Photos: Channel 5, Joshua Tan/Instagram
He may have loads of experience performing with his Ah Boys to Men co-stars at showcases and fan meetings (they also participated in an episode of My Squad is Better Than Yours), but Joshua Tan recently stepped out of the group – and his comfort zone – to channel his inner solo musician for Fine Tune.
In the Channel 5 dramedy, which is created in conjunction with Radio 80, the 26-year-old actor plays Bernard, the teenhood crush of Lisa (played by Gold 905 DJ Vernetta Lopez) who aspires to be a top musician. To prepare for his role, which included singing and playing the guitar live on set (backing tracks were eschewed in case of technical errors), Joshua enlisted the help of his more musically-talented fellow Ah Boy Bunz, who provided personal lessons completely free of charge.
“He’s probably one of the most gifted musicians I know and it was great that he was willing to step up and help me; how often can you find friends like that?” said Joshua during a phone interview with Toggle.
When asked what feedback he received from his teacher, he shared with a chuckle, “(Bunz told me), ‘Josh, you need to spend more time on this’, so I got the hint. I took a couple of piano lessons when I was younger but I quit because I think I started to irritate everyone in the class! (laughs) I’m just musically disinclined.”
Another person who provided useful guidance was Fine Tune’s director Ong Kuo Sin (who also directed Mr. Unbelievable the movie and the viral music video that inspired it). “It was really tough for me because I’m not a confident singer and I personally think I’m semi tone-deaf, but he gave me a lot of coaching and encouragement, especially during scenes where I had to sing in front of a lot of people,” said Joshua. “I was hoping for a closed-off area, but I had to sing in front of over 50 extras! Sometimes I could see people trying to stifle their laughter.”
Despite the “painful process” (as he worded it), Joshua did not stop being a professional, and it may not be the last time we see him sing live for a TV show.
“I’m not really gifted (in music) but I try to be a hard worker,” he said. “I won’t rule out singing for TV again but because of some issues, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare (for Fine Tune); if I was given more time to prepare, then I’d like to push myself again.”
So how would Joshua rate his performance? “Five out of 10, at least I can still pass,” he said. “But out of that five, four points go to Bunz and Kuo Sin, and one is for my own effort!”
While Joshua’s character’s storyline takes place in the 80s, Vernetta stars in the present-day portion as the no-nonsense big boss of a huge media company (her younger self who pines after Bernard is played by Rachel Wan). When Lisa takes a young new employee (played by The 5 Search runner-up Shrey Bhargava) under her wing, she is introduced to the quirks and characteristics of millennials, whom she constantly gripes about.
Vernetta herself, however, has more compliments for Gen Y (those born between 1980 and 2000).
“These youngsters are just so ahead of us and it makes me feel very old!” said the 43-year-old. “I can only find myself saying, wow, they’re learning all these things in school that we never did, and they’re more aware of their environment and how society works than I was at their age. My only complaint would be about parents who give too much to their children - it makes me feel jealous because they have so much at their disposal.”
But of course, she has plenty of fond memories growing up in the 80s as well. “I remember eating fries and hot fudge sundaes from Centre Point, listening to Wham! And ABBA, being able to use my bus pass, and riding the MRT without it being too crowded. (laughs)” Vernetta, who is married to software engineer Wayne Gladwin, was also candid about having “no problem getting boyfriends”.
Not so cool, however, were “the damn hair” and questionable style choices of that decade. “One thing I never understood was wearing long skirts, long-sleeved sweaters and leg-warmers in the hot sun. Are you kidding me? We also had short hair that was shaved underneath - it was the ah lian look of the day.”