La, la, la, la, la, sings 16-year-old Joey Yung as she tries to raise her pitch at the start of her weekly vocal lesson in Mong Kok. Fashionably dressed in a figure-hugging top and a hot pink mini-skirt, Joey is no ordinary music student. The slim teenager is a budding recording artist, and a lucky one in that she is being groomed to be a pop idol. She is also undoubtedly the envy of many starry-eyed youngsters across the territory who are keen to make a name in the glamorous world of show business. For those who enjoy impressing others with their singing at karaoke lounges or are confident about their vocal talents, a singing career is too tempting to resist. Given the fortunes raked in by the Four Kings of Canto-pop and newly-risen stars such as Cass Phang Ling, many look upon singing as a lucrative career. Joey, who beat hundreds of others to win a karaoke contest last year, was thrilled to be approached by entertainment company First Karaoke, which has since become her agent. With her parents' approval, she has also accepted an offer of a recording contract from music company, Go East. Now, as she looks forward to the coming school year as a Form Five student, Joey is also eagerly awaiting the release of her debut album, scheduled next year. 'I must seize the opportunity,' she says. 'There may be some time conflicts between my studies and working, but I'll leave everything to my company.' While she has yet to achieve celebrity status at school, the aspiring pop star has already become the focus of attention and admiration of fellow students. 'They always ask me questions about other singers, whether I have seen so and so or how I find them. I don't like that,' she confesses. Over the summer, she had her first taste of life under the spotlight - hosting a radio programme and posing for press photographers. In between the flurry of appointments arranged by her agent, First Karaoke, she must fit in the all-important vocal lessons. 'Only the really good ones can succeed,' says Maygi Ng of First Karaoke, who describes herself as being as close as a sister to the teenager. 'Joey's exceptionally talented judging from her performance at the contest and the fact she had had no training in singing at the time. She is a born performer.' Apart from paying for her singing lessons, Joey's agent promotes young clients, arranging for interviews and performances, and acts as a close adviser on almost all aspects of life, including personal problems. 'She is still young and needs to learn about communicating with others,' advises Ng, who believes her young charge has star quality. Amid a growing trend of youngsters seeking success in the entertainment industry, singing coaches are enjoying brisk business helping aspiring stars to hone their vocal skills. In fact, a number of singers have changed course and started giving singing lessons at rented studios or in their homes. Tai See-chung, a former singer who moved from the mainland in 1963, is arguably the most sought-after singing teacher in town. Now in his 50s, Tai has long been swamped with requests from parents and young people desperate to learn from him. 'About 20 of my students have the potential to become professional singers,' boasts Tai, whose proteges are aged from 15 to 26. 'Many parents want to send their children to me. I emphasise basic vocal training, rather than just telling someone to sing with emotion. People regard me as a professional.' Another major attraction is Tai's good connections with people in the recording and entertainment industries. As the former coach of Canto-pop stars including as Faye Wong and Leon Lai, Tai's recommendations carry weight with music producers. As he points out, musical careers have long attracted young people. The popularity of karaoke lounges in recent years has only heightened interest. 'Young people enjoy performing. They want to be on stage,' he explains. 'Besides, unlike in the past, a performing career is no longer seen by the public as despicable or of lesser status.' Ah Bo, 15, has taken voice lessons from Tai since late last year. His mother enrolled him through the help of a friend. The tall Third Former with chiselled features is determined to try his luck in show business after completing his sixth form education. Tertiary studies are, at this stage, not a priority for the teenager who is desperate to make a name for himself. 'I will try very, very hard,' he says seriously. 'Many successful figures in Hong Kong are not well-educated. It's more important to find a career for myself first.' But why sing? Why not acting or modelling, given his good looks? He replies readily: 'It fits it with my interest and it is also challenging.' His schoolmates also have high hopes for him, confides Ah Bo. They believe he may in time even replace one of the four 'kings' of Canto-pop. But it isn't just money that he is after, he adds. Wealth is important, he concedes, 'but having a lot of money is of secondary importance. If I did make a lot of money in the future, I would have to thank my parents for taking me to Tai'. Certainly, they are making a significant investment in his musical career - both in time and money. Tai would not reveal how much he charges for lessons, but the average fee quoted by vocal coaches is about $800 per hour. Youngsters' preoccupation with quick rewards have also got educators worried. Says the vice-president of the Professional Teachers' Union, Au Pak-kuen: 'Many students seem to want to be successful at a young age. Maybe it's due to the glamourisation of young successful figures, like singers, by the media.' More should be learned about the mentality of the youngsters, he cautions. 'Research should be undertaken to help teachers understand more what's in the mind of their students, why some are keen on achievement at an early stage.' Joey's coach, Steven Ip Foo-sang, has about 40 students, half of whom hope to become pop idols. One, a 19-year-old girl, has found a management agent but is still scouring for recording contracts. Ip, who has a music degree from the United States, concedes a number of his students take up singing merely as an avenue to fame and fortune rather than because they love music but there is little he can do as a teacher. 'Whatever one's motive, I only expect them to do their job well, at least to be professional. 'Not many are really passionate about singing. More are driven by a desire to break into show business. They couldn't come up with an answer when I asked them: How much do you really want to sing?' Like other coaches, he also helps the swelling number of film stars and television personalities in need of quick assistance for their debut album or lucrative stage performances. Scores of stars, including award-winning actress Anita Yuen Wing-yee, have announced plans to release albums while hurriedly trying to get their voices up to scratch for public performance. 'Some take lessons from me for a few months specially for their albums,' says Ip. 'It's more difficult for stars to concentrate on learning because of their lifestyles.' The most extreme example, Ip recalls, was one celebrity student who squeezed in a brief lesson after attending a charity sale and before boarding a plane. 'Those with a high sensitivity to music can pick it up faster. Still learning the technique is not enough. Practice is very important.' As she sips a cup of hot chocolate, Joey muses on the sacrifices she will have to make if she lives the life of pop star. 'I am enjoying my freedom before I become recognisable to people. That's why I have been going to places like Ocean Park with my parents over the summer.' She continues: 'I hope to pursue tertiary studies, but if I had to make a choice between studying and my singing career, I would opt for the latter. I can always go back to studying later, after I have earned enough money. I am afraid I'll regret it later if I do not try it now.' But, as a veteran in the music industry warns, the road to stardom is arduous and success may not come as easily as they think. Andrew Tuason, artist and repertoire director of EMI (Hong Kong), suggests aspiring singers should think twice, and have a clear understanding of their talents before venturing into the field. 'Of 100 newcomers to the scene, only about 40 per cent will achieve some degree of popularity, and only five will make it to the top. 'Whether someone will reach the top also depends on the resources of the record company he belongs to,' he says. 'Many record companies stop dealing with an artist once his first album turns out to be a flop. 'They don't have to carry on working with him even if both parties have signed a contract. Newcomers have little bargaining power in discussing a contract anyway.' Over the years, Tuason has seen many hopeful singers disappear from the scene. Some unsuccessful artists have stayed in the music industry, opting to work behind the scenes instead. But others find it difficult to come to terms with shattered dreams, Tuason notes. 'The success rate is low,' he says. 'My advice to people who want to become singers is not to give up their studies or job quickly until they see proof of their talents or signs that there could be a chance of success.'