HONG KONG IS no stranger to young Canto-pop stars. Twins' Charlene Choi Tsoek-jin was just 18 when they released their first disc, Nicholas Tse Ting-fung was signed up at 16, and Isabella Leong Lok-sze at just 13. But the latest crop of industry prodigies are even more junior. Cream are possibly the youngest Canto-pop stars ever groomed. Renee Lee Wan, 10, Carpo Lo Ka-po, 12, and 13-year- old Hilda Chan Hiu-tung are the latest in a line of younger acts marking a trend that emerged in the 1990s, influence of the Japanese entertainment industry. Since being first officially publicised at the beginning of the year, Cream have been a regular at school events and charity shows and even performed for students at local universities. Thousands of fans their age or younger in Hong Kong and overseas are hooked on their websites. Even Canto-pop's 'godfather' Sam Hui Koon-kit invited them to perform at his comeback concerts in June. Veteran music critic Fung Lai-chi thinks there's never been such a strong push to groom young stars and to target the 14-and-under age group. 'Whoever can generate profits for a record company is considered a good artist,' he says. 'The advantage of having young child stars is that you don't need much promotion as you are already the talk of the town.' Musician and artist manager Ramando Lai says that from the record company's point of view, promoting younger stars involves less risk, especially if they sing songs aimed at the younger audience. 'It's a good opportunity for investors, because if the group become famous, like Twins, the music can sell really well ... It's also a good opportunity for the young stars, as long as the work doesn't affect school. The only problem is that they mature earlier and lose their innocence quicker.' Carpo, Hilda and Renee were the winners of New Star Singing Contest in Hunghom in August last year. Contest host Artist Group Entertainment came up with the idea of putting Carpo, Hilda and Renee - who took the top prize, first runner-up and third runner-up placings (the second runner-up was a boy) respectively - together to form a group. 'We just thought it could be fun to put them together,' says Jim Yeung, Cream's manager and director of artist management at Artist Group Entertainment. 'It's purely an experiment. We think there's a lack of real talent in show business and perhaps we can start grooming some talent when they're young.' He stresses that making money out of the three children has never been the company's intention. Rather, it's an investment with an unsure return. 'You can't make money out of selling records these days, not even for big [record] companies,' he says. 'We are only giving it a try. Luckily we have side businesses such as events or concerts, or there's no way we could afford [to groom] Cream.' After being given training in singing, dancing and instrumentation (piano and drums), Cream were unleashed on Hong Kong with their first single, Super Super Fans, released at the beginning of the year. Their first album, Cream Garden, is out on September 16. The girls insist that being part-time pop stars hasn't affected their studies. Carpo remains a straight-A student; Hilda, a smart and polite girl, albeit somewhat over-concerned with the way she looks for a 10-year-old. Being a member of Cream, she says, is simply a chance to take part in fun extracurricular activities. 'I don't feel any pressure,' she says. Do they want to become big stars and make millions of dollars? 'Singing and performing is fun for me,' says Renee. 'I have no plans for the future yet. My teachers tell me to focus on school work otherwise I won't be able to sing anymore.' Carpo, a well-mannered and constant winner of school and public performing competitions, thinks there's a positive side to her part-time career. She is curious about the adult world. 'I don't think meeting people right now is too early for me,' she says. 'Sooner or later I will have to deal with it. I enjoy what I do and I think it's better to start early than late.' Even their parents say this is a great opportunity for their daughters - not because of the fame and money (they haven't made anything from performing or shooting television commercials), but because it's fun and a learning experience. Carpo's mother, Lo Kin-fa, appreciates the chance. 'We haven't had any financial return,' she says. 'We don't really think about that. I just want [Carpo] to participate and have a good time.' Yeung says Cream are being monitored by the Labour Department in order not to violate the Employment Ordinance - the girls can only work over weekends and holidays. Their parents make it clear that school is the girls' priority. 'If you say show business is bad, the adult world out there is just as bad,' says Elaine Wong Kit-ling, Renee's mother. 'Whether a youngster will be good depends on their personality. Now I'm always with her, and I know whom she deals with. It's a lot easier for me to keep an eye on her.' Wong says mingling in show-business circles has been a positive experience for her daughter. 'Her personality has changed. She's grown up a lot and learnt how to deal with different people. She's a lot less stubborn these days. We have no income [from performing] but I just want her to learn. Her academic results have improved a lot. Maybe she knows that she won't be able to sing if she can't keep up with her studies.' Linda Chew Po-ling, a clinical psychologist in the Social Welfare Department, says without proper guidance, fame at an early age could lead to personality disorders later. 'It could be hard for people to feel good about themselves when the limelight disappears and they have to adjust to the lack of attention and privileges,' she says. Josephine Siao Fong-fong, a former child star, award-winning actress and a clinical child psychologist, advises the girls and their parents to be careful. 'It can be quite dangerous to become too famous or too successful too young,' says Siao, who began acting when she was six. 'In one way, it must be good to start anything young, but from my own experience it was not at all pleasant. I was stuck in showbiz from the age of six and it's easy to lose your head,' she recalls. 'I had to stop making films to catch up with my puberty, and that was not until I was 21. It took a couple of years in the US to find out who I was. It was a mental breakthrough coming to terms with myself. But taming my ego is still a struggle.' Siao says the possible danger is that young stars might live in a glamorous yet isolated world, which is an illusion. 'You are cut off from the world other people live in, and if people keep saying that you are 'wonderful' then you start to think perhaps you are. You are so wrapped up in yourself that you never learn to understand or to care about others,' she says. 'These girls [Cream] are at the beginning of puberty - a time of dramatic physical and psychological change. They need time to adjust to these changes and develop a sense of identity. The image of them created in the media can get in the way. It is dangerous to settle for the person the public thinks you are and forget who you really are. 'It's important for parents and friends to treat them in a normal way,' she says. 'Children learn how to behave by living the 'roles' that parents give them to play. If parents are wise they will know how important it is to keep their celebrity children balanced and home life central to their place in the world.' While it could be fun for the girls and possibly a great investment opportunity for the record company, Lai doesn't look at this phenomenon from the same angle. 'Songs for young children can also be great creations, but if everyone's making songs just for children, there will be a lack of diversity and that's not healthy,' he says. 'The Canto-pop scene will all of a sudden become a kindergarten children's playground. We need a variety of music, something more complicated and highbrow alongside the simple, good songs.'