en­chong dee

He’s al­ready at the top, yet he con­tin­ues to scratch and claw. En­chong Dee re­fuses to fall into ir­rel­e­vance.

Scout - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy by PAOLO CRODUA Styling by JED GRE­GO­RIO In­ter­view by ROMEO MORAN

IT’S GOTTA BE 30 DE­GREES THIS AF­TER­NOON, but at least we’re not the ones who have to be wear­ing a suit in this weather. We’re on the sec­ond floor of a big, empty house, a spa­cious house worth mil­lions that looks like it was once full of fun. Or so­phis­ti­ca­tion. It’s a house that we at the shoot would all love to call our own. The lights flash dizzy­ingly on a scat­ter­ing of bal­loons and con­fetti on the floor, a lone cor­ner by the stairs we staked our claim to. In the midst of this staged revelry is En­chong Dee, propped up against the wall, half-dressed (on pur­pose), posed as though he were deal­ing with the af­ter­math. But he’s fall­ing asleep.

It’s funny, be­cause the bio on En­chong Dee’s In­sta­gram ac­count says, “Al­ways Hun­gry. Never Tired.”

It’s a lit­tle clichéd but En­chong tells me later that it’s ac­tu­ally more than a trite Nikeism. It’s both lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive, he claims—fully aware of the para­dox. The 26-year-old for­mer na­tional swim­mer-turned-prime­time net­work idol from Naga City, ap­par­ently, is re­ally al­ways hun­gry for food as much as he is hun­gry for ac­com­plish­ment, and is re­ally never tired. (Ex­cept when he ac­tu­ally is, I guess.)

Later that day, I nd out, he has to be at the air­port to y to Madrid. There’ll be a Ka­pam­ilya con­cert for the ex­pats. It’s another op­por­tu­nity for one more of his #En­chongAwe­someTrav­els. He isn’t tired, so he’s pur­posely ex­haust­ing him­self for what must be a long ight.

“It’s a good thing and a bad thing, also, be­cause I some­times feel like I don’t get sat­is­fied,” he says. We’re sit­ting qui­etly by the pool in the house af­ter the shoot has nished, away from ev­ery­one pack­ing up. The house ac­tu­ally be­longs to his man­ager, Keren Pas­cual (or Tito Keren, to En­chong and his fel­low ba­bies). The house is empty be­cause it’s on the mar­ket. Fi­nally, the sun’s on the way down and we talk like friends wast­ing yet another end­less sum­mer day be­fore school starts again.

En­chong is not soft-spo­ken. He speaks like an ath­lete: hard, teenage, and bro-ish; he speaks with age and ex­pe­ri­ence. He sounds as though he does a lot of think­ing and re­flect­ing when­ever he can, as his words, thoughts, ideas, and opin­ions ow nat­u­rally. He’s not quite as ar­tic­u­late, how­ever, but that doesn’t mean he lacks sense and depth.

“If I achieve some­thing, if I’ve been wish­ing for some­thing to hap­pen, and I achieve it, I still want more,” he con­tin­ues. “I don’t know if that’s be­ing self­ish or that’s be­ing hard on my­self, pero at the same time, it’s a good thing, be­cause I don’t be­come com­pla­cent in this busi­ness.”

That’s a big deal to him: com­pla­cency. Showbiz is a jun­gle, as the savvier of us might have heard, and across all jun­gles, the law is con­stant: only the strong sur­vive. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, in En­chong’s own words, and gov­erned by whims. But not only are the strong strong, as in they are born with the skill to sur­vive, but they also have to adapt. Af­ter all, how else would a swim­mer make it in this en­vi­ron­ment—al­most lit­er­ally, a sh out of wa­ter?

En­chong was born Ernest Lorenzo Dee on Nov. 5, 1988 to a sim­ple fam­ily. A mid­dle-class fam­ily, he says, that man­aged to get by. Three square meals a day, he and his sib­lings could go to school, but noth­ing close to the lux­ury he’s earned now. As a young swim­mer, he dom­i­nated level af­ter level—city, re­gional, na­tional, un­til he made it to the SEA Games and the Asian Games. It was af­ter the SEA Games when he re­ceived an of­fer to model for some jeans, for which he would only be com­pen­sated with food. He agreed, partly be­cause they’d be feed­ing him at the EDSA Shangri-La.

“I didn’t come from a well-off fam­ily,” he says, re­count­ing the story un­abashedly. “I mean, we ate thrice a day, but we weren’t the type to go eat at EDSA Shangri-La. So I said okay; I haven’t tried it yet.”

Tito Keren found him on that jeans mod­el­ing gig, got in touch with him and took him un­der his wing. Tito Keren was not aware that En­chong al­ready had an artista brother (and swim­mer) AJ Dee. He shopped En­chong to Star Magic and AB­SCBN, the net­work took him on, and the rest is history.

I vaguely re­call him end­ing up on the TV re­make of Ka­torse, which gar­nered buzz due to its slightly too-racy-for-TV na­ture, and I re­mem­ber watch­ing him on Tang­ing Ya­man in the sum­mer we did noth­ing and watched PBB. I don’t re­mem­ber much of his act­ing to judge it. I do re­mem­ber, how­ever, a scene where he has (im­plied) sex with Erich Gon­za­lez’s char­ac­ter, the daugh­ter of the Pres­i­dent, in some se­cluded is­land and some­one gets it all on video. I re­mem­ber feel­ing some­what be­trayed, for some rea­son, but I do not re­mem­ber En­chong, or his per­for­mance.

“You re­ally don’t stop want­ing for more. You re­ally don’t stop im­prov­ing your­self.”

He’s come a long way since then—he’s even got his own con­cert tour com­ing up, the pun­nily-named Dee Tour (of which he is also the pro­ducer, af­ter re­al­iz­ing and de­cid­ing he’d rather be hands-on with the pro­duc­tion)— but when he was start­ing out, he con­sid­ered him­self tal­ent­less. “I didn’t know how to act, I didn’t know how to dance, I didn’t know how to sing, I didn’t know how to host, I didn’t know how to present my­self to a live au­di­ence,” he says. “It was step-by-step. I was one of the hard­est work­ers in work­shops. It helps.”

He would work hard and work smart. He’d stay in his work­shops ‘til late. He hired a per­sonal voice coach and found that singing is more than just try­ing to par­rot what you hear, even if you’ve got singing chops. (Checked out his self-ti­tled al­bum he put out last year in my spare time; it’s stan­dard dance-pop fare his fans gob­ble up, nonethe­less, he can still carry a tune.) He learned, the hard way, that singing while danc­ing—the crown­ing glory of main­stream Philip­pine en­ter­tain­ers, as you al­ways see on ASAP and its ilk—isn’t as easy as it looks. He did ev­ery­thing it took to sur­vive the rig­ors of the busi­ness; not only be­cause he had to, but also be­cause he wanted to.

I ask En­chong if his tran­si­tion into showbiz from swimming at a high level was part of his “Al­ways Hun­gry” men­tal­ity. I no­tice that he seems to be try­ing to get into ev­ery­thing, that to him it seems to be all a ght to stay some­where—maybe for rel­e­vance, maybe in the busi­ness, maybe in his bub­ble of com­fort that he’s earned, maybe in some­thing, pe­riod.

“Sig­uro it started when I was a kid, when I was still swimming,” he says. He re­counts the pro­gres­sion of a swim­mer who as­pires to make it to the very top. “You re­ally don’t stop want­ing for more. You re­ally don’t stop im­prov­ing your­self. Be­cause there’s al­ways a big­ger pic­ture in the fu­ture.” (Does he miss be­ing a swim­mer? Yes. Al­ways thinks about how he could have done more. But does he re­gret ev­ery­thing since? No.)

But with try­ing to get ev­ery­thing also comes fa­tigue. En­chong isn’t su­per­hu­man, and he can’t carry all his loads all the time. I ask him what his big­gest ca­reer goal is at the mo­ment. hat could a man who claims to never be sat­i­fied pos­si­bly achieve to nally sat­isfy his raw drive?

ell, I never found out. He de­fected the ques­tion a bit by veer­ing into an in­ter­est­ing course: in­stead of adding to his ac­com­plish­ments, he’ll mark sat­is­fac­tion by sub­tract­ing from his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. “The funny thing is, sabi ko nga, sooner or later I’ll drop some­thing from what I’m do­ing right now,” En­chong ex­plains. “Be­cause right now, I do act­ing, I do danc­ing, I do singing. I per­form, I’m host­ing. Some­where along the way, I’ll give up some­thing. Kasi it’s very hard to say yes to ev­ery­thing. Parang gi­nawa ko na la­hat, di ‘ba? Sig­uro I’m prob­a­bly just prov­ing some­thing to my­self. Af­ter that, when I can say na okay, I’m sat­is­fied, I’m good at it, I’m done with it, then I’ll prob­a­bly fo­cus on just act­ing or per­form­ing. I don’t know.” an. How do you sat­isfy a guy who never seems—maybe even re­fuses—to be sat­is­fied with him­self?

If it sounds like he’s get­ting over­whelmed, he isn’t. At least, he isn’t yet, but r. Never Tired is start­ing to feel it on his shoul­ders. You know how when you be­come too re­li­able, peo­ple rely on you a lit­tle too much, then you end up do­ing way more than you have the energy for? “hen peo­ple know that you sing, you dance, you act, they keep on throw­ing jobs at you,” he says, echo­ing the sen­ti­ments of over­worked mil­len­ni­als ev­ery­where. “That’s good, pero ‘yung qual­ity na­man, you look for qual­ity in your job. You look for sat­is­fac­tion from your job. So ful­fill­ment ang hanap mo, more than the busi­ness.” He’s a peo­ple-pleaser, see; you can ask him any­thing you want him to do, and he will do it. He knows enough to know when it doesn’t work out, but he will do it. You’ll never know un­til you try, right?

hat sep­a­rates En­chong from the least of us, how­ever, is that he knows when to bully him­self into do­ing bet­ter. He will let him­self slump a lit­tle, to not do the best he the­o­ret­i­cally could, but he doesn’t let him­self fall all the way off the wagon. He will tell him­self that this is not the way En­chong Dee does things, this is not how the top of the food chain acts. For if he falls off, he will fall all the way off. Some­one will rise up and de­vour him in this jun­gle, and he knows it isn’t his time yet.

But En­chong knows that one day, his time will be up. He ghts back now, but he knows star­dom won’t last for­ever. He’s had way too many of his peers fall off too soon to ever rest on his lau­rels. He’s seen how they’ve fallen, he’s stud­ied this game. He won’t go gen­tle into the good night, won’t be a sub­ject of a fu­ture “ here Is He Now?” This is why he’s al­ready in­vested and look­ing to in­vest fur­ther in Plan Bs, like real es­tate. This is why he takes on all jobs, even though he’s be­gin­ning to get tired of them. This is why he doesn’t rest—well, he couldn’t rest, be­cause he gets plagued at night by wor­ries he doesn’t re­ally have to mind.

“I re­ally can’t sleep prop­erly ever since I started pro­mot­ing the con­cert,” he tells me, but you’ll never hear the slight­est trace of worry in his voice. He won’t let me hear it; he seems to shrug it off as part of the job. “I haven’t slept for two weeks now sim­ply be­cause when I’m ly­ing in bed, even though I’m re­ally tired, I keep think­ing, ‘ hat if the arena’s not full? hat if peo­ple don’t like my per­for­mance?’ It’s all what if, what if. The only thing to de­feat that men­tal­ity is to do it, right? So I’m just gonna do it and see what hap­pens.”

He en­cour­ages young’ins to try and take his place, be­cause as the the­ory of nat­u­ral se­lec­tion pos­tu­lates, only the wor­thy is cho­sen. It doesn’t mean be­ing cut­throat and mer­ci­less; in fact, aside from work­ing hard, it also means be­ing the best per­son you can be. If that sounds para­dox­i­cal to you, then you’re not get­ting it.

“Go for it!” he en­cour­ages. Heed these words, dear reader, should you have it in your head by any chance to en­ter showbiz and se­ri­ously chal­lenge for his spot. “Se­ri­ously, just go for it. Just make sure that you’re a good per­son. I mean, in this busi­ness, as long as your foun­da­tion is re­ally strong and re­ally good in­side, noth­ing can tear you down. You’ll meet a lot of peo­ple, most of them bad, but let’s not be plas­tic. e’ve all made mis­takes, but if ma­jor­ity of who you are is re­ally good, then you don’t have any prob­lem. The only thing that will re­ally de­stroy us are things that we re­ally love, eh. I mean, this busi­ness, I re­ally love; one day it will just throw me out, right? But go for it. Just make sure you have a good heart.”

That last part is re­ally im­por­tant to him. “ y dad al­ways re­minds me to just be hum­ble,” he says, when I ask him about the most im­por­tant les­son he’s learned so far. He com­plains of showbiz peo­ple who give him a bull­shit showbiz at­ti­tude. “Be­cause one day, when you start step­ping down, go­ing down, there will still be peo­ple who will push you up, who will help you get back on top, sim­ply be­cause you were nice to them, you were kind to them. If you’re not hum­ble, even when you’re still at the top, your peers might try to bring you down just be­cause of your be­hav­ior. Ellen [DeGeneres] said, be kind to one another. Sim­ple words, but a very pow­er­ful mes­sage. And then help the world to be a bet­ter place. That’s it.”

And would he be will­ing to give his spot to some­one who meets all the re­quire­ments? “I won’t give it up! You have to ght for it!”

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