Music enthusiast and aspiring vocalist Richa Peter Topno (21) is the first Indian winner of “10 Grand Challenge”, a singing contest hosted by StarMaker, a user-generated music and video platform. The online singing forum has a mobile app that allows the participant to record a solo cover, and to submit it as their official entry to the challenge. This year’s winning entry was by Richa. In conversation with Guardian 20, she talks about her musical journey and her future aspirations.

Q. How do you feel after winning the grand title and a cash prize worth $10,000? And how do you plan to use the money?

A. It feels so unreal! It is so difficult to believe, that I’ve won a global competition! I’ve never really got time to participate in a lot of competitions due to school and college and this was the first big competition I took part in, and it thrills me that I’ve actually won it. I definitely will use the money for my musical career—whether it be moving to Mumbai to look for new opportunities, or to buy better musical equipment and instruments.

Q. Has singing always been a passion? Tell us a bit about this journey of yours?

A. As far as I remember, I’ve always been musically inclined, but it was only around the age of 14 that I really started singing. I started listening to Western pop after the demise of Michael Jackson in 2009, and gradually, I realised that with a little bit of practice, I could actually sing my favourite songs as well. I started off by posting videos on YouTube but even then it was all about having fun. I didn’t really have any plans. I was simply doing what I liked. Then people gradually started noticing me, starting with the children at my school. My friends and family have been extremely supportive throughout and their belief in me is one of the reasons why I thought I could continue in this journey. Once, back in 2015, I was invited for an interview by 92.7 BigFm, and that’s when I realised that social media can actually help make your dreams true. You just have to be patient, and dedicated.

Q. How did you decide to compete on this particular platform, and what was the experience like?

A. When I discovered StarMaker, I was just looking for a platform to have fun while experimenting with music and I never thought that this would change my life. I started out with singing some of my favourite numbers, and got a good response from people. I also made lots of friends in the process, and that’s the best part about it. StarMaker regularly hosts contests and competitions, and luckily I downloaded the app just in time to be a part the 10 Grand Challenge. I thought I’d take part in the competition just for the experience. There were many people who were way more popular than I was, but I gained a lot of fans and followers because of the competition. It was intense, because in the first few days of the voting period, I didn’t even think I stood a chance to be in the Top 10, but by the end of the competition, things had completely changed—I had reached around 80,000 followers there, and it’s all because of their support that I’m here today. Now, I have more than 140,000 followers.

Q. Do you now look forward to participating in Indian reality singing TV shows?

A. Yes, I’d like to participate in The Stage or The Voice next year, and I will prepare myself this year for that. Reality shows demand a lot of effort and hard work and I want to make sure that I’m fully prepared before I enter any such competition. Reality shows give you lots of exposure. Before I even knew about StarMaker, I’d anyway decided to prepare myself for these shows.

Q. What is your long-term goal? Any plans to try out Bollywood or give independent music a chance?

A. Music is music for me. I’d be totally happy to sing for Bollywood, or do music independently. I love posting videos on YouTube, and that is also one platform that I want to explore more and experiment with. I love performing, and would love to do live shows. They really give you the opportunity to be truly you in front of your audience. My long-term goal would be to become a global artiste. I know it would take a lot of work, but I believe nothing is impossible. There are so many platforms out there, you just need to find the one that works for you the best, and put in all your efforts.

Q. What is your favourite type of music, since we have seen you performing songs—ranging from “Teri Meri” to “Despacito” and the “Shape Of You”—that come from a variety of genres?

A. My forte is Western pop and a bit of rock. Some of my favourites would be “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga and “Toxic” by Britney Spears. I also love peppy Bollywood songs like “Afghan Jalebi” and “Lat Lag Gayi” and old songs like “Jaaneja Dhoonta Phir Raha” and “Bin Tere Sanam”. Singing in other languages is also something I enjoy, and I’m going to practice more of Spanish, Arabic and if possible, French songs. Music has always been a coping strategy for me, so it’s not just limited to one genre. I listen to almost everything and my aim would be able to sing most if not all of the songs
I like.

Q. Please tell us a bit about your family background and education?

A. I belong to an Army background, with both my parents being in the Army. I’ve always studied in Army Public Schools wherever my parents were posted. The last one was Army Public School, Pune. I completed my bachelor’s degree from Fergusson College, Pune and I majored in psychology. I just graduated this year. Both my school and college have helped in shaping me as a musician as I took part in all of the musical activities in school and then later on participated in inter-college festivals. After graduating earlier this year, I decided to focus all my attention on music. It’s just been around 4-5 months that I’ve graduated, and I already feel like I’ve come a long way.

Q. Your musical idols?

A. I’ve always looked up to Michael Jackson, as I started listening to Western pop after his death, and then went on listening to more from the genre. My all-time favourites would be the Backstreet Boys, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Adele, Britney Spears, Sia, Rihanna. I absolutely love Justin Bieber, and I have been listening to his music ever since he was discovered. I also look up to the Indian pop-rock band and YouTube sensation, SANAM, and it’s my dream to work with them in the

Q. Besides signing, what are your other areas of interest?

A. I love dancing. In fact, before I decided that I wanted to become a singer, I’d always thought that I’d become a choreographer. I’m also into drawing, painting and a little bit of digital art and a bit of photography. I am also an occasional reader and i enjoy computer gaming.

Q. Any previous achievements that you would like to share with us?

A. I took part in competitions whenever they didn’t interfere with my studies. I’ve taken part in some college festivals like the St. Xavier’s (Mumbai) College fest called “Malhar” and stood 3rd in duet singing and first with our acapella group. I also won the second prize in a dance competition called Bareilly’s Got Talent.

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