Catherine Yee Yean San (余豔姗) is 22-year-old (2010), Yee, who was schooled in Malaysia up to Form Five, is fluent only in Mandarin. While she understands Cantonese and Hokkien, she prefers to converse in Mandarin – her mother tongue.
With a Chinese name, her striking looks and mixed parentage are always a source of curiosity among people. But Yee readily addresses the subject when asked about it.
Catherine Yee Yean San steps on stage to belt out a Hokkien number, people will be captivated not only by her singing and dance moves but her comely appearance and Indian looks as well.
Although it isn’t unusual to find Indians singing in Hokkien (like the Muar-born recording artiste Xiaohei – real name Raju Kumara Suppiah – who sings in Hokkien and Mandarin), Yee still attracts a lot of attention whenever she performs as she is also a skilful dancer who choreographs her own shows. Her penchant for colourful, sexy attire, too, renders her quite a sight on stage.
The getai (street concert) entertainer received regional recognition earlier this month when she was crowned the champion at the 3rd World Min Nan Singing Competition held at the Arena of Stars in Genting Highlands. (First runner-up was Taiwanese Zhang Wen Qi while Lin Ya of China emerged third.)
Yee’s victory continued Malaysia’s clean sweep of the Hokkien singing contest since it was started by China’s Fujian Straits TV channel. The event aimed at promoting cultural exchange amongst the global Hokkien-speaking community was won by two Malaysians previously, Cai Ming Guo and Lau Wan Yin, in China and Taiwan respectively.
This year, Yee, who sang Qiung Xia (Sound of Gun), beat 50 contestants from Malaysia, China, Taiwan and Indonesia to the top placing and RMB30,000 (RM15,000) despite being down with the flu on the big night.
Catherine Yee Yean San never expected to win. The other contestants were very good. I think my dancing made a difference. My getai experience, too, was a major boost the cheerful 22-year-old who obtained her ticket to the competition after successfully auditioning for Astro Hua Hee Dai’s Hokkien reality TV singing show, Hua Hee Karaoke, last August.
Like many professional stage performers, Yee boasts a remarkably diverse repertoire. She sings in seven languages and dialects. Apart from Hokkien, she also does popular hits in Mandarin, Cantonese, Teochew, Thai, Malay and English.
“I’m quite used to people asking me these questions. It’s all right with me,” the pretty singer said during our meeting in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur, where she was filming a Chinese New Year special for Hua Hee Dai. The programme will be aired on Astro Channel 333 on Sunday, Feb 21, at 9.30pm.
Born to a Chinese father and Indian mother, Yee was given up for adoption by her impoverished family who could not cope with raising the child. She ended up being adopted by a childless couple.
“I was brought to my parents’ home three days after my birth. They are very loving and encouraging, and have always treated me as their own,” Yee said, adding that her adoptive parents – father Yee Mee Keong, who’s a mechanic, and homemaker mother Chua Lee Kung – are supportive of her work as an entertainer.
The winner Catherine Yee Yean San
The winner’s eye-catching performance at the 3rd World Min Nan Singing Competition at the Arena of Stars on Jan 9. – Photo courtesy of Astro
“I was born in the Year of the Rabbit, and so were both my adoptive parents,” she happily shared this interesting titbit about herself.
As she has never had any formal training in singing, the lass is modest about her win at the World Min Nan competition and says she is simply a dancer from Sabak Bernam, Selangor.
A natural performer, Yee started singing and dancing when she was only about three years old!
She recalled being talent-scouted by her current boss when she was a young kid and later joining his performing troupe run by Rainbow Star Entertainment in 2002, where she remains till today.
“When I was little, I loved to climb up on stage and perform. That was how I was discovered by my boss who decided to nurture my love for performing.” said Yee, a fan of Taiwanese Hokkien pop singers Jeannie Hsieh and Jody Chiang.
“Previously, the company was more into song-and-dance gigs at local weddings. So apart from singing and dancing, I became particularly adept at conducting traditional Chinese wedding toasts,” she laughed.
Her troupe is busiest during the Chinese New Year season and the Hungry Ghost Festival (during the seventh lunar month, around August/September).
For next month, Yee has been heavily booked for a series of festive shows all over the country including in Sabah and Sarawak as well as Brunei.
Currently occupied with preparations for her upcoming performances, the young lady who enjoys designing costumes and choreographing new dance steps says work on an album – if there’s any – will have to wait till the busy period is over.
Now that she’s a regional queen of song, the humble dancer from Sabak Bernam may very well enjoy roaring success in the Year of the Tiger – and hopefully, beyond.
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