If you were to tell me that at the age of 15, the beginning of an incredible music career for me would be competing in more than a dozen singing contests across the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line at Hmong summer festivals and New Years, I would have giggled and left it at that. Honestly. However, competing in Hmong singing contests is a big reason why I can get onstage and perform for you all today.
It’s been nearly 13 years since I entered my very first singing contest, but I have not forgotten my experiences. I can still feel the sweat and the anxiety that I carried right onto the stage before I even opened my mouth. I can still see the nerves on my fellow Hmong sisters and brothers backstage who would compete with me that day. I can still see myself practicing for hours with the family hair comb as my mic, hoping to win the judges’ hearts. I also know what it means when you tell your whole family you want to compete in the singing contest at the New Year this year, but you honestly don’t know what you’re doing (and they don’t either).
See, I started out just like you. No role model, no handbook, but a whole lot of HEART. Only this time, you have some guidance right here.
So this blog series’ for you—you brave soul who just wants to sing. And win.
PART ONE: SONG CHOICE
Tip #1: How to Choose A Song
When selecting a song, I chose one that…
…best showcased my vocal range (I keep my attempts at F6 to myself.),
…I felt connected to (not my mom’s favorite Nplooj Xyooj song), and
…I had genuine confidence in when I rehearsed it (and I mean a full-out-no-hiding-behind-the-music-stand-kind-of-confidence).
Tip #2: Do not take on popular songs that have been sung time and time again at Hmong singing contests.
I am sure you’ve noticed this too. Through the past several years, I’ve seen and heard an increase in vocal contestants choosing the exact same Hmong pop song to compete with, year after year. It’s not the only song on repeat at Hmong events, but I think everyone knows the lyrics of “Txoj Hmoo” by now, including the judges. ☺ (Great song, by the way.)
To be honest, I think this works against you. Why? Because it makes it a lot easier for the judges to compare you to another contestant if you have both selected the same song for the competition, especially one that has appeared in singing contests time and time again. For example, if Tub Tuam and Nkauj Ntsum were competing in the same vocal contest and chose the same song (one that’s been used over and over again already) for the same round, the judges will most likely compare only the two of them to one another rather than to the rest of the contestants. It would be like if two beauty queens wore the same pink polka-dotted dress for the evening gown round, the question changes from “How attractive overall is she compared to the rest of the contestants?” to “Which of these two lovely ladies look better in this gown?”
Tip #3: Make your cover song (if you’re singing one) as original as possible.
Have a guest accompanist play alongside you. Compose a new version for the song. Value the original melody, but value your own originality even more. There’s no doubt you will be compared to the original artist, so why not stand out? (Think “Always Be My Baby” by American Idol’s David Cook. After five years, don’t tell me that rendition still does not stand out in your mind.)
Tip #4: Go with your gut.
Your mom, your sister, right up to that new friend you just met backstage, will probably try to persuade you to sing another song that you (1) might not know/like or (2) might not have been prepared to perform. If all else fails, including my tips above, go with what feels right to you from the inside.
Bottom line: You want to stick out, so choose a song that would least likely be chosen by others and make it your own.
Hope you enjoyed Part One of my “How to Win a Hmong Singing Contest” blog series! Feel free to leave me a comment/question about the tips and make sure to look out next week for Part Two!
Special Note: This blog is an open avenue for my thoughts, reflections, opinions, and ideas. I speak for myself. These words do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anybody for whom I work or to whom I’m related. Also, the advice shared through the “How to Win a Hmong Singing Contest” blog series is a collection of my own personal experience in competing in and judging Hmong singing contests. With that said, this is simply a guide and therefore, you as the reader should use it at your own discretion. Tej yam twg zoo mam li khaws, tej yam twg tsis zoo muab pov tseg. Giving advice to others on a personal experience brings great joy to me and I only hope that this blog series will be used with good intention and be put in the path of those who need it most. May our Hmong community be overwhelmed with outstanding singers in the years to come! Good luck!