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Photo courtesy of Po Nien Felipe Chou
The choir from the Ulaanbaatar Mongolia East and West stakes recently performed in the semi-finals for "Mongolia's Got Talent." The choir was first inspired to participate after a BYU choir visited Mongolia in 2008.

ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIA

The combined Ulaanbaatar Mongolia East and West Stake choir reached the semi-finals of the second season of the nationally televised show “Mongolia’s Got Talent!” in December 2016. Seminary and institute students ages 14-28 comprised much of the choir, with the exception of a few young married adults. Approximately half of the choir members were returned missionaries.

Television audiences were curious about the choir and how it made it to the national stage. Odgerel Ochirjav, president of the Ulaanbaatar Mongolia West Stake, recalled when this local multistake choir was first organized following a visit from a Brigham Young University choir in 2008. The idea to showcase the choir in Mongolia was something far from his mind at the time.

In January 2016, the stake president’s brother-in-law, Tsogtbayar Samandari, had finished watching the first season of “Mongolia’s Got Talent” and felt impressed to call President Ochirjav.

“I was watching ‘Mongolia’s Got Talent’ ... and remembered your BYU choir which was fantastic," the stake president's brother-in-law told him. "I had a strong impression that your church choir should participate and it would be very interesting because it would be something new."

President Ochirjav discussed the idea with Sister Unurjargal Purev, the choir director, who in turn discussed it with the choir members. Everyone was enthusiastic about the opportunity. The choir became known as Zion or SION, which was an acronym for Spirit, Faith, Mind and Union in the Mongolian language.

SION prepared a mash up of two songs, “Winter Hymnal” and “Rather Be,” which they sang during the first round of competition in March 2016. They needed the votes of three out of four contest judges to move to the next level, and the choir successfully earned all four votes.

“This is new and refreshing to have an a capella choir that moves and dances with the music. In the past I have only seen groups singing without moving in Mongolia,” one judge said.

“I see your faces light up! … We need to put your video on YouTube to showcase this show to the world,” another judged remarked.

Choir members were asked what they would do with the $50,000 grand prize if they won. A judge was impressed when the choir responded by saying they wanted to donate it all as a special Christmas gift to an orphanage. In competing against 400 other contestants, SION was among the 200 talent acts who advanced to the second round, overcoming challenges along the way.

A multistake youth conference was planned for June 2016 and about half of 35 choir members were involved with it. They had not heard from the producers of “Mongolia’s Got Talent” until a week before the conference to inform them that they needed to be at the TV studio the following week — the same day of the youth conference.

The youth conference was 480 km or about eight hours by bus from the TV studio. The choir discussed the dilemma and decided to go to the second round. A bus was hired, and following the second round, they traveled directly to the youth conference which started on the same day.

The second round was a series of interviews with the judges, and of the 200 acts, SION was among the 32 to advance to the semi-finals.

Following the youth conference, the choir spent the rest of the summer preparing a song in English for the semi-finals. However, with only two weeks before the recording in September, the TV producers told the choir they would not be allowed to sing in English and would have to instead sing in Mongolian.

In addition, the size of the choir was reduced from thirty-five to twenty-nine because four left to study at BYU-Hawaii and two left on a mission. The TV producers said that if any others left, the choir would be removed from the semi-finals. There was a lot of exposure on social media about the show and the group, and there were many late nights to practice and prepare. The season for this TV show ran from September to December. The choir woke up at 4 a.m. to -34C temperatures to participate in the semi-final.

The faith and testimony of choir members increased through this experience. They gained self-confidence, developed friendships and learned unity.

“By being in ‘Mongolia’s Got Talent’ show, I have learned that I should never doubt myself or think that I can’t do something. Singing in the choir has helped me to make many friends,” Sister Bilguunzaya Tungalagtuul said.

“Singing in the choir has helped us to learn how to forgive and support one another,” Sister Nomuungerel Enkhtuvshin added.

Although the choir did not receive enough votes to move on to the finals, the Church received exposure throughout Mongolia. The choir was among those featured in the televised Christmas concert. Many organizations extended invitations for the choir to perform at various events, including the 2016 New Year’s Eve concert in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia with almost 1.4 million people or half of the country’s population.

President Ochirjav said, “We were obedient to an assignment by our priesthood leaders and the Lord prepared a way. … Now the whole city talks about the Mormon choir’s participation in ‘Mongolia’s Got Talent.’”

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