SINGAPORE - A Singaporean who was denied a win in a challenge on Gold 905 because he was deemed to have mispronounced the name of English singer-songwriter Tony Hadley enlisted the help of Hadley himself to show that he had said the name right.
Mr Muhammad Shalehan, 32, called in on April 21 to give his best shot at the Celebrity Name Drop challenge hosted by Mediacorp radio station Gold 905. A prize worth $10,000 in "cash and shopping spree" was promised to the first caller who successfully named all 14 celebrity voices each saying a word of this phrase: "Gold 9-0-5, the station that sounds good, and makes you feel good".
Mr Shalehan, an SMRT train captain, told The Straits Times that he wanted the $10,000 prize money to spend on his kids in "these difficult times". The father of three kids, aged two to 12, who has another baby on the way in August, had called the station hundreds of times to get through to try the challenge on air.
But his answer of Tony Hadley, Madonna, Maggie Wheeler, Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Carrey, George Clooney, David Bowie, Belinda Carlisle, Julie Andrews, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Meryl Streep, Michael Buble and Rebecca Lim was deemed wrong.
Deejay Chris Ho told him that he got 13 correct names. Mr Shalehan thought Stevie Wonder must be the wrong answer.
But when another caller named Jerome Tan called in on May 6 with the same set of 14 names - he hit the jackpot and won the $10,000 prize.
When listeners and Mr Shalehan questioned Gold 905 on why his answer was rejected, it replied on Facebook: "The rules of the game require callers to pronounce the celebrities' names accurately. Mispronounced names therefore cannot be and were not regarded as correct entries. In the case of Shalehan, he mispronounced Tony Hadley."
But Mr Shalehan is crying foul.
He says: "When I called in, I was told that I had to say the names of the 14 celebrities (who said the phrase) in the right order. I was not told that you had to pronounce the names correctly too."
He argues that several netizens noted that Jerome Tan's answer had a mispronunciation, of Belinda Carlisle's name.
Mr Shalehan searched online for a contact for Hadley and was directed to Hadley's management. He sent an e-mail to Hadley's manager, explaining what had happened and got a encouraging reply from Hadley himself in the form of a video.
"I've listened back to the tape, and as far as I'm concerned, you pronounced my name absolutely correctly," said the 59-year-old former lead singer of 1980s band Spandau Ballet.
Hadley added that while Mr Shalehan may have had a "slight accent", he did not mispronounce his name and should be entitled to the prize money.
Mr Shalehan, whose story was picked up by BBC, says of Hadley's kind gesture: "I was at work and looking through my phone when I realised that he had replied. I was totally shocked. This was my last fighting chance."
In response to Hadley's video, Gold 905 posted a lengthy explanation on its Facebook page on Wednesday (May 20) which stood by its decision to deny Mr Shalehan the win.
It said: "A fully correct answer includes accurate identification of the celebrities' names in the correct sequence, and the correct pronunciation of the celebrities' names in the way the celebrity will pronounce it himself/herself.
"In the case of Mr Shalehan's entry on 21 April, his pronunciation of 'Hadley' did not meet the criteria as stipulated in the rules of the contest. As a result, his entry was judged as not having all the correct answers. This rule was applied consistently across all the entries."
The station attached to the post an audio clip of Hadley, Mr Tan and Mr Shalehan pronouncing the name "Hadley".
It said its decision remained final but added that, touched by Mr Shalehan's "commitment and resourcefulness", it offered him a gesture of goodwill - which Mr Shalehan said was a cash offer of $5,000. ST has contacted Mediacorp for comment.
Mr Shalehan, however, has made up his mind to decline the offer.
He says: "More than anything, I want an apology. I have morals. I have dignity. It's a lot of money for me but I'm not going to be the person who gets some money and okay I shut up, case closed. I'm not angry at Mr Jerome Tan (the winner), I'm upset that the station misjudged my answer."
He adds: "If they offered me that $5,000 with an apology and told me that they are sorry that the rules did not apply consistently or fairly and were not well-explained, I would accept it. For such a big company to apologise, it means a lot to listeners.
"We are not fools, we are adults with kids. I did not beg for the prize, I showed evidence that they were wrong and that Tony Hadley backed me up. I'm going to stand my ground."
If one good thing has come out of this saga for Mr Shalehan, it is the amount of support he has received.
Thankful for the netizens who stood by him, he says: "I have so many strangers from Singapore and overseas supporting me. Even someone from South Africa who read the BBC story commented on social media to support me."