Star Search 2019 winner Teoh Zetong doesn’t deny winning due to good looks, says it helps with charisma
A measured response.
On the afternoon of November 4, a day after Teoh Zetong’s heady win at Star Search 2019, I met him at a cafe in Mediacorp.
A budding star
The 26-year-old Malaysian has been awarded a three-year contract with the media giant, as well as a shiny new Audi — which he has promised to take the rest of the contestants for a spin in.
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Surreal. When the spotlights above our heads were flickering last night right before they announced the top three winners, the air was cold and I was mentally prepared to leave the stage. The moment the spotlight landed on me, I could feel the warmth at the back of my head and I just couldn't believe it, I'm on top three?!? My body was tensed up and all emotions broke loose when they announced the winner. I still could not believe the moment actually happened. It's insane. 📸: @the_celebrityagency
Delayed by a group of touring visitors who might disrupt our audio, I tell Teoh that I will refrain from asking him questions first, so that he can keep his responses for the camera.
With the same charisma that possibly clinched him the trophy, Teoh agrees with my take and says rather smoothy, “Let’s talk about you then”.
He then asks me a barrage of questions about my job with a healthy dose of curiosity about the industry.
During this period, a gaggle of staff descends on the newly minted star, showering him with compliments and urging him to “jiayou” (a term of encouragement in Chinese).
One can read this as a precursor of things to come, both for our interview session and Teoh’s incipient acting career.
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Decisions We make a lot of decisions, big or small, in life. Some we might regret later and some we'd feel could not have been better. Since we can't go back in time to revert those decisions, we can only look forward and see what you can make the best out of it. Often, the wrong decisions in the past would help you make a better decision in the future. Stay committed to the decision you make and look forward.
But despite his confidence and easy manner, Teoh has his own struggles.
For one, the newbie felt that he did “quite poorly” for his debut clip, which was his first time working with a director and being on camera.
He candidly revealed that he was overwhelmed by the the sheer amount of logistics when it came to on-screen continuity, such as angles and framing, the sequence of shots, and the actors’ emotional flow.
“I was confused. And I couldn’t even deliver my lines properly back then, and I couldn’t even walk properly.”
He also thought that he “could have done a lot better” for the eloquence segment of the finals, where contestants had to respond to a situational question on the spot, within 25 seconds.
“I would describe myself as someone who can think on their feet a lot better [than his performance during the finals], who can think fast, who can react fast, and also with my language ability, I should be able to nail that segment pretty easily.”
Alas, Teoh did not live up to his own expectations.
When I ask what he would reply instead if given a second chance right now, Teoh laughs and gives a thoughtful pause, before saying that he would improve on his delivery, rather than the response itself.
Tough love from Christopher Lee
Thankfully, mentor Christopher Lee has been “very encouraging” on this journey, albeit with some tough love.
On his experience learning from Lee, Teoh says,
“He’s never shy about his [critical] comments. He’s always very direct with his words, and he never sugarcoats anything.
To other people he might come off as very very harsh. We also know that, going to his classes, we all feel very stressed actually, because we know that the likelihood of getting scolded — uhh, not scolded, receiving harsh comments is quite high (laughs).”
But the budding actor also credits Lee’s mentorship style in fuelling the contestants’ rapid growth throughout the competition.
Teoh has since learnt that such scenarios happen often enough on shoots, be it with directors or co-stars who are trying to help you improve.
Besides the realities of the industry, the newly crowned winner also had to deal with detractors on the internet.
Among the unkind comments, a common refrain was that Teoh only won because of his good looks.
In an even tone, he responds,
“No lah, I wouldn’t deny that lah. I wouldn’t deny that. I feel that it’s part of the judging criteria as well. I think it’s not solely based on looks alone, I think it’s also how you carry yourself and also the impression that you leave on the judges.
Among the 12 contestants, everyone’s looks are above average. I wouldn’t say that I’m the best looking, but I think maybe it helps in terms of personal charisma.”
Indeed, Hong Kong superstar and Star Search judge Carina Lau mentioned that charisma, as well as the ability to “wow” with one’s presence, are the makings of a good actor.
Joined competition at mum’s encouragement
Cliche as it sounds, Teoh grew up watching Mediacorp dramas and considers himself a fan of local TV.
Which might explain his bilingualism, as he came from a Mandarin-speaking household and consumed plenty of Chinese media.
“Growing up, I knew about Star Search and whatnot, just that I… dare not dream of becoming an actor back then. It’s just more like, something I watch on TV and that’s it.”
Teoh moved to Singapore at the age of seven, as his parents wanted an English education for him.
But it was only at his mother’s encouragement that he joined the talent competition.
Teoh’s mum aspired to be an actress when she was younger as well, but had no avenue to get started on the journey.
However, even when Teoh went for the auditions, it was just “for fun”.
“I just told her that, ‘Ya, I will spend one Saturday afternoon for this, joining the queue for four hours, I will just do this for you, okay.’
And once it’s done it’s done, right? I didn’t expect the rest to happen.”
Even though she persuaded her son to join, Teoh’s mum did not hold lofty expectations, and simply told him to “enjoy and have fun”.
This is especially so as Teoh already had a day job as an Associate Customer Relationship Manager at Carousell, and his family never thought that he would switch careers.
But given how introspective Teoh was while dissecting his onstage performance the day before, one can certainly tell he’s had a change of heart.
Now, Teoh will be joining Mediacorp full time if there are “no accidents”.
Since Teoh is now a person of public interest, I gingerly venture a couple of questions on his love life while casting a wary glance at his manager sitting near us.
When I told Teoh that we will be broaching the topic, he responded with a gracious and immediate “Okay!”
In short, Teoh is “Errrrrrrrrrrr, single,” and open to dating both within and outside of showbiz.
Here’s a pick-up line he put up on his Instagram, for good measure:
“So many doors behind me, do you know which is my favourite?
I like ‘us’ the best.”
If you’re lost, the character for “door” in Chinese doubles up as a pun for “us”.
Great stuff, bright future.
Top image via Teoh Zetong’s Instagram
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