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September 29, 2015

You’ve probably been sucked into reality television programming at some point of your life and honestly, some of them grow old. The genre has been around for decades and only saw a resurgence in the late 90s and early 2000s with the successes of Big Brother, Survivor, American Idol and The Amazing Race. Season after season, we find ourselves rooting for people we don’t even know in real life, making the genre really interesting. One particular kind of reality TV we’re all suckers of are singing competitions. Music’s universal and they appeal to us because we sort of have the power to vote whoever we like. Sounds more like a popularity contest than anything but more often than not, the winners always turn out to be kinda amazing (here’s looking at you, Kelly Clarkson).

This year marks the second Asia-Pacific edition of Project Aloft Star, a singing competition organised by Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ Aloft brand and MTV Asia designed to sift out the most exciting emerging artists throughout China, India, Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand). Participants across these clusters are required to submit a video of them showcasing their music online, and the finalists will get a chance to perform live. The public will then cast their votes for their favourite artists. Winners will walk away with a US$10,000 cash prize and be featured on MTV Seen next month.

The five finalists, Finalez (TH), Jenny & The Scallywags (TH), Rachel Wu (TH), Temjin (MY) and The MASH (MY) battled it out on 18 September 2015 at the W XYZ Bar at Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral, and were evaluated based on their song-writing and music composition, creativity and originality, technical skill (harmony, instrumentation, etc), showmanship and stage presence and their “wow” factor by a judging panel comprising of representatives of Aloft Hotels, MTV Asia, celebrities and music industry experts. Each of the artists brought to the table their very own dish of electric tunes and moving, sometimes heart-wrenching lyrics (for some reason, a lot of them explored themes of longing and love). But there can only be one winner.

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Meet Jennifer Lackgren and her band, better known as Jenny & The Scallywags. She’s a Thai/Swedish musician based in Bangkok who appeared on The Voice: Thailand in 2013, wowing the judges with her rendition of “Somewhere Only We Know”. Her unique, folk-style vocal ability has won over many in Bangkok’s live music scene, and has earned her (and her live band) the top place in this year’s Aloft Project Star. Check out her submission below, and you’ll know why we love her too:

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It may be over now, but it’s only going to get bigger. Before the finals took place that night, we spoke to one of the judges, Vincent Ong, who is also the Asia Pacific Senior Director of Brand Management for five differentiated lifestyle hotel brands under Starwood Hotels & Resorts. He tells us what we can expect in the next few editions of Aloft Project Star.

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IT’S THE SECOND EDITION OF PROJECT ALOFT STAR. HOW WAS IT FIRST CONCEPTUALISED?
It all started in North America. This year marks their sixth edition, and our second. Naturally it has taken us a longer time to actually grow our footprint across the different countries in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. Last year was an opportune time for us because by then we already had 14 hotels in different markets, so it made sense for us to hold the competition to help promote our hotels and the brand. We used the exact same standard format, though they probably have some variations because of their bigger market. For us, we broke our division into different clusters. While they worked with NYLON to provide a recording contract, we partnered with MTV Asia, whose involvement made the competition so successful.

HOW IS THIS EDITION DIFFERENT FROM THE FIRST?
The format is similar. Of course, it was sort of a trial period for us last year because we’re ultimately a hotel company. We want to continue engaging our target consumers through our three passion points – music, design and technology. So for the music aspect, we decided on creating this competition and because we don’t have the expertise to do that, we partnered with MTV Asia. The only difference this year is that the competition has gotten bigger, with nearly double the entries. The vote count has increased 20 times more, to half a million. It’s interesting because in this day an age, it’s not easy to get online communities to come together for a common purpose or competition and yet, somehow, through the weight of MTV Asia and the reputation of the first edition of the competition, we’ve had over a million voters.

Also, last year’s winners, GTXperiment, were actually signed immediately after the competition. When asked by MTV Asia about what they were gonna do with the $10,000 they won, they said they wanted to cut their first album. The five finalists in China were all signed and the winner of that leg actually wrote the theme song for one of their online dramas.

BESIDES GIVING EMERGING ARTISTS EXPOSURE ACROSS THE ASIA-PACIFIC REGION, ARE YOU GUYS LOOKING TO WORK TOGETHER WITH LABELS IN FUTURE?
It’s a dream come true for the contestants to be signed to a record label, and it’s our mission to help emerging artists, so yes, if we feel that our competition and the Aloft brand is big enough to attract recording labels to partner with us, we’ll do it. I think being signed to a recording label is worth more than just receiving cash. One of the judges for the competition is from Sony, so we’ll see how it goes. The complexity for us is that our region is so big and although music is universal, the languages and culture is still quite different. It’s distinct enough for us to hold three separate ones. It’ll be great if a recording label will agree to give three recording contracts, for three different markets. It’ll be a bit difficult to pull through but we’ll figure it out somehow.

JUDGING CRITERIA ASIDE, WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN THE NEXT PROJECT ALOFT STAR?
My job as a brand person is to ensure that our brand is at the forefront of our target guests, which are the millennials. In my perspective, the winner would need to be able to represent the Aloft brand very well because they’re going to be our spokesperson in a sense, so things like energy, passion ambition are important. I think the Gen Ys are always thinking about how they can enrich themselves. It’s not about the money, but how they are able to fulfill their inner goals. I’ve seen the five finalists and they all have these qualities.

ARE THERE ANY PLANS TO TIE UP WITH OTHER ALOFT HOTEL OUTLETS OUTSIDE OF ASIA TO MAKE PROJECT ALOFT STAR AN EVEN BIGGER PLATFORM, PERHAPS BRINGING THE WINNERS ON A “GLOBAL TOUR” TO PERFORM AT THE VARIOUS OUTLETS, OR EVEN A CONCERT WITH THE 2015 WINNERS OF PROJECT ALOFT STAR FROM AROUND THE WORLD?
We’re already in talks with our European counterparts to see what we can do for the exchange. Their team is also speaking to the North American team to bring their winners to the various Aloft hotels in Europe. It’ll be an interesting experience so that the winners will know what it’s like to sort of be on the road, if you know what I mean. So yes, it’s our ultimate objective. If not next year, then we’ll try the following year for sure.

WILL YOU BE BRINGING IN SPECIAL GUEST MENTORS FOR THE UPCOMING EDITIONS?
If it means keeping the competition fresh and relevant, yes, we’ll do it. We know we wont be short of mentors because MTV Asia is a great partner. We’ve worked with them for two and a half years now. They’ve gone beyond music. They’re into true lifestyle programming for the millennials now. It’s just a matter of time and how we’re gonna bring that together.

SINGAPORE ALREADY HAS A W HOTEL, BUT ARE THERE PLANS TO OPEN AN ALOFT SINGAPORE ANYTIME SOON?
Yes. We’re always looking for the right partner and the right location in the right country to open a new hotel. W and Aloft are very distinct; we’re two separate brands. We are in two separate categories on different tiers. In fact, today, Aloft is probably more than double the size of the W portfolio worldwide. We’ve grown bigger than our parent and have started dissociating ourselves from the W brand. So stay tuned…

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Main (Slider) Image: Winner of last years’s Southeast Asia Project Aloft Star, GTXperiment
Images courtesy of Starwood Asia Pacific Hotels & Resorts