Just as children's first years are their most definitive, a fledgling singer's first five to 10 years in the business are the most critical. If he or she survives the dog-eat-dog competitiveness, that artist could be set for life. In the brief history of Canto-pop, singers have often hung on bravely - and sometimes tenuously - to make it to the 'safe period'. In the make-or-break years, they do everything possible to carve a niche in the business. A long break is a luxury that many would not dare dream about until then, because if the foundations are not strong, it is easier to be forgotten than remembered. There are a few exceptions to the five-year itch, so singer-actress Charlie Young Choi-nei is not a rarity in that sense. Young made her first appearance in a jewellery shop commercial with teen idol Aaron Kwok Fu-shing in 1992. Not long after, devoted fans were already elevating her to pop idol status and she had launched both a singing and acting career. But just she as seemed to be heading for stardom, Young last year suddenly announced that she would take a short break to do some courses in New York. 'Several factors made me come to that decision. Firstly, since joining the entertainment business five years ago, I had been working all the time and was not able to spare the time to be with my family,' said Young, who is making her 'return' this week with a new album. 'I understand that if you want to be successful, you have to be very tough and be ready to take on the high pressure, but after all these years I wanted to take a break and assess my future. 'I had been thinking of going to college for many years, partly because I am quite old-fashioned and thought I would feel more secure if I had a degree or a diploma.' Even though the idea tempted her for some time, the actress, who has appeared in movies such as The Lovers, could not make up her mind until she gained strong support from her management. 'I was thrilled because when I told my company about the idea, their response was really encouraging. They offered to pay the tuition fees for me.' After settling her work in Hong Kong, Young flew to New York in search of an enhanced education. For the first time since becoming a singer, Young felt that she could slip back into a normal life. She spent two days a week at a college on vocal training; and on other days two tutors would instruct her on sketching and fashion design. 'The schedule was very similar to what I had in Hong Kong, but the feeling was totally different. 'I felt very happy because I could be a normal person again. I could do whatever I wanted, such as take public transport, eat hot-dogs in the street . . . I really found peace of mind during that time,' Young enthused. Apart from attending the classes, Young spent a lot of time watching musicals and operas on Broadway. 'When I first visited Los Angeles when I was 16, I went to see a musical with my parents. I did not understand the content of the show and did not know how to appreciate the stage performance, but this time I was thrilled and I told myself that if one day we [Hong Kong] could have our own top musical, that would be fantastic,' she said. Even though Young is very interested in participating in a stage musical, she said she would like to try something behind the scenes. 'I always believe that only veteran or professionally-trained singers can take on musicals, and you must have a very good voice to be on stage. I don't think I am capable of taking up any role [of that kind] at the moment and I did not want to let people down, so I would rather be in the audience than on stage,' she said, laughing. 'On the other hand, I think I would be interested in being a scriptwriter because I think I could handle the job properly. If there is any opportunity, I would love to give it a try.' Meanwhile Young is back at work and she is very busy on her self-titled album, which is scheduled to be released in late March. 'Even though I went to Shanghai to make a movie right after I came back from the United States, my producer and people from the record company sent the songs to me and we started to choose the right tracks. After I finished the recording we sent out the tape for mixing and post-production; the whole project was efficient, which I was very happy to see,' she said. 'Furthermore, possibly because I had taken a vocal training course, I knew how to make use of my voice in different ways. I was amazed with the outcome and I was very happy to identify these changes.' Young is also benefiting from a recent 'Wong Kar-wai craze' in Japan and other Asian countries. Wong's Days Of Being Wild, Fallen Angel, Chungking Express and Ashes Of Time have been winning rave reviews and, subsequently, the artists featured in the movies have become popular as well. Young can count herself on the list, which includes Faye Wong, former beauty queen Michelle Reis and Taiwan-based actor Takeshi Kaneshiro. But while Young says she is interested in exploring some new markets, it is not something she will go all out for. 'If you want to explore a new market, you have to make an extra effort to be successful. One of my greatest considerations is the language difference.' Even though Young is back on the unforgiving road again, the artist said she will work harder than before. It is not because she feels a need to make a proper 'comeback' or to regain lost footing, but for her own interest and job satisfaction. 'I am not sure whether I will take another break in the future, but one thing I can certainly say is that I am very confident with myself.'