With the release of his latest single, “Sayangku Salmah“, Penang-born talent Alvin Chong has been hard to catch. Between photo shoots, TV appearances and filming, Chong has a schedule packed to the brim. But, it wasn’t always this way. Now confident, Chong was once insecure, quiet and an introvert. How did he get to where he is today? We find out.
Growing up in Penang, what were you like as a child?
I was very quiet – I’m still very quiet – but back then I was more of an introvert. I didn’t talk much; I didn’t like to express myself. I don’t know why, to be honest, but I felt very much like it was unnecessary to share my feelings with other people. I didn’t think other people would understand because my background was quite different from everyone else’s.
I started working from the age of 7, helping my uncle out at his convenience store. Then I was older, went on to other odd jobs – direct selling, insurance, McDonald’s, all kinds of stuff. That’s why I couldn’t really communicate with my friends, especially those who were my age (some, not all) and they couldn’t understand me as well.
Do you feel like you’ve had to grow up too fast and do you regret not having the same experience your friends did while growing up?
Well, a few years back, thinking about my childhood would make me feel sad – it was a mess. I never got to make sweet memories with my friends nor was I able to make memories I’m able to cherish now. The only thing I can think of is the time that I got to spend with my grandmother – that’s all that I can think of that’s sweet from back then.
But now, if I look back at my childhood, I feel grateful for it. It has allowed me to think ahead, as compared to my friends. Even though we don’t communicate as much, I’m thankful to find that because of what I’ve gone through, I’ve been able to mature a lot more than those around me. Even now, until today, I feel like I’m a 40-year-old man. The stuff that I say and how I operate is different – even my friends are like, “What? You’re only 29 but you act old”.
As you couldn’t really speak English & BM when you first came here, what was your drive to improve in these languages?
It actually ties back to my childhood because – the only thing that I’m proud of is my ability to be a survivor in any situation; that’s the only strength that I’m proud of. When I first moved to KL 10 years back, I couldn’t speak BM, I couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t really understand Cantonese. I felt left out; I felt like if I didn’t improve or pick up the language then I might not be able to survive in KL. I forced myself to learn the languages. Despite being humiliated by my friends in college – they were like, “Ahhhhh you can’t even pronounce that word correctly!”, “Your grammar is horrible” and stuff like that – and I had to tell them, “Okay you guys can mock me, that’s fine, but please correct me because I would rather feel embarrassed and/or humiliated by you now while still improving and learning”. So after I got the basics down, I started to watch TV dramas and whatever I didn’t understand, I would flip through the dictionary – back then it was in book form – to find out the meanings of the words and try to practice it with other people.
We Malaysians tend to have a habit of sticking to the language we introduce ourselves in – for example, when we meet someone new and we start by talking to them in English, we will use English the whole way through despite the fact that we know we both can speak in our native languages (be it Mandarin, BM, etc). So I tended to look for new people to talk to when it came to English and BM – I put myself in the environment by hanging out with the crew, talking to them and the other actors while learning as we went along.
What was the hardest part of that process – being an introvert that had to also meet people to practice and learn the language?
The hardest part is actually the fact that you need to surpass your ego. You know the embarrassment when people try to correct you? Or when you make a mistake that you know will bring you embarrassment? The hardest part is getting through that. You need to have really thick skin to learn and you need to put your ego down into the ground or even lower than that to get things done.
You tweeted, “I know how hard it can be when people hate you for just being different than the others”. What were the feelings behind this tweet?
Especially recently, I’ve started to express myself more. So – I don’t know if you understand this but – when someone tends to be different, and when other people are not like they are, they tend to isolate them. Because they don’t find them “normal”. Let’s say one of your friends is super smart, then the other person is like, “Nahhh, XXX is just this this this” and they start criticizing and saying untruths about that smart friend -simply because he/she is smart. So, the reason why I tweeted that tweet, I kind of just feel… sad about the situation.
Woke up this morning hoping the world can be a little more kind and a little less selfish.
— Alvin Chong (@Alvinchong123) June 3, 2020
Why can’t people appreciate each other’s differences? Why do they have to want to be the same? Why must everyone follow the same stuff, do the same things or listen to the same thing for the same reasons? We are all different ordinarily and we ought to be allowed to continue being different. I don’t want people getting hate because they are different.
With that being said, what’s your biggest fear in life?
That I’m not healthy anymore hahaha Because to me, the most important part is that you get to live long while having the capability of doing what you’re doing now. People tend to take things for granted, like not exercising and not eating healthy.
Sometimes you try so hard to take care of everyone else that you forget to take care of yourself.
— Alvin Chong (@Alvinchong123) April 26, 2020
I’m almost thirty and my friends are starting to have joint problems and their weight is very suddenly fluctuating and I don’t want myself to get there, I’m afraid that my metabolism rate will drop so I’m trying to stay disciplined by going to the gym, playing badminton. I don’t want to fall sick – nay, I can’t fall sick. So, yeah.
Your schedule right now is hectic but is this what you expected to happen right after ‘Astro Star Quest’?
I was very naive. I watched ‘Astro Talent Quest’ (back then it was called that) and that was in 2001 or 2002. I told my family that I wanted to be on that stage one day and they all laughed at me because I was very insecure back then. What happened is that my cousin liked to sing so I followed him for the audition but I wasn’t expecting myself to get through and I did. So, I got to the top 5 and then I was like, “Okay, I’m going to be a star; I’m going to be famous” but as it turns out, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I struggled for a few years and – this was before Universal – eventually, I left the label I was with and tried to self-manage. During that time, I learned everything from zero. I did my own pitching, I did my own makeup, I crafted my own music video concepts. And then I started thinking, “Okay, I need to survive”. There was no way I could afford to fly myself to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the like as I didn’t have the funds. So I started to knock on doors here in Malaysia – at production houses, I went to castings, I tried to talk to everyone I could and it was only a year later that I started to hear back from people.
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I’m officially married to @universalmusicgroup . That’s what my boss @kennyongchuneng said 🙈. I am still mesmerizing the moment at my press conference last night. Thank you @universalmuzikmy @universalmusicmalaysia for making this happen and all the media for willing to spend your Wednesday night with us. Thank you @lemeridienkl for sponsoring the beautiful venue. I’m also very grateful to all the brands that believes in me @fujifilmmy @vivomalaysia @kia_malaysia @certina and @bodyholic_malaysia . And of course I wouldn’t even have the chance to reach this far without my beloved fans. This is just the beginning, can’t wait for more to come ❤️. . . Special thanks to #diorhomme #diormy and #diorklcc for making me look like a young James Bond. #styledbycolin aka @colinsim .Hair by @arron_matric from @zexsalon and make up by Rachel. And door gift sponsored by @dvneasia
How were you able to keep going all these years?
First of all, I loved what I was doing (singing). I was afraid I was going to be replaced and that I was not going to survive in the industry. I didn’t know anything else back then. I only knew how to sing – I have a diploma in graphic design but I don’t remember anything from it – so I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to do anything else. So I wanted to give myself some time to make sure that I really give my 200% to see where I could go.
In the beginning, your family laughed at you when you said you wanted to be on stage, what do they say now?
My parents have always been really supportive and they are not worried about me.
They know I can survive and that’s why they agreed for me to leave Penang and move to KL alone.
Do you google yourself? How do you deal with negative comments?
In the beginning yes, I did that – a lot. Whenever I used to see something negative I would feel depressed and I’d start to question, “What did I do wrong?, “Why is this not enough?”, “Is there anything I could do better?” and so on. But, as time passed, I felt like… you know, you can’t please everybody. There will always be people who are unhappy with you – for no reason at all – and they’ll just be sending hate in your DMs. I don’t care anymore. Sometimes I still read my DMs but I constantly remind myself that that doesn’t matter because I still have people that are willing to support me. Up until now, when I read negative comments, I will feel down for sure. But that just lasts 2 seconds.
Lately I have learned the important things in life. I'm not worried anymore about tomorrow, it's a new day everyday and I'm glad I'm here to enjoy it.
— Alvin Chong (@Alvinchong123) February 14, 2020
Catch the music video for Alvin Chong’s latest single, ‘Sayangku Salmah’ here:
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