Manh Metheary, a 22-year-old Cambodian residing in Lowell, Massachusetts, came back to Cambodia this month to prove one thing: She can sing.
“I just want to know how good I am,” Ms Metheary said yesterday while waiting to perform in front of an audience of about 1,500 people.
“Nobody’s perfect and you want to know your level, but I guess people over here they really have a good sound,” she said.
Ms Metheary was one of 68 hopefuls that competed yesterday in the semifinals of the Universal Khmer Song Festival 2010, which is being promoted as the first international search for the best Cambodian singers.
Held at the New Wedding Plaza on Koh Pich in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district, the Universal Khmer Song Festival allows contestants to perform either a traditional or modern Khmer song, according to Allan Cheung, chief marketing officer for FX Entertainment, one of the organizers of the event.
The contestants, who were chosen from preliminary auditions in early July, hail from all 24 provinces and cities in Cambodia, as well as the US, Canada, Australia, France and the Netherlands.
Sang Summach Lydeth, an 18-year-old contestant from Phnom Penh, said yesterday that she didn’t expect to get so far in the competition.
“I am really surprised that I’m competing in the semi-finals, and I hope I will pass to the next round,” she said backstage yesterday.
A panel of 10 judges, comprising officials from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, local celebrities, singers and composers, chose the 20 finalists last night who will perform again in the finals on July 22. The winners of the contest will be announced on July 23.
Deputy director-general from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts Yun Khean, one of the judges for the competition, said that the contestants are being judged on both voice quality and performance.
There will be 12 winners overall: the top three male and top three female performers in the respective categories of traditional and modern song. All 20 finalists will receive products from the sponsors and cash prizes; the first-place winners will be awarded $1,500.
The competition is organized primarily by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and sponsored by 17 companies, including Canadia Bank—the largest donor.
Khim Sarith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said yesterday that the ministry hopes to continue the Universal Khmer Song Festival for future years, but whether that will happen depends on sponsors agreeing to contribute to the competition on a yearly basis.
“Generally, we think we can continue next year. The ministry is making more of an effort for sponsors to invest in Cambodian culture,” he said.
Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Him Chhem, who presided over the event yesterday, stressed the importance of music to Cambodian culture in his introduction to the event.
“The truth and prestige of Khmer songs will not fade away because they are important for our society’s morale,” Mr Chhem said.
Bayon TV will broadcast the winners live on July 23.