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Rosalyn Lee and Sonia Chew Tell Us How They Adapt and Cope Under Pressure

By Lynette Kee

Tung Pham

Everyone knows Rosalyn Lee, or more affectionately, Rozz, for many things, and especially for her strong opinions and spontaneity. Lee, who recently turned 40, ended her 14-year stint as a radio DJ two years ago and has since moved on to a new chapter of her life. Today, she’s game to try new things, from travelling to the North Pole to eating bizarre foods (stew bats, anyone?) on a food series called “Weird Food Diaries” — all these and more, slotted in between her hosting gigs.

Lee met Sonia Chew in 2012 when the latter joined 987FM’s Radio Star search competition. It started out as a mentor-mentee relationship, which blossomed into camaraderie shortly after Chew won the competition. The 27-year-old is best known for her incessant eccentricities behind her 987FM show, “The Shock Circuit” alongside her partner Joakim Gomez. She also hosts an award-winning travel programme, “Travel SSBD” and is a go-getter — despite her goofy personality — who has had myriad accomplishments for someone her age. Being in the spotlight in this era is difficult, not just because of the scrutiny of the audience, but also because of the mushrooming of social platforms.

There’s a lot of pressure when one’s life as a public figure is under constant watch, and it often goes unnoticed behind the glamorous lifestyle that’s put out there. T Singapore caught up with these two inspiring women who capture TAG Heuer’s slogan, “Don’t Crack Under Pressure”, and as friends of the brand.

LYNETTE KEE: Tell me about your childhood ambitions. Was being a radio DJ something you’ve always wanted to do as a kid? 

SONIA CHEW: No! I had so many childhood ambitions! I wanted to be a lawyer, a vet and I wanted to be a Singapore Airlines air stewardess but obviously I didn’t meet the height limit so it didn’t happen.

ROSALYN LEE: And I was too tall to be a Singapore Airlines air stewardess! But I just always wanted to be a dancer – that didn't work out because I failed all my subjects in school at secondary 3 and my mom was like “You have to focus on school!" The focus led me to film school [and that] meant I had to work in the film industry, which I absolutely hate. Then I went to work for the army as a dancer and then radio. It all fell into place.

LK: How has career impacted your lives so far? 

RL: The good side of this, I would say, rather high-profile job is that it allows you to reach out to a lot more people. On the flip side for me – also one of the biggest reasons why I left – is because I couldn’t separate my success from who I am as a person. So, whenever I don’t get a gig or I get passed over for a shoot, it directly impacts my self-worth. At 38 years old, I just didn’t want to feel that anymore.

SC: For me, when I started out, Rozz played a big part in my career. I was not confident at all and super insecure about my abilities. I never had the confidence to go out there to believe that I can host and all that. So Rozz really had to nanny me for a bit, like “Girl, you got this!” So, she did play a crucial part in making me feel better about myself or my self-worth — as she puts it earlier. But in a way, the career that I’ve had so far, I’m very grateful for it. It has impacted my life in a way that I didn’t quite imagine, especially in the recent years. I’ve been trying to go to places like Singapore Girls’ Home — without sounding sappy. It’s a way for me to impact people in a positive manner, especially with social media being so toxic nowadays. With so many aspects of hate on social media, it feels really good to be able to do something nice [with what] we have.

Tung PhamRosalyn Lee sports the bold TAG Heuer Monaco watch.
Rosalyn Lee sports the bold TAG Heuer Monaco watch.

LK: Tell us a story when you felt like you were about to crack under pressure.

SC: When I started in radio, I was still in university. I thought, at the time, that maybe I want to quit school to do this full-time because there was a contract waiting for me but at the same time, I had one more year to complete my degree. [What happened was], I told my lecturer I wanted to quit and said, “I have this contract waiting for me. Hope you understand.” But my lecturers were wonderful people. They were like, “We want you to chase your dreams but please don’t quit. We will let you miss lectures and stuff but just make sure you don’t fail”. So, they left it to me and that was a moment when I felt a lot of pressure because my parents have been putting me through school my entire life and this was like the last leg, you know?

RL: And [your parents] are not exactly rolling in cash too. 

SC: Exactly! I come from a very humble background and I wanted to push my family to send me overseas to study but we couldn’t do that.

RL: But look, you bought them a car!

SC: I did!

RL: For me, it wasn’t career-related at all. There was one moment where I literally thought I was going to beg on the streets for money in Cuba. Nothing ever connects there, your bank card, your SIM card... nothing connects. I had only my credit card, which I couldn’t draw money from because I didn’t have my pin and I was going to be stuck there with no cash — only Singapore dollars, which they don’t recognise as cash. I [had] eight days left in that country with no way to contact my bank because I couldn’t call. Thank goodness for my friend, I managed to get her through WhatsApp call, and I was like, “You need to somehow call my bank and tell them to unlock my credit card.” And she very genius-ly used her mom’s phone and put me on speaker because the bank needed to hear my voice. Eventually I got to [withdraw] my money, paid a 3 per cent interest and was covered for the rest of the trip. But I was stressed for a good 48 hours, especially because I was alone.

SC: She's got such interesting stories, but like career-wise, our industry can be quite challenging and competitive. Sometimes it makes you feel like cracking — a lot of moments I do felt like maybe I can’t handle the pressure of the industry or just the way it is, but I’m glad that we’re here now! 

LK: What is one of the toughest parts of being under the scrutiny of the public?

SC: I cannot count the [number] of times I’ve been slammed on online portal Hardwarezone. When I first became public with the current guy I’m seeing (Chew is currently dating a 40-year- old investment banker), I also got slammed for so many things! Things that are very normal to us; [like] it’s just a normal relationship but people and keyboard warriors just find a reason to slam you. The worst part of it is that these people manage to also comment on your loved ones’ accounts, so I felt quite bad to put my family and close friends through that.

RL: I think I can take a lot of heat from haters because I know that they are less than 1 per cent of the population. I know this for a fact from personal experience. There was one time I was slammed for making a remark on National Service. I didn’t know what a sensitive topic it was until it blew up so wide and so quickly that my family members and relatives all heard about it. I had so many DMs expressing not just anger but disappointment in me and nothing kills me more than disappointment. And so, when I actually went up to people in real life to apologise, most of them told me that they’ve never even heard about it. I realised that the online community is really small. You always think it’s [big] because these online haters are very vocal you see. I think I’m a very strong person but I don’t feel very strong when I’m confronted with hate. I cannot imagine what it must feel like for someone who is less strong. So, after I [had] gone through this online flaming thing — this was the worst in my career — I just kept telling people that actually, the online community is not big.

Tung PhamSonia Chew with a TAG Heuer Carrera Lady timepiece.
Sonia Chew with a TAG Heuer Carrera Lady timepiece.

LK: Then how do you overcome fear and pressure from such situations?

RL: Time. Just like getting over a break-up. And self-awareness, I feel. If you’re not aware then you can’t fix the problem.

SC: It takes a while, yeah. You have to be the one to pull yourself out of that rut. Once you’re willing to change your mindset and gear up to achieve better goals or a more positive version of yourself, I think that really helps you get over the challenges in your life.

LK: How important is family in dealing with these situations? 

SC: To me, it’s very important. I’m an only child and I do tell my folks everything. All that matters to me is that I have them and a close circle of friends outside of the industry that keep me very grounded. In fact, the friends that I still hang out with now, my friends from school, we all have extremely different jobs and it’s always so refreshing to talk about something that is not related to [my] industry or media. 

RL: I’ve kind of always been quite independent because mom had to work two jobs and dad [had] left. So, I’ve always been very self-motivated, in a sense. I do have a group of friends I call my chosen family, but I’ve grown to realise that I don’t want to depend on them because everyone is broken in one way or another. It only became very apparent to me, over the last 10 years, that some people cover up their brokenness very well and I absorb these energies very easily. And so, I realised that I can’t have that group of friends that shape me into who I am. I need to do it myself. For me, especially for my character type, to be self-motivated.

LK: You both have such different characters, what are some of the things you’ve learnt from each other?

SC: I think Rozz really taught me to be a strong person. I don’t think I’m half as strong — even now. She really taught me that you have to be the person that brings yourself to the standard that you want to be. You can’t just rely on the situation or rely on someone to push you. You have to be the one to
push yourself.

RL: What I appreciate about Sonia, that I find quite rare — even among my very close friends — is the willingness to look within and sometimes admit to her faults and to own it. Especially when this industry requires a lot of ego and pride, you know. It’s a lot of vanity involved. I think you did very well. I’m very proud of you. You always choose to be the bigger person, always choose to look within and better yourself and actually you’re more self-motivated than you give yourself credit for. Before, when I was in radio, we didn’t have all these mediums to distract us from our listeners from what we do on radio. Now it’s harder to be a personality on radio because there are so many other platforms for you to consume content — who listens to radio intently anymore? To thrive in radio in this time and age is not easy and there are a lot of people who are still in the industry [who have] not achieve half of what Sonia’s done and I think that’s something quite special. You’ve got to give yourself credit for that.

Photography: Tung Pham
Creative Direction: Jack Wang
Production: Michelle Kok
Hair: Sean Ang using Kenue
Makeup: Wee Ming using Shu Uemura
Subjects: Rosalyn Lee, Sona Chew
Watches: TAG Heuer