The Mongolian edition of “Your Face Sounds Familiar” became an instant hit this summer, keeping many viewers glued to their televisions. For 10 weeks, eight celebrities were challenged to impersonate randomly chosen iconic music artists and compete to win a 20 million MNT cash prize raise funds for the Mazaalai Foundation. Singer P.Bayartsengel became the first ”series champion” of the Mongolian edition of the interactive reality television franchise series developed by Endemol and Antena 3.
For two months, Bayartsengel defied his limitations, transforming himself to become the legendary godfather of hip-hop Tupac Shakur, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, stunning Russian singer Natasha Koroleva, reggae’s Bob Marley, singer and bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst, Redfoo of American electronic dance music duo LMFAO, famous Ukrainian singer and composer Vitas, prominent Mongolian singer L.Banzragch, and member of Nomin Talst T.Delgermurun. His final performance, an impersonation of Bruno Mars singing his hit song “Uptown Funk”, earned him the grand prize of 20 million MNT.
The following is an interview with the rising star P.Bayartsengel.
Congratulations on becoming the series champion of “Your Face Sounds Familiar”.
I’m absolutely elated to have won this award despite being a rookie artist. I believe that viewers gave me a lot of trust and support.
The show’s contestants chose the person they would impersonate for the final stage of competition. Why did you choose to transform into Bruno Mars?
Whether it is his voice or height, Bruno Mars and I seemed very similar. That’s why I chose to impersonate him, because I thought I might have a little bit of an advantage.
You sang “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars. Was there a specific reason for choosing this song?
Yes, this song became a massive hit and gained considerable popularity. I assumed that “Uptown Funk” would be easy to sing, but I was wrong. In fact, it was incredibly hard to sing.
The audience was very impressed by your transformation and performance. How much did you prepare for your final performance?
In my case, Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” was the stage I worked hardest at since the beginning of “Your Face Sounds Familiar”. The outcome was much better than my previous winning performance, an impersonation of Bob Marley. In that regard, I think the audience recognized my efforts and enjoyed it more than the previous performances.
Singer B.Amarkhuu was leading with 35 points from the jury’s votes before the audience polling for the final stage. However, you gained an overwhelming victory with 41,369 votes from viewers. Were you confident that you would win?
I thought to myself that the outcome was obvious, that B.Amarkhuu would win. I mean, he had already taken the lead from me by one vote. Moreover, B.Amarkhuu had been getting many more votes from viewers throughout the show. So, I was sure that he would win the audience polling and become the series champion, as he had already received the most points from the judges. I was completely shocked to have received over 41,000 votes from viewers.
You were shocked because it all happened within just a few hours, right?
For a country with such a small population, around 41,000 votes is a huge number. I would have never expected so much support from the public. Even the producers doubted whether a contestant could get text message votes from 20,000 people. Yet, double that number of people supported me. A person who has received such a big gift from the public must work hard not to disappoint them. These votes are a huge gift for a rookie artist like me.
I assumed that “Uptown Funk” would be easy to sing, but I was wrong. In fact, it was incredibly hard to sing.
How has “Your Face Sounds Familiar” impacted your life?
In general, my everyday life has changed completely. During “Your Face Sounds Familiar”, I rescheduled all my activities and album-making, and devoted all my time to the show. After becoming the ultimate winner, I felt very strange waking up the following day. It was as if I no longer had anything to contemplate or worry about. I kind of wished the show had continued for a little bit longer.
It just shows how much you enjoyed the show. Don’t you agree?
Indeed. It was a wonderful project.
During the show, judge G.Gankhuu complimented your voice and told you to have your voice tested, if there’s such an institute. Can you comment on this?
I think judge G.Gankhuu said it in a rush of emotion. I’m happy to have participated and won a world famous show with my own skills.
According to rumors, B.Amarkhuu’s family opposed his participation in “Your Face Sounds Familiar”. Did you face any similar problems?
No, not at all. It’s probably impossible to pull strings in this show. B.Amarkhuu received more points from the judges, but there’s no way to influence the audience polling. I mean, the public sends text messages to support the performance they enjoyed.
You were introduced as “the son-in-law of Modern Nomads Group” at the award ceremony. Did you receive a lot of encouragement and support from your wife?
My wife has been working as the manager of a branch restaurant of Modern Nomads for six years. She specialized in economics at university. She’s an ordinary Mongolian lady. We were classmates in middle school and high school. My wife supported me so much throughout this show. She even coached me for my winning performance and my impersonation of Bob Marley.
She takes care of all my backstage matters and gives me a lot of courage. My whole family used to gather to watch live broadcasts of “Your Face Sound Familiar”. My daughters made quite a ruckus calling for me from the audience.
Your older brother came to encourage you and watch your performances. How many siblings do you have?
My older brother supports everything I do and always gives me advice. Our siblings are only two years apart. My brother runs his own studio, Khemnel, and is also an artist. I’m the youngest in our family. I have two older brothers and two older sisters. The name “Tsengel” (pleasure) is included in all of our names.
From the oldest, we’re called P.Tsermaa, P.Tsengel, P.Tsengelmaa, P.Otgontsengel, and P.Bayartsengel.
You won 20 million MNT from “Your Face Sounds Familiar”. How do you plan to spend this money?
I haven’t received the cash prize yet. Everyone was on a break celebrating the National Naadam Festival. Twenty million MNT is a large sum of money for a young person. It will become a good investment for my life and career.
I will dedicate a portion of the 20 million MNT to charity. I’m still thinking about exactly what to use it for. I will then efficiently manage the rest of the cash prize. For instance, I will spend it on my album, since producing a single song requires quite a bit of money.
On average, how much is spent on producing a song?
A song requires approximately five to six million MNT, including audio recording and filming a music video.
During the show, you impersonated Natasha Koroleva. Was it difficult to impersonate a singer of the opposite sex?
It was interesting to sing while wearing a gown and 10 cm high heels. It was the first time I had ever transformed into a female artist. People who watched the show said that I looked very similar to my sister on that episode. Even my sister’s coworkers told her that we resembled each other a lot.
Twenty million MNT is a large sum of money for a young person. It will become a good investment for my life and career. I will dedicate a portion of the 20 million MNT to charity.
Would you say that you’re a fun person?
I consider myself a very open person. However, I’m careful about the things I talk about with people I’ve recently become acquainted with. That might slightly upset some people or give them a bad impression. In general, I think that very few people badmouth me behind my back.
You’re known as a singer despite your degree in acting. What was the first film you were in?
I graduated from film school in Ulaanbaatar in 2011. The very first film I acted in was “Az Jargalyn Ereld” (Pursuit of Happiness). I’m not sure if the readers have heard of or watched this film. It is an independent film produced by young artists from Dornod Province. It showed the modern lifestyle of Mongolians born since the 1980s.
In the future, which career will you focus on?
I’m not exactly a professional singer. I’m very interested in studying singing in the future. I’m unable to do so at the moment due to personal reasons. Still, I will continue to make new songs.
When will you start working on your next album?
Can’t I rest for a few days? (laughs) I recently performed in several provinces during the Naadam holiday. In a few days, I will visit my parents in my hometown and get back to work after a short rest. Actually, the songs for my second album are ready. It will be my first pop album though. Previously, I released an album featuring only yodeling. I plan to release a brand new album consisting of around 10 songs, including “For You”, “Holly Dolly” and “Sanakhdaa” (When I Miss You), songs that are already popular in Mongolia.