Anggun Cipta Sasmi has always been a phenomenon.
The 40-year-old, Jakarta-born singer-songwriters started performing at the age of seven. Even at such a young age her powerful voice and energetic stage performance captured the hearts of her audience.
Anggun released her first album, “Dunia Aku Punya” (“The World is Mine”), when she was only 12-years-old. The title would act as a prophecy of her later life and career.
Her singles “Mimpi” (“Dream”) and “Tua-Tua Keladi” (“Dirty Old Man”) became instant hits in the late 1980s, catapulting her into nationwide stardom.
At just 17, Anggun received the The Most Popular Indonesian Artist 1990- 1991 award. At the time, her songs were played daily on both TV and radio stations.
At the peak of her career, a 20-year-old Anggun decided to leave Indonesia and build a music career in Europe.
Anggun first plied her trade in England before moving to France, where a friend introduced her to acclaimed producer and songwriter, Erick Benzi — the man behind multiple albums of Canadian superstar Celine Dion.
Impressed by Anggun’s bold contralto voice, Banzi offered her a record deal with Sony Music Entertainment and Columbia France.
The rest is history
Anggun’s first French album, “Au Nom de La Lune” (“In the Name of the Moon”) was a smashing success upon its release in 1997.
Its first single “La Neige au Sahara” (“Snow on the Sahara”), topped the French music charts and became the most-played song, while the record ultimately sold more than 150,000 copies in France and Belgium.
The rousing success of her European debut awarded Anggun the Best New Artist of the Year award at Victoires de la Musique — the French equivalent to the US Grammies.
To date, Anggun has produced five international albums, each of which have raced to the top of music charts worldwide.
The singer is now one of four judges for “Asia’s Got Talent,” a talent competition produced by Syco Entertainment in conjunction with FremantleMedia.
The show debut on March 12 and airs exclusively on the AXN channel every Thursday at 7.30 p.m. local time.
As a judge, Anggun joins a panel of household names: 16-Grammy Award producer David Foster, former Spice Girls member Melanie C, and Taiwanese- American singer Vanness Wu.
Anggun spoke to the Jakarta Globe about her experience on the competition so far, her views of the today’s entertainment industry and her desire to develop Asia’s musical talents.
Congratulations on being chosen as one of the judges of Asia’s Got Talent. How do you feel?
I feel so proud to be among these great people [David Foster, Mel C and Vanness Wu]. They’re actually so humble and down-to-earth. And I’m so happy to be able to participate in an event as big and important as this one.
What is it like working with your fellow judges?
It’s awesome. My younger sister was once infatuated with Vanness [Wu] when he starred in the Meteor Garden [TV series], and now I’m sitting together with him on Asia’s Got Talent.
Mel C has always been so iconic. I mean, who didn’t know Spice Girls? And we often [playfully] mock David Foster because he’s the oldest among us. But there is a mutual respect between us all.
Fans of the show have nicknamed you ‘The Wicked Witch of the East.’ How does that make you feel?
Oh, that’s okay. [Laugh] It’s just for fun. We all get nicknames. David Foster is nicknamed ‘Dream Crusher’ for his sharp comments.
Mel C and I are dubbed the ‘Wicked Witches of the East and West,’ while Vanness is the kindest one [of us].
Some of the show’s participants are from Indonesia. What do you think of their talents?
Ok, here it is. David Foster comes a lot to Indonesia. He has performed here more than 10 times, I think. He always says that there are so many great singers and musicians from Indonesia.
It’s not about the techniques [of singing or performing]. But we [musicians and singers from Indonesia] have the real soul [for music].
And for me, every time a participant from Indonesia performs [in the talent competition], I’m so happy. I wish them well. I really want them to survive [in the competition]. And whenever we see them, David Foster and I would nudge each other and say, ‘He/she is going to be a star soon.’
So, do the participants from Indonesia have a big chance to win?
Hopefully. We, as judges, get to choose [who will proceed to the next stage in the competition]. But the votes from the audience are also very important. So, hopefully, the people in Indonesia will vote for Indonesian talents to help them shine in the competition.
What do you think of today’s world of entertainment?
The world of entertainment has gotten bigger and wider. Everyone can be a star, especially with TV reality shows and talent shows. And YouTube also has a role in making the world [of entertainment] bigger and wider.
[The term] ‘go international’ is so obsolete these days, because everyone can now be a social phenomenon. It’s like what Andy Warhol once said: ‘In the future, everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame.’
Do you think that’s a good thing?
Well, that’s the dream of many young people these days. Unfortunately, many of them are just looking to be sensational. As we can see in a lot of reality shows, many people become rich and famous by doing nothing. And many young people [watching those shows] aspire to be like them. They want to be famous, without [having] any talents. This is happening right now. Reality shows have become [so popular], like the K-Pop Culture, so like it or not, we have to take part [of the phenomenon].
And this is how I take part: by becoming a judge on X-Factor, Indonesia’s Got Talent and Asia’s Got Talent, which highlight talent and skills.
Everyone [participating in these shows] has to have some substance. I mean, why would anyone aspire to be like the Kardashians?
What are you looking for in the participants of Asia’s Got Talent?
As judges, we’re looking for something, which can be honed into a great thing. Many of the [participants] are aspiring young artists that don’t really know how to perform on stage. If we can hone [their skills], they can be like ‘wow.’
Does the show guarantee fame and success for the winner?
Many people are not aware that this competition is just a platform for the participants to show their talents — a stepping stone. We, as judges, evaluate [them] and the public will make their choices.
But afterwards, it’s back to the artist — how he/she can use the stepping stone to go to the next level. [The winner of the competition will receive $100,000 and a chance to perform at the Marina Bay Sands Singapore].
I didn’t have that platform [when I started]. I went abroad by myself to prove my talents. I worked hard for it. At that time, there wasn’t any Internet or YouTube. The young people today have it a lot easier. There are so many platforms for them. It’s really up to them to use these opportunities.
Do you think the Internet plays a large role in helping young artists promote their skills and get recognized?
So many young artists, like [Justin] Bieber and Jessie J, got popular thanks to the Internet — so it depends. If you’re really lucky and a producer happens to be watching [your online performance], or you have someone that can make the producer see your acts, it may work.
But I think [cases of online success amounts to] just a handful. Without real struggles, the Internet [alone] won’t help.
What do you think is the most important factor in determining someone’s success? Is it luck, talent or hard work?
There’s no recipe for success. If there is, it would be very easy. I think all those things are very important. If you’ve got talent and work hard, but you don’t have any luck, then it would all come to nothing.
But I think the last two [talent and hard work] are the most important. Without those two, stardom would be like Halley’s Comet [rare, fleeting].
In this world of instant popularity and stardom, how do you raise your daughter?
There’s a mission in everybody’s life — that’s what I always say to my daughter. I provide her with so many [extracurricular] lessons. Maybe she gets tired now, but later she can choose [which activity] she’s really going to focus in her life. I’m merely giving her the tools for her future.