Lights, camera, music: Desmond Ng is a new breed of Singapore celebrity
What does it take to make it in showbiz? A getai background helps – as does the willingness to 'try everything and learn everything', said the multi-talented artiste.
Desmond Ng thought he would spend his life making music: Singing in bars and clubs, working the getai circuit, and doing what he loved best. It was the “safe path” in life.
Then, he won the talent competition show Getai Challenge, signed an artiste contract, and found himself an actor, host and general all-round TV star.
“I only ever wanted to sing – I never thought about doing anything else,” recalled the 31-year-old.
Now, he’s a regular face on television, thanks to roles in Channel 8 dramas such as Hero and 118; and hosting gigs such as Channel U’s Fun With SINGnese. He was even nominated Best Host two years ago at the Star Awards for his debut variety show, Bengpire.
In the midst of all that, he’s somehow found the energy and resources to develop his music career on his own time. In November, he and his band, Al4ha, held their first showcase, playing to a crowd of 300 people. The three-man rock band has two original singles out, and is currently working on releasing a third.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
In this day and age, it isn’t enough to just act. It isn’t enough to just host. And it certainly isn’t enough to just be pretty. You have to be a veritable talent show – and a social media self-marketer on top of that.
“You don’t necessarily have to be super good in everything, but you at least have to know about it. I think that’s how you survive,” Ng said. “Show Lo is a good example, or China’s Joker Xue. They are so talented in all aspects. In future, those who want to enter showbiz will have to work harder.”
I’m the kind of person whose brain never stops working, even at night.
As for what motivates him, “I’m kind of greedy. I’d like to try everything and learn everything,” Ng said. “I’m the kind of person whose brain never stops working, even at night.”
Being a singer first and foremost has actually helped him be a better actor, Ng said.
“In the past, to be honest, I never watched dramas or movies. I wasn’t interested in all that. I only watched variety shows or singing programmes. But because I was already expressing my feelings through singing, it was not that difficult for me to express them when acting. For a newbie, I think that’s a plus point.”
And having performed on getai stages since he was a teenager has helped him become less introverted – although he’s still very reserved among people he doesn’t know well.
Each crowd might have different expectations of you. How do you entertain them so that they all go home happy? I think getai taught me this important lesson.
"My last 10 years in getai have really trained me up to become a different person, and equipped me to handle all kinds of situations. Each crowd might have different expectations of you. How do you entertain them so that they all go home happy? I think getai taught me this important lesson.
"On top of that, you can’t expect every getai to have a wonderful band or sound system. I think that’s helped me – any mic you give me, I can sing into. If I get sweaty, I just wipe it off – no big deal.”
‘GO BACK TO SINGING’, THEY SAID
What’s the difference between the high one gets from performing on stage and the high one gets from acting?
“I think the high on stage is more direct. You forget yourself. The high from acting comes when the director calls ‘cut’ and you feel like you’re being jolted awake,” Ng mused. "If you did your scene well, you would know it. Sometimes, I get home, lie on my bed and smile to myself.
“I’m slowly beginning to realise why people love acting – you really feel you’ve become another person. The fun part is when, in your own time, you start to think: What would my character do in this situation?”
Acting is a new skill Ng would like to master, even though he’ll always consider himself a singer first.
After the band’s showcase, many of his friends told him to go back to singing. "At least three people said: Sing, lah. It’s more you. You look like you’re having more fun," he chuckled. “I’m not blaming them – I guess the showcase was really good!
"To the people who worry about me," said Ng, "I hope they’ll see my hard work. One day, I’ll be more comfortable in all aspects of my work.”
Apart from singing, I’ve never been so serious about anything. Even my mother is impressed. When she opens my bedroom door and sees me studying my scripts, she'll say, if only you’d been so hardworking when you were in school!”