IS Zoe Tay nearing the end of her reign at Caldecott Hill? The latest sign is her loss of the My Favourite Actress award to dark horse Huang Biren.
The award, which was by public voting, was one of those given out during the Star Awards 25th Drama Anniversary Show on Sunday.
Both she and Fann Wong were widely tipped to be shoo-ins for the award.
And when results were announced, the gasp of disbelief came no louder than from Biren herself.
|Reporter: Are you being punished for blabbing off during your pregnancy?
Zoe: (Pause) I don't know.
Zoe: (Later) It can't be lah, my company loves me so much!
She said she didn't think she would win as she believed "it would definitely go to either Zoe or Fann".
As for Zoe herself?
"I'm disappointed, disappointed to death!" was her comeback.
The 39-year-old may have been joking, but is it really a laughing matter?
After all, the buzz on the grapevine is that Zoe stepped on a few important toes last year in the ruckus over her pregnancy, and this snub is the latest in a series of "punishments".
In August, Zoe told Citta Bella magazine that she doesn't get paid during her pregnancy and her contract was suspended during the period. This was under a new company policy.
It earned her a public rebuttal from her company, which clarified that it wasn't true. That episode did not come without repercussions.
Like the glaring lack of fanfare over Zoe's delivery of her second child Ashton Chionh in September. (See report below)
But what's most telling is the utter lack of endorsements - a major source of income for artistes - this time round.
After Brayden's birth, Zoe was hawking milk formula, a spa's services, diapers and a slimming product. (Brayden is her firstborn son.)
Now, only her endorsement for the milk formula is still standing, said her manager Carolyn Chong.
When The New Paper spoke to Zoe before the Drama Anniversary Show on Sunday, she joked: "Yah, no one has dared to approach me yet (for endorsements)."
Could it be a slap on the wrist for her remarks during her pregnancy?
To that, Zoe paused for five seconds before looking at this reporter straight in the eye and replying: "I don't know."
But she later recovered and said with a grin: "It can't be lah, my company loves me so much!"
Ms Chong also explained later: "Understandably, there was more excitement over the first child. But this time round, it's probably quieter because the branding from the first round of endorsements is still very strong."
Her pregnancy also led to a long absence from the small screen, which perhaps hurt her popularity.
Zoe's last drama was last year's A Million Treasures. She has not been nominated for any acting awards since 2004 and is not up for any this year.
RETURNING IN JANUARY
Zoe is due to return to duty in January but the only thing on her plate so far is a 50-episode drama serial.
She said: "It's not nice for me to take up something else since I've already said yes to this. Anyway, it's 50 episodes, it will take up a lot of time."
Zoe's fans are also disappointed that they have not seen their idol for a long time.
President of her fan club, Ms Joey Chua, told The New Paper: "Perhaps it's coincidental that these things happened after the contract suspension case, but some fans are speculating if Zoe is being penalised for it, especially after she lost My Favourite Actress."
Whether or not these are signs that Zoe's being given the cold shoulder by MediaCorp, one thing's for sure, she's a lot more cautious with her words these days.
While she used to be known as a relaxed interviewee, chatting away with ease, her replies on Sunday, were guarded and carefully phrased.
When she saw that her manager was not present at the start of the interview, she reminded her assistants twice to hurry Ms Chong over.
A source told The New Paper it is common knowledge in the industry that Zoe's status in the company is no longer as secure as it used to be.
"The company is a commercial entity, profit is its bottomline. If the returns do not commensurate with what they are paying her, they will just adjust her salary to the point where she cannot accept it any more and choose to leave."
The source added that it'd be better for her to exit gracefully instead of clinging on.
But Zoe's good friend David Gan still believes that she has what it takes to hold on to her crown.
He said: "Both she and Fann can never be replaced, you have to admit that. Even if Zoe is really banished to 'cold storage' one day, she will bounce back.
She's like a spring, she will surprise you by coming out of it better and stronger."
I picked Ashton because it sounds nice
"CHUBBY" was how Zoe Tay described her baby Ashton Chionh. The little tot was born on 23 Sep.
Zoe told The New Paper that she had picked the name this time, because her husband had picked the name Brayden for their first child.
|Zoe and baby Ashton at his full-month birthday party in October. He will turn 3 months on 23 Dec.
She said: "There wasn't any particular reason that I picked Ashton. I just went through a list of names and it sounded the nicest."
But having two young sons is taking its toll on her.
Zoe said she now has a stiff back - a recurrence of her slipped disc injury sustained in 2003 from rehearsing for a charity show.
She has yet to seek a chiropractor's help, relying on Chinese acupuncture and tui na (massage) for the time being.
The injury makes it hard to carry her sons, and is especially inconvenient as she is breastfeeding Ashton.
Zoe has also hired a second maid to help take care of Ashton.
Thankfully for Zoe, there are no signs of sibling rivalry between Ashton and Brayden, at least not yet.
Zoe said: "Brayden is still adjusting to a younger brother, but we are careful to give both equal attention. He watches his baby brother a lot, and would alert us if Ashton is crying."
She is now scouting around for a playschool for Brayden next year when she returns to work after her maternity leave.