, she replies: “Singing is still my first priority, but if I do know the script is something I can handle, I definitely would consider it.

And for her fashion picks, she can’t live without her Aldo bag, which she bought in America, she adds, “the shape is classy and the colour is not too loud.” In her bag are her favourite items:

Apple iPod: “I listen to all kinds of music, from oldies and hip-hop to rap and pop. I also use it for my vocal warm-ups.”

Evolution of Smooth lipbalm: “I have very dry lips, which are a distraction during meetings because people will focus too much on them. This balm is a no-colour version.”

Adidas cap: “This is good for lazy days when I just want to keep a low profile and move around unnoticed.”

Linda Farrow spectacles: “These spectacles are kept in a different brand’s case because the case is thinner and more practical. The original is bulkier and my bag does not have room for it.”

Prada sunglasses: “They are in a cat’s-eye shape, which I think I look best in. I need the sun protection because I’m out a lot.”

This story first appeared in Urban on Jun 26.

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