At first glance, Mikey Robinson looks like any other 12-year-old boy. Get to know him better and you’ll realise that this soft-spoken tween has accomplished more in the past few years than most kids have in their lifetime.
The offspring of a British father and Japanese mother and raised in Singapore, Mikey started showing an aptitude for singing at the tender age of 4. Eager to get him into music, his mum Yuri ― who plays multiple instruments ― started her gifted child on voice-training lessons.
In the last two years, Mikey has performed internationally ― from Asia to New York’s Carnegie Hall. Not only has he performed in charity concerts in Singapore, Tokyo and Nagoya after the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, he has won two international vocal competitions.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Mikey released his debut album on June 2. Titled Boy Soprano, it features 14 songs handpicked by the young musical maestro himself, ranging from classical and romantic pieces, to even traditional Japanese folk songs.
The album, which is available on iTunes, clinched the number one spot in Singapore an hour after it dropped and also on the Indonesian iTunes classical chart.
SmartParents sits down for a cup of coffee with the boy wonder to find out more…
Congrats on your debut album topping the charts, Mikey! How does it feel?
It’s a great feeling, but to be honest I was very shocked to learn that my album hit number one in Singapore within an hour of dropping. I remember waking up at 10.30pm because my iPad was buzzing to remind me that my album had been released ― I had pre-ordered it. Then I went back to sleep and the next thing I know, my mum was shaking me at around 11pm saying, “You’ve reached number one!”. There were apparently lots of pre-orders, so it was constantly climbing the charts.
Tell me more about the songs in this album.
These are my all-time favourite songs which I have been performing for the past few years already. I don’t only sing in English, but also German, Italian and Japanese.
Do you speak all these languages?
Not really [laughs], so it can be quite hard when I’m learning them. I have to learn the proper pronunciation and translation. I get some help with it from one of my teachers, who is German, and the others I learn by watching YouTube videos.
“I do get stage fright once in a while. I cope with it by imagining the entire room is not filled with people, but potatoes!”
What’s your favourite song in the album?
Voi che sapete ― it’s an Italian song from Mozart’s famous opera, The Marriage of Figaro. I like it because one of the character, Cherubino, is a cheerful 14-year-old page boy who sings the song to an older lady that he's infatuated with.
So, where did your interest in singing stem from?
I come from a family of musicians on my mother’s side. My great-grandma and grandparents all dabbled in it. Mum sings and plays the piano and cello. I have two older brothers, William, 23, and James, 21. William plays the violin and piano and both of them sing a bit as well.
How did you get into performing?
My parents thought I was a very shy boy. When I was about 4 years old, they wanted to do something to encourage me to speak up. So, they sent me to a rhythmic class where I learnt how to dance and sing. I was still shy initially, but they tell me that a few months later, I was taking centre stage. And I was happy performing.
What’s your earliest memory of performing?
Probably when I was 4. I was singing a duet of medleys with another girl. I sang Somewhere Out There and I remember feeling awkward [laughs].
Do you get stage fright?
I do get stage fright once in a while. I cope with it by imagining the entire room is not filled with people, but potatoes! I’m not sure why I came up with that, but that tactic works to help me calm down.
That’s so interesting! Anything else you do to prep yourself before a big performance?
Before I go on stage to sing I will do some mouth practice, like saying my vowels “A, E, I, O, U” repeatedly. I will also take a deep breath right before I start singing.
So why sing soprano?
When I started singing I didn’t even know what a soprano was. Then one day, when I was 9, I watched a movie called Empire of the Sun with my mum and brothers. In it I heard soprano singer James Rainbird's rendition Suo Gân [a traditional Welsh lullaby]. His voice was very pure. The very second the song finished, I remember turning to my mum and asking her if I can sing professionally as a boy soprano.
What musical genre do you like to sing in?
Baroque is my favourite genre because you can express a lot of different emotions when you sing. Second best is classical or maybe pop because pop is very catchy. My favourite pop song right now is Symphony by Clean Bandit featuring Zara Larsson.
What’s your most memorable performance so far?
When I performed at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2015 and 2016. I had won a few segments ― musical theatre, classical and folk ― in this competition called American Protégé. All the winners got to perform at Carnegie Hall. I was so excited to perform in New York. Right before I started my solo performance, I did my usual routine of picturing everyone as potatoes. When I had finished and everyone started applauding, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I remember thinking, “I finally did it!”.
What do your friends and school mates think about you being a boy soprano?
I go to Tanglin Trust School. Three years ago my school invited me to sing during assembly for the first time and everyone made fun of me because they thought I sounded “girly”. I wasn’t too hurt because I saw it coming. My music teacher started making me sing more often and some students grew to appreciate my voice.
What do you love most about singing?
You can be totally free. When you’re singing you can express so much more as compared to talking. You have crescendos or background music that just happens to be there.
“You can be totally free. When you’re singing you can express so much more as compared to talking.”
What is the most challenging thing about being a boy soprano?
Trying to preserve my voice before it breaks. I can’t eat cold, spicy or greasy things. Cold things make my range go haywire, and spicy and greasy things crack my voice up. It basically damages my vocal cords. So no fries, even though I did have one last night. And I do get a scoop of ice cream after a performance. So yes, I do have my cheat days!
What happens after your voice breaks?
I can either become a baritone or a tenor. It depends on where my octave lies.
You’ve accomplished so much at such a young age, it’s easy to forget you’re only 12. What typical tween stuff do you do?
I use my iPad to watch YouTube videos of people doing stuff. I used to be into Minecraft, and I play a little Xbox. I like to play with my neighbour who is also my classmate. I practise karate and play tennis and basketball. Oh, and I also like to read, especially horror stories and fantasy like Harry Potter.
What’s a typical day for you?
I wake up at 6am every morning to get ready for my school bus, which comes at 7am. School is from 8am to 3pm and if I have extra-curricular activities, I will usually end at about 5pm or 6pm. Once I get home, I do my homework and practise my singing.
Before a performance, I will usually practise for about five consecutive days ― one to two hours of practice per day. But if I have school commitments, it will be about half an hour.
Sounds like a packed schedule. Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
Sometimes, especially when I forget to finish up my homework or study for a test. So, mum and I work together to help organise my time, so I can get ready for everything.
So, what’s next for the boy soprano?
I will be participating in a gala concert in conjunction with the Breast Cancer Foundation in October and doing some fundraising.
Quick-fire round, before we say goodbye. Complete the following sentences…
If I could sing with anyone it would be… Elton John. And I want to sing Can you Feel the Love Tonight with him.
The songs I can’t stop singing are… Pie Jesu, by Andrew Lloyd Weber ― which is also in my album ― and All of Me by John Legend.
If I could give other kids who are afraid to follow their dreams a piece of advice, it would be… There’s always a way, don’t give up.
On days when I’m just not in the mood to sing… I take a nap and for some reason once I wake up, I’m always up for singing.
The one tool that helps me sing is… My fidget spinner because it keeps me calm.
If I could thank anyone for my success it would be… Mummy, aka my manager, Eric my album producer, all my vocal teachers, my brothers and daddy, of course.
The best advice that mummy has given me is… Don’t forget the “beginner spirit”. When you begin something you’re always very excited, and then you make a lot of mistakes and then you have to remember your mistakes. So, always go back to the basics. And never be too proud.
Photos: Mikey Robinson
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