As soon as Janice Yan won the Taiwanese TV singing competition One Million Star: Star Legend in 2010, she went straight back to university to finish her studies. She had never really longed for fame; she just loved singing.
“I started singing as soon as I could make a sound,“ Yan told Young Post when we caught up with her recently. “My parents told me that I used to sing really loudly!”
After stepping out of the limelight and taking some much-needed time to look after her mental health, Yan is now back with a new album, I’ve Got Myself, and feeling much happier and more comfortable in her own skin.
Born in Beijing, raised in Singapore and Hong Kong and having studied in US, Yan finds it easier to simply call herself “Asian” when people ask where she’s from.
She isn’t the only musician in her house. Her father, Yan Hui-chang, is the artistic director and principal conductor for life in the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. Her mother plays a Chinese string instrument known as a guzheng.
When Yan was 11, her family moved from Singapore to Hong Kong for her father’s career. Her new school nurtured her musical talents.
“I was lucky enough to study in an international school — West Island School — which allowed me to explore my interests,” Yan said.
However, having musicians as parents didn’t always work in Yan’s favour. They had doubts about her pursuing a singing career, and when, aged 20, she applied to take part in One Million Star: Star Legend, they were against it.
“They didn’t like me doing it as they thought I was only doing it for fame.”
But that was never Yan’s intention: “I took part in the contest just because I wanted useful feedback from the judges,”she said. “I hoped to learn, to grow and to improve vocally. I never really thought of joining the contest to become a singer.”
Nevertheless, Yan wanted to impress the judges, and for her, that meant not only sounding the part, but looking it, too.
“I went down to 44 kilograms during the contest because I wanted to look exactly how people expected me to look,” said Yan.
“I began extreme dieting which led to hair loss,” she added.
Yan went on to win the contest, but the experience had been a curse as well as a blessing.
Although everyone expected her to stay in the music industry, Yan flew back to Boston University, where she had been studying Economics before the contest, to finish her Bachelors degree.
“I actually enjoy studying, believe it or not,” she said.
But while her brain was satisfied, her body was not happy. She was still underweight and had difficulty sleeping.
“For six months, I woke up every hour during the night,” she explained. “It made me really grumpy.”
“At that time I didn’t realise it was caused by my dangerous dieting,” she added.
Luckily, Yan decided to see a doctor, who saw instantly that she was unwell.
“The first thing the doctor told me was that I was dangerously skinny,” Yan said.
She began taking Chinese medicine and eating healthily. At the start, it was a struggle to see the change in her body and she grew very critical of her own appearance. As her weight increased to 75 kilograms, Yan became unhappy and distanced herself from those around her.
“I am a perfectionist,” she admitted, adding that during that time, she “couldn’t even look in the mirror.”
“For two years, I was stuck in my tiny flat and lied to my friends and family that I was living healthily,” she explained. “But I was in a really bad place because I had worked my whole life become a singer, and now my health was holding me back.”
Yan also acknowledged that she “started to have some dangerous thoughts”, and knew she needed help. Finally, after two years, Yan was able to open up to her friends and family back in Hong Kong, and realised her depression wasn’t something she should hide or be ashamed of.
“[To people] who have the same problem, you should talk about it because it’s okay to not be okay sometimes,” she said.
While on the road to recovery, Yan signed with the record label HIM Music in 2015, five years after winning One Million Star: Star Legend.
Last week, she released her third album. The photo of Yan on the cover of the album shows her looking natural and healthy, which is exactly the image she wants to promote.
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“The whole concept is to give people the knowledge that stars are also human beings,” she said.
“Social media gives a distorted image of reality,” she said. “Stars do not fly in private jets or have glamorous lives; we have a lot of sleepless nights.”
Now that her hobby has become her career, Yan has realised that it’s no easy job. Luckily, the thing that started it all – her passion for singing – gets her through it.
“You may need to sing songs that you are not really interested in, or you have to do a lot of work which isn’t related to singing,” she said.
“But as long as you still enjoy singing, it’s worth it.”
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge