Agnes Monica is one of the few Indonesian entertainers who have built their careers from childhood up. She is also special in that she has maintained careers as both a singer and an actress.
What are the keys to her success?
The cute little Agnes first caught public attention with her energetic performance in her debut children’s album, Si Meong (The Meow), in the early 1990s, followed by Yess and Bala-Bala. Her second album, which featured her in a duet with young musician Eza Yayang, was named the best album in 1999.
In the same year, Agnes won an award at the annual Panasonic Awards, for favorite female children’s show presenter, for hosting Tralala-Trilili. She retained this crown for two consecutive years.
As the years went by, little Agnes, born in Jakarta on July 1, 24 years ago, turned into a pretty girl eager to seek challenging opportunities including in the acting world.
Along with teenage heartthrob Sahrul Gunawan, Agnes first starred in hit drama series Pernikahan Dini (Early Marriage), based on the 1980s film of the same title, portraying a teen who married young because of unwanted pregnancy.
Agnes was only 15 when she appeared in the soap opera, which gave her a number of awards. The success also gained her a string of offers, including to appear in Ciuman Pertama (First Kiss), Cinta Selembut Awan (Love as Soft as the Clouds) and Cewekku Jutek (My Sassy Girl).
While Agnes comfortable with acting, she said her main passion was music.
In 2003, Agnes released her album And the Story Goes, marking her transition into adulthood. Her record company billed her as a young diva in the Indonesian music scene.
And the Story Goes received several awards, including one for the best female singer at the 2004 Anugerah Planet Muzik Awards in Singapore, and for the best female pop artist and best dance/
techno at the Indonesian Music Awards (AMI).
The success of the album was followed by her second record Whaddup A…?, released two years later. The album spawned hit singles including Bukan Milikmu Lagi (Not Yours Anymore) and I’ll Light a Candle, a collaboration with American R&B singer Keith Martin.
Last year, Agnes showed her mature side releasing, Sacredly Agnezious, in 2009. It’s been a year since she released the album, but it seems a constant record promotion for her like the 24-year-old is still focused on promoting the record.
She just released a music video for Karenaku Sanggup (Because I Could), a tune written by Agnes in collaboration with Andi Rianto.
This is the fifth video after Teruskanlah (Go On), Matahariku (My Sun), Godai Aku Lagi (Tease Me More) and Coz I Love You.
The song is another sad ballad about a wrecked woman after failed romance. An actor by training, Agnes acts naturally in the video.
“If you take a look at the video, those are the things people usually do when their hearts are broken. They just sit, walk around the house, daydream and cry,” Agnes said.
“This song is a true expression of what I felt back then … I wanted to make a simple video to show a more intimate setting that has a special connection with fans — so that when people watch it they think ‘this video is so me’.”
When asked about her plans for a new album, Agnes said she still needed to release more singles from her latest record. Every track in her record had to be a hit, she said, showing her competitive side.
“I’m not the type of singer who would be satisfied with one or two hits in an album. Many singers only hope to have two popular tracks then they make another new album. I don’t do that.”
“If there are 13 tracks in my album, I want them all to be hits. It’s a must. And that’s why it takes a long time to create a record. But that’s OK. It’s all worth it,” Agnes said.
Persistence, discipline and determination are traits easily found in Agnes. She spends six hours a day practicing her dance routines, after all.
Not only does she spend her time practicing dancing and singing, Agnes also stay fit by doing a series of physical workouts three or four times a week.
Agnes said that since she was 17 she has hired qualified trainers, from sports such as badminton, basketball or soccer, because she wants to be the best in the entertainment industry.
For Agnes, good enough is not an option. She thinks the “good enough” approach is the opposite of being the best.
“When we are at a point where we think we are good enough, we will never force ourselves and struggle to be the best,” she says.
She adopts the motto simply because she realized the entertainment business is tough enough. “The entertainment world has never been fair. There might be a singer who has mediocre voice, but they gain popularity just for one hit song. There’s nothing fair about that.
“I never want to just focus on record sales. If we only have one hit single to our name, one day when this is no longer popular what do we do?”
It’s better for a singer to have a couple of hits, she said, so they have a more complete package.
“This has been my goal,” she said.
When it comes to performing on stage, Agnes has always been all-out. But it’s not always easy for a perfectionist like her to get what she wants.
“There was a time when people didn’t understand my idealism and they thought I was hard to please.”
The multi-talented entertainer pays attention to every detail before her shows begin, including the stage construction.
“I once suffered a knee injury when I performed on a leveled stage when I was 17. I suggested the organizer not to build a leveled stage, but they ignored what I said because I was just a teenager and they thought I was being too demanding,” she said.
“It was for me and my dancers’ safety. Indonesia still recognizes seniority so people tend not to care about what teenagers say.”
Slowly but surely, people started to look up to Agnes’ professionalism and began to appreciate what she wanted.
“I’ve never asked for unusual stuff, like for the organizer to change the backdrop. All I really want are things that help the show go on,” she said.
This year, Agnes had an opportunity to share her experiences with young hopeful artists when she was chosen as a member of the jury for the sixth season of the reality TV competition Indonesia Idol, along with singer/producer Anang Hermansyah and composer Erwin Gutawa.
Agnes hoped that the young singers that made it on to the show would not just become ex-Idol contestants.
“I hope they become figures in the entertainment world. Of course, this will depend on each contestant.
We, the jury, were like teachers who gave them lessons, but the rest is on the shoulders of the participants,” she said, adding that the talent show was like a miniature version of the entertainment industry.
“Sometimes I see talented people with a lot of potential … but they don’t last long because they are looking for instant success.”
In terms of style, Agnes is a celebrity who has often been a trendsetter.
“For instance, I was spotted in big-size outfits in a soap opera. But, to be honest, I’ve never worn anything to try and set a trend. I just wore these things because I felt like I like wearing them.”
When The Jakarta Post recently met her in a recent press conference, she looked casual but chic, in a pinkish baby tee and gold shorts with a pair of wedge shoes, a chain necklace and a bright orange watch.
She had only sheer makeup on, and her short hair was tied in a ponytail.
Agnes is really into fashion. And for the love of the fashion world, she has opened her very own clothing lines, Anye and Anye.Sketch, with ready-to-wear garments for women.
All clothes she wore during Indonesian Idol were taken from her own fashion lines.
Speaking about her fashion lines, Agnes said they were only available online at this stage. “We do all of our transactions online because we still want to find out the market share. It turned out that the collections were in demand and sold out fast,” she said, adding that in the future she would produce limited editions.
Apart from the glamorous world of showbiz, Agnes is also active in working for the community and society. She was recently selected by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to become an ambassador for the Asia-Pacific region.
In this role, Agnes delivers speeches and campaigns against drug abuse, particularly among young people.
In April this year she was named spokeswoman for MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) campaign. Through this she became involved in raising public awareness about human trafficking through music. She and other musicians toured five cities to provide music workshops for youths, campaigning against human trafficking.
While Agnes seems to have everything she wants, she still has big hopes and dreams for the future.
“I haven’t become the best of the best. I haven’t made it to the international stage yet,” she said.
Agnes has also worked at an international level, playing in the Taiwanese drama series Romance in the White House with actor/singer Peter Ho, and The Hospital with boyband F4 member Jerry Yan, as well as performing at the Asia Song Festival in Korea in 2008 and 2009.
Those credits, however, were not enough for Agnes. “I haven’t secured a good position in the international stage yet. I hope I [have the same success internationally] as I have achieved in Indonesia,” she said firmly.