Second-year arts student Ha Minh Tien has won the Sao Mai Diem Hen (Morning Star Rendezvous) national pop singing contest.

Tien took home a cash prize of 50 million VND (2,380 USD). Audience favourite Nguyen Thi Thuy claimed 54.3 percent of the votes, while Do Thanh Ngoc won the title of Young Promising Singer. Last year's Sao Mai contest winner Ngo Thanh Huyen went home empty handed.

Star diva and contest judge Thanh Lam, said Tien's choice to perform Goc Toi (Dark Corner) by composer Nguyen Hai Phong at the last round on August 22 was a "wise" decision, adding "the song totally showed off his rock capability".

Composer Huy Tuan also praised Tien, describing him as a "strong dark horse" in the competition. The Hanoi Arts College student had appeared easy to beat at first but evolved as the competition progressed, said Tuan.

Musical show director Viet Tu was more measured in his praise, saying that Tien's final round performance had not lived up to the artist's talent, however, he conceded that the budding star had shown technique.

Do Thanh Ngoc, who had been considered to be the favourite for the title, failed to impress the judging panel after suffering from health issues and being criticised for poor song choice.

The three jury members also unanimously agreed that Ngoc had sang worse than in previous rounds.

"She chose a good song but it seemed like she didn't understand the song's words probably," Lam said. "She singing the correct notes but there was no emotion behind it."

After the final round performances, former contestants took to the stage, including winner of the 2004 Sao Mai Diem Hen, Tung Duong, Pham Anh Khoa (2006), Ngoc Anh and Ha Anh Tuan (2006). Manh Quan, Hoang Nghiep and Duy Khoa, who competed in the 2008 series, also performed on stage.

Sao Mai Diem Hen is one of two national television singing contests hosted by Vietnam Television every two years, with the first series taking place in 2004.

The other contest, Sao Mai, has been held in the alternative years since 1997, with contestants singing across the chamber, folk and pop music categories.-VNA