Fast Track to Stardom
After a plodding start to his career here, S'porean Harris Baba is enjoying a change of fortune across the Causeway
He got his start on the first season of Channel 5 reality TV singing competition The Final 1 in 2013.
Local singer Harris Baba instantly gained a female following, thanks to his Zayn Malik-esque good looks and smooth R&B vocals.
The Top 40 finalist, who was doing national service then, had hoped the show would be a springboard for him to crack the local entertainment industry, but it was not to be.
Harris, 25, who is of Pakistani, Kashmiri-Iranian and Chinese descent, told M over the phone from Sabah, Malaysia: "I knew I could get acting roles on Channel 5 because my English is good, but they were always sceptical as I was a new guy...
"I got called up for Suria castings, but my Malay was really bad so I didn't get any roles at all. In Singapore, they were not willing to groom new talent."
Although he did get small roles on Channel 5 and performed at gigs and charity events for a year, they were "nothing memorable".
HONOUR: Harris is nominated for Best New Artiste (Male) and Best Collaboration (Song) at Anugerah Planet Muzik, which will be held in Singapore on Sept 30.
So it might be Singapore's loss and Malaysia's gain as he is now making waves across the Causeway and is even nominated at next month's Anugerah Planet Muzik, considered the Grammys of the Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia music industries.
Things looked up for Harris in late 2014, when he started getting calls from directors, music producers and composers to go to Kuala Lumpur.
Without a manager, Harris negotiated his own deals for performances.
"Even payment-wise, it was so much better there. Even though it was in ringgit, when converted, the money was still better," he said.
"It was amazing because my first magazine shoot for InTrend Magazine was for the top 50 guys of 2015 and I was No. 39 even though I had just stepped into Malaysia. (Malaysia-based local actor) Aaron Aziz was 46, so I was so proud of it.
"I've been offered so many opportunities there that I couldn't even dream of in Singapore. But it was sad... while I was making it in Malaysia, I was forgotten in my own country," he said.
MOVED TO KL
Harris began shuttling between both countries for six months and finally moved to KL last year.
He scored a lead role in the telemovie Cinta Viral opposite Malaysia actress Elfira Loy, then had a second telemovie, Alien Planet Cinta.
"My name started being thrown around a lot in the acting industry, but that was exactly when I decided I wanted to go back to music," he said.
Harris signed with Malaysian record label Faithful Music and released his debut single Katakan in March. It was used as the theme song for popular Malaysian drama series Cinta 11 Syarat and garnered him Best New Artiste (Male) and Best Collaboration (Song) nominations at Anugerah Planet Muzik, which will be held in Singapore on Sept 30.
Harris said: "I did not expect to get nominated this year because I have only one single and it was released just five months ago.
"I remember thinking to myself that if I were to get nominated, it would be a dream come true. And it happened."
He added: "Winning will be a bonus, but it is an honour enough to be considered among all these artists from (around the region)."
Harris is filming his first drama series, Isteri Tuan Ihsan, starring Aaron Aziz and Amyra Rosli, and his second single is slated for a November release to coincide with the show's premiere.
Three months ago, he married Sabah native Nik Naziha (above), 21, whom he met in Singapore in 2013. His female fans were thrown into a flurry as he had not made their relationship public before the wedding.
He said: "Everyone has been asking me why I kept it a secret. It is actually not. I just wanted to protect my wife because you know how people on the Internet can get.
"I didn't need to read negative comments about her. She is a simple and low-profile person, so I didn't want her to be overwhelmed and hurt by criticism."
Some think that getting hitched at the peak of his career might scream career suicide for a heart-throb, but Harris disagreed, and said: "I never expected to get married at 25, but I guess this is my fate. My wife knew me before this newfound fame. She saw my journey, through my struggles back home to making it here."