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Superstar dreams
by Cheryl Leong

Ya Hui was just five years old when she decided she was going to be on television one day.

It was 1993 and the tot was watching Ivy Lee compete on Star Search.

"I told my parents afterwards that when I turned 18 (the minimum age to join the contest), I was going to be a star," she chuckles.

Her parents laughed it off, putting it down to the funny, adorable things children say. But Ya Hui never forgot, and never stopped yearning for her shot at fame.

She recounts the time she pestered her mother to buy a videocassette recorder - to record her first TV appearance, in a manner of speaking.

"I did Chinese Dance as a cocurricular activity in secondary school. That year, we put up a performance on Vesak Day at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. It was filmed 'live' and I was so pleased to appear on screen - I watched that clip every day."

Incidental TV exposure aside, the go-getter even devised various strategies to get her chance in the spotlight.

Once, the now-27- year-old found out that a variety show was looking for girls with the best smile.

Dropping everything she was doing, the tenacious girl hightailed it to the filming location to look for the programme hosts.

"When I spotted them, I 'casually' walked past them, flashing my best smile. But they just ignored me! Even now, I still think it's their loss," she jokes.

Her next two tries at stardom came to naught as well. She got booted out after the second round of auditions for The New Paper New Face contest in 2005, and didn't qualify for the Miss Singapore Universe selections, even after working up the courage to wear a bikini for the first time.

"I didn't dare to tell my parents I'd forked out $120 - a substantial sum to me then - just for a bikini.

And I didn't even make it past the first round!"

Refusing to give up, Ya Hui made one last bid for her dream.

She entered Star Search in 2007 - she didn't win the top prize, but people noticed how she shone on screen. And she won the Miss Telegenic Award, which kick-started her acting career.

It's been seven years since, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sew much fun

Ya Hui is a sporty, outdoorsy girl who doesn't do "domestic".

The closest she's come to it is learning how to cook for her role as an aspiring chef on the Channel U drama, Served H.O.T.

"Cooking and sewing are two things I've never been good at. When friendship bands were all the rage in secondary school, I tried to make them too. But mine never turned out great. The lines were always uneven, with the threads spilling out," she sighs.

But we figured that if she can learn to cook, she can tackle sewing too.

Ira Joseph, owner of Quilts 'n Calicoes, shows her how to put a quilt together.


The first step in quilting is to piece together the patchwork, which forms the top layer of the quilt.

Ira has prepared a few pieces for Ya Hui, and teaches her how to join them up.

For someone who last held a needle during home economics class in secondary school, Ya Hui is doing a decent job, says Ira.

"She's got a steady hand. Even though her stitches aren't as close to one another as they're supposed to be, they're straight and her cloth holds together nicely."


After the stitching, Ira gets her to do basting - a technique to sew three layers (the backing, batting and patchwork) together to form the quilt.

She explains: "We do basting by hand, by making big running stitches to hold the three layers in preparation for quilting. It's not difficult, but it's time-consuming."


Ya Hui works up a rhythm in her stitching.

Visibly pleased, she jests: "First, I had to learn how to cook. Now, I'm learning how to quilt - my mother would be so proud."


To ensure that the section of cloth Ya Hui is working on doesn't shift as she sews, Ira puts a quilting frame over it, then shows her how to quilt the basted layers.

But Ya Hui has diffi culty replicating Ira's close, fi ne stitches with her "clumsy fi ngers" and pricks herself.

"This is further proof that my hands are not up to delicate chores," she laments, and tells us how she'd cut herself too, while slicing green peppers during a cooking lesson to prepare for Served H.O.T.


Ya Hui manages to quilt steadily for about fi ve minutes, before admitting that her eyes are getting tired, and she can't thread her needle as accurately.

"This makes my mum even more amazing in my eyes. She worked long hours as a seamstress when I was young, making outfits for my aunts, our neighbours and her friends. I never had to buy clothes for Chinese New Year - she'd take me to select cloth in Chinatown and a week later, I'd have a pretty dress to wear!"


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Ya Hui was just five years old when she decided she was going to be on television one day. (Photo: Simply Her)
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