Mila, The Comeback Kid

28 May

Mila is determined to work hard at her singing career.
Mila is determined to work hard at her singing career.

DENNIS CHUA talks to the winner of Akademi Fantasia 5 who was twice on the brink of being dropped.

NOR Syarmilla Jirin is the comeback kid of Akademi Fantasia, Astro’s hit reality talent show.

Twice on the brink of elimination, Nor Syarmilla, or Mila, is the newly-crowned queen of Akademi Fantasia 5.

At the end of the first concert on March 17, host Aznil Nawawi announced that there would be two eliminations. Facing the drop were part-time actress Adyana Kholid (Diya) of Gombak, Mila, and Ebi Kornelis @ Firdaus Yaimal of Sabah (who eventually finished as runner-up).

Diya went home; just as Aznil was about to announce the next to go, the producers decided to spare Mila and Ebi because contestant Wan Nurul Zhana Wan Hanizan, the former Traxx FM disc jockey, had withdrawn from the show due to personal reasons shortly before the first concert.

Then at the end of the third concert on April 1, Mila once again faced the drop, together with fellow Penangite Aryanna Ahmad (Dekna).

Once again, she was relieved: Astro pulled up a “kejutan” (surprise) and spared them both, as the musical theme for the evening was forgiveness and mercy.

Looking back, Mila said: “Sometimes I feel if Zhana had not pulled out, I would not have won…”

She said that her two near-elimination experiences were a “wake-up call” and from that day onwards, she worked extra hard to master all the skills the Academy’s teachers and principal Roslan Aziz taught her.

She improved by leaps and bounds from the fourth concert onwards, her SMS votes rose significantly and placed her in the third, second and finally first position at the end of subsequent concerts.

Life hasn’t been easy for Penang girl Mila, the eldest of security guard Jirin Burhan’s three daughters.

“We learnt the value of thrift at a young age. I was never to spend more than RM1 for my school meals in primary school,” she said.

Mila studied in Sekolah Kebangsaan Teluk Kumbar in her hometown, Bayan Lepas, and later did her secondary education in Sekolah Menengah Teluk Kumbar and Sekolah Menengah Teknik Tunku Abdul Rahman in Ayer Itam, George Town.

She was a member of her primary school’s nasyid choir, and took part in her first singing contest at the Prangin Mall in George Town when she was 16.

“One of the earliest songs I remember singing was Sudirman’s Salam Terakhir. I was 13 and performed it for a teacher’s farewell party in Sekolah Menengah Teknik Tunku Abdul Rahman,” she said, adding that she was also a member of her school’s choir.

Mila also learnt to dance when she was 17 and was one of 20 students who represented Penang in the 2004 Citrawarna Malaysia celebrations in Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur.

“That was my first visit to Kuala Lumpur. I only returned for AF5,” she said.

Jirin, 46, and his wife, factory employee Zurina Haron, 36, insisted that Mila complete Form Five before embarking on a singing career.

“Emphasising the importance of education, my parents only gave their blessings to my singing career once I completed my Form Five,” she said.

Mila’s father is a former musician, and excels in playing the drums. “He taught me a lot about music, both traditional and modern. My mother and my youngest sister, Nor Fazlin Sakina, 10, also love singing.”

Mila began her singing career by performing with various singing groups and bands at dinner shows and weddings. She performed twice or thrice a year in Penang, and sometimes in Langkawi.

“We sang mostly for tourists and this is where I learnt to improve my English,” she said.

Her parents gave her full support when she chose to audition for Akademi Fantasia 4 last year. She was rejected, but luck was on her side this year.

“Akademi Fantasia has been a wonderful learning process for me. I’ve learnt so much about music, performing and the people of my country,” she said.

She cites stage performance teacher Fatimah Abu Bakar, vocal performance teacher Adnan Abu Hassan and vocal techniques teacher Syafizawati Sharif as her favourite coaches. “Cikgu Fatimah and Cikgu Syafizawati were like mother figures to me.”

When she learnt that Roslan Aziz was the principal of AF5, Mila initially felt a little nervous, as Roslan is known to be a “cikgu garang” (strict teacher). That feeling changed as she got to know them. “My teachers were a lot nicer than I thought. They may have been stern and demanding at times, but at the end of the day, they cared for us.”

Mila has been a follower of Akademi Fantasia since its second season. Among her favourites are AF 2 heart-throb Wan Muhammad Khair Wan Azami (Kaer) and A 4’s second runner-up Farhan Azizan.

“I love Farhan for her superb vocals and versatility. She is also a fighter, who made it in AF after exiting two Malaysian Idol seasons.

“Kaer is mature, knowledgeable and romantic. His hit song Izin Ku Pergi is so lovely,” she said.

Among established artistes, her idol is Anita Sarawak, whom she dubs Malaysia’s “queen of entertainment”.

Now that she’s a budding star, Mila promises not to rest on her laurels.

“I’ll continue to improve my singing and performing skills, as Abang Lan (Roslan) always tells us. Nothing comes easy in life, and certainly not the status of a superstar,” she said, adding that she plans to learn songwriting and playing the piano.

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