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