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'$18m bid for stardom'

Sun Ho wearing a body-hugging black outfit in the music video for her single Fancy Free. She had four No. 1 hits on the Billboard dance charts. (PHOTO: SUN HO MUSIC)

Publication Date : 27-06-2012


What did a purported S$23 million (US$18 million) do for Ho Yeow Sun's music career?

It apparently gave her four No. 1 hits on the Billboard dance charts, an English-language album produced by famed rapper-producer Wyclef Jean, a slick music video featuring her gyrating to a pulsating beat, and a US$20,000 a month Hollywood Hills mansion.

Yesterday, Ho's pastor husband and four others were arrested for allegedly misusing at least S$23 million in church funds to finance her career without the knowledge of the church's executive members, who were not told how the funds were being used.

Efforts had also been made to conceal how the funds were diverted to this purpose, said the Commissioner of Charities.

Even as governance issues were raised by these revelations, some music industry insiders wondered whether the large sums thrown into boosting her career had paid off.

A director of an artist management company said: "I don't think it's wrong to pursue a career in the US. But she really got nowhere, and after spending all that money."

The money, it seems, was used to fund a grand plan the church had touted as The Crossover Project, an ambitious endeavour to expand the reach of Christianity through Ho's secular music.

The project received wide support from church members when it was mooted around 2002, when Ho, 42, was about to launch herself as a singer in Taiwan.

City Harvest Church member Gavin Gan, 38, said he had no problems with tithe money going towards this. "I'm sure whatever they did, whatever we give to the church, it's for the church to expand," said the marketing manager. "I'm supportive of the church direction, which is to reach out to the secular world."

Yesterday, some church members continued to stand by Ho, and the project. "It's not an easy feat for a local singer to have gone so far. One must have talent and put in hard work to achieve international star status. How many locals have done it?" said Daryl Teo, 37, managing director of a public relations consultancy.

Ho's 10-year music career - where she went from a wholesome 'pastor-singer' to a vampy dance artist - has been dogged by nagging allegations that her music career was being bankrolled by the church, where she was music director and which her husband Kong Hee founded.

In April, the church held a special 10th-year anniversary celebration of The Crossover Project, where Kong gave a rundown of the strategy. He said he had received a calling to "touch the entire Chinese-speaking world" when he went to Taiwan for a speaking engagement in 1999.

In 2002, Ho launched her first Mandarin album, "Sun With Love". In 2003, Ho, popularly known as Sun Ho, said she was asked by Tonos Entertainment, an American music company, to do a few singles for the US market.

But online checks showed the company, which was co-owned by Grammy-winning producers David Foster and Kenneth 'Babyface' Edmonds, went out of business in September 2003.

Ho appeared at the Grammy Awards in 2004 and worked on an English-language album, although it was never released. "I feel like I'm doing my heritage proud," she had said in 2006 when she was working on it.

But music insiders were doubtful she made it under her own steam. 'The Billboard dance chart is based on airplay, not sales. You just pay to promote yourself to get radio stations to play your songs, said one senior music executive yesterday.

"You can just pay for a top-notch PR company and it will pull the strings to get you into events and award shows."

A director of a record label here estimates it will cost between US$300,000 and $1 million to produce an album in the US.

A collaboration with Wyclef Jean could have cost between US$50,000 and US$300,000.

The artist management company director said: "Anybody can go to Hollywood. With money, you can go anywhere. The whole industry is for sale."

Ho has also faced criticism - some from within the church quarters - that members and church staff were strongly encouraged to buy her CDs.

Throughout her career, another thing remained constant: her husband's unwavering support of her career. The two met when Ho joined the church as a volunteer in 1989. He proposed in 1992, even though they never dated, and they married six months later. The couple have a seven-year-old son.

In an interview with The Straits Times, she said she could never accept a man who would rein in her dreams. "So I always say, I married a man who loves me more than I love him."

She could not be reached yesterday, but Mark Kwan, her stylist, said she was "definitely distraught".


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