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The nine finalists of Tieng Hat Mai Xanh (Evergreen Voice) singing contest

The Tieng Hat Mai Xanh (Evergreen Voice) singing contest for people over 35 is not based on commercial potential, but a love of music

Last year, Ngo Thi Hoai Phuong, a 57-year-old woman with health issues, traversed the long distance between Binh Thuan Province and Ho Chi Minh City to take part in the first Tieng Hat Mai Xanh singing competition.

She made it all the way to the semi-finals. This year, she came back again.

"I have heart disease and that makes me nervous. But singing is the only thing which makes me feel at ease" Phuong told Vietweek.

Despite coming from a poor family, Phuong pursues her love for singing due to the great support from her friends and family. This year, she also missed progressing to the finals, but she said was completely satisfied with her experience nonetheless.

Also 57, Nguyen Thi Thanh surprised both the organizers and contestants by traveling over 30 kilometers from Dong Nai Province to HCMC on her bicycle. It was her turn to perform as soon as she arrived. After a minute-long rendition, she immediately returned to Dong Nai to feed her chickens.

Thanh spent her young adulthood raising her children, having to work especially hard after her husband died. She said that singing is her favorite hobby and always makes time for it.

The oldest contestant to pass through the audition round is Tran Thi Tuy, 89, from the central beach town of Nha Trang. Tuy said she joined the contest to encourage the youth and prove that singing is really a timeless pursuit.

Tuy recalled audience reaction to 74-year-old Le Thi Nhung, who was the oldest finalist of last year's competition. However, Tuy looks like a chic cosmopolitan lady compared to Nhung. Tuy's chic flashy outfits and 7cm heels really embolden her already confident stage presence.

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Those are just a few in thousands of middle-aged and elderly contestants who have gone to great lengths to take part in the competition, whose final round began on March 23 and will last through April 20, which includes nine finalists from three age groups (35-50, 51-65 and over 65).

In the first stage of the finals on March 23, the contestants warmed up the stage inside the Ho Chi Minh City Television (HTV) studio. Many of them showed up with their entire families eager to support their loved one pursue their dream.

Doan Phong, representative of the event's organizer, the May Q company, said the contest is more like a holiday than a cutthroat competition, as nobody is too concerned about winning the prize or developing singing careers.

"The top award includes a cash prize of VND40 million (US$2,000) and trip for two to Japan. However, that part of the contest is not emphasized. Upon meeting them, the contestants have surpassed all my expectations. They appear much younger than their age would indicate and it is clear that singing is healthy pabulum for them," said Phong.

Rarely does a contest receive as much appreciation as Tieng Hat Mai Xanh does. Articles covering the contest tend to be followed by positive comments from viewers of all ages.

"I prefer this contest to ones like Vietnam's Got Talent or Vietnam Idol. The contestants are great and their voices are nice too. I look at those old people with awe and hope my spirit will be so rosy when I reach their age. The television station should invest highly in such a program annually," said a netizen.

Still pure fun

Phong said that there were 3,525 applicants for this season, 1,000 more than last year.

Before the audition in February, many reporters noted that this year applicants had the chance to be coached by members of the Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory of Music, where the auditions took place.

The new service caused doubts about the contest's friendliness and fairness among some observers, due to its VND200,000 fee.

However, nearly all the contestants chose to use the service, which helped them pick a song suitable to their voice and develop performance styles. Participants also had the chance to practice with the music player. Getting acquainted with the music relieved much of the pressure.

And so far, the contest has been totally unaffected.

Phong said many of this year's contestants also attended last season.

"I did not recognize until they told me, or I saw them talking with other contest veterans. It was very funny when they would forget the lyrics. But the judges were very laid back, whispering prompts, as friends would," said Phong.

Composer Vu Hoang, one of the contest's judges, said that he was touched by the enthusiasm of the elderly contestants.

"They sang songs which have not been heard in a long time. They revived the strength of songs from a bygone era and proved their value is ageless, just like them," said Hoang.

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