NEXT year, Zoe Tay celebrates her 20th year in show business.
The former model was crowned MediaCorp's first ever Star Search winner in 1988
and remains the station's Da Jie (Big Sister).
While the last drama serial she starred in was A Million Treasures in December
last year, she remains popular.
She headlines TV charity shows and is always tasked with getting the most
donations from viewers. She usually succeeds.
She still gets endorsement deals, each pegged to lucrative five-figure sums,
and she's the darling of women's magazines who use her on their covers.
Ms Wang Yan Qing, deputy editor of Chinese women's magazine Citta Bella, says:
"Magazines love to use her as their cover girl because her eyes talk to you.
She is a unique actress who doubles up just as well as a model."
Tay has graced Citta Bella's cover every August since 2005 because "she is a
national icon", adds Ms Wang.
Competitors to the throne, such as actresses Ann Kok and Phyllis Quek, have
come and gone, but no one has ever reached her star status.
Her strongest rival has been Fann Wong, 36, who has since carved a niche for
herself overseas, acting in Hollywood and international films and releasing
albums in Taiwan.
Even then, Fann is always dubbed No. 2 by the media here with Tay taking top
Shin Min Daily's entertainment editor Kwan Seck Mui says it boils down to an
alluring star quality. "Since the day she won Star Search, she has exuded the
presence of a star. No one has been able to succeed her because they don't
carry the same presence she has," she says.
Ironically, as Singapore's first real star, Tay's status may work against her
in the years to come. An artiste manager, who declines to be named, says that
the actress suffers from the baggage of being the Queen of Caldecott Hill.
"She can't play heartlander ?auntie' roles as convincingly as veterans such as
Xiang Yun or Hong Huifang because she needs to maintain her glamorous image.
That narrows her scope," he says.
For an actress who turns 40 next January, snagging glamorous roles may be a
challenge, he adds.
Ms Kwan notes that Tay's star has dimmed in recent years. "You don't see her in
that many roles anymore, partly because of her pregnancy. She would need a
One way for MediaCorp to use Tay would be to produce a drama serial specially
tailored for the actress, she says.
If that succeeds, the impact would be similar to Hong Kong veteran actress
Nancy Sit, who in 1996 at the age of 41 made a major comeback with her Auntie
Hao role in the long-running drama serial A Kindred Spirit.
Ms Wang of Citta Bella suggests that Tay host TV shows with fashion themes, or
take on more modelling projects. "People in the industry love her," she says.
"She can fulfil the role of the sophisticated woman role model lacking right
Whatever role she decides, Tay's fans say she will remain their hero. As
retiree Sim Ah Kim, 65, says: "Every time she is on TV, I'll watch."