Interview/Article by Jocelle Koh
Edited by Michael W. Veronin
Translation by Carolyn Ting
Triple-threat artist Stephen Rong discusses how he is succeeding in his entertainment career through daily hard work and total dedication to the performing arts. He further emphasizes how one always must avoid self-indulgence in a “pity party” and be willing to “takeaway” the good with the not-so-good. For the most part, Mr. Rong attributes his motivation to his mother (“Stephen, don’t ever be afraid of failure…”) and comments on his collaboration with Lara and “the talented ladies at Meimeiwawa”, acknowledging that he “geeked out” in Lara’s spotlight at their initial acquaintance.
1. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Stephen Rong and I am a performing artist based in Taiwan, but originally from Virginia, USA. I started my career by participating in singing competitions like 星光大道5屆 and 超級偶像5屆 . Afterwards, I gained experience in hosting TV shows, performing in theater productions, guest-starring in movies and dramas, and releasing my own EP + photo album in 2016 called “100% Daily Life.”
2. I know you, like the Meiwas, were born in America, but your family is originally from Taiwan. When did you discover your passion for music and performance, and what made you decide to move back to Taiwan to pursue it?
I saw a video of myself at a family party when I was a year and a half old, and I was dancing like crazy. I think even at that age I already enjoyed how music made me feel. As I was growing up in Virginia, however, there weren’t many opportunities to perform (it’s a very rural place). Even though I was born and raised in the States, I grew up listening to Mando-pop (thanks to my mom) and so it was always a dream of mine to be a singer in Taiwan. Before college, the extent of my singing was limited to being in the shower or the car: the stages that I dreamed of performing on were located on the other side of the world. It didn’t seem possible to achieve this dream, and at the time I didn’t have the courage it takes to leave my safety zone and travel to a completely different country. Then, the 2007 Virginia Tech (which I attended) incident occurred when a student with a violent mental disorder shot thirty-two fellow students, one of them being my good friend. This event really woke me up and forced me to see that life is just too goddamn short. So that’s when I gathered the courage to embark on a solo adventure to Taiwan to pursue my aspirations of working in the entertainment industry.
3. When did you first discover your love for singing and performing? Was there any particularly significant experience you can recall?
My mother used to throw parties on special holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chinese New Year, etc. We had an old karaoke machine (the kind that plays those HUGE LCDs — we didn’t have KTV joints where I lived in the States) and I remember I always heard the adults singing and one day I picked up the mic and just started singing along. Everyone complimented me and said I was a great singer (they probably were all just being polite because my mom was the hostess of the party), and I just kept on singing and singing. That passion carried on from high school to college, where I joined all the Asian organizations and performed at every cultural show, and now I have the opportunity to perform on stages as a professional singer. Looking back now, I think I was a terrible singer at those karaoke parties, but it’s a good thing I didn’t notice back then; otherwise I probably would have been too embarrassed to continue. It’s funny where life takes you, but the origins sometimes are even funnier.
4. We know you’re a triple threat — you sing, dance and play multiple instruments. But we also know that you work very hard to hone all of these skills. Can you share how you do it and what motivated you to do so in the first place?
I honestly don’t really see myself as a “triple threat” although it is flattering to hear. Simply put, I just love to do everything. I have too many interests and not enough time, and quite frankly, sometimes I feel overwhelmed because I’m not sure what skill I should focus on. I just try to push myself to practice a little bit [more] of everything every day and to get better and better each time I perform. It’s a way of respecting my audience as well as respecting myself. One of my greatest fears is for people to see me after some time and think: “He hasn’t improved at all”, and I think in order to avoid that, I must force myself to get better and better with each passing day.
5. I’m sure you have faced many obstacles pursuing these dreams. Whenever you may have felt downtrodden or disheartened, what was it that made you keep going?
Life can be a bitch sometimes. This pertains to everyone out there in this world. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, somewhere in between; life is out to get you sometimes. When obstacles get in my way, I just find a way around, under, or over them. Either you can do that or you can crawl up in a ball and cry yourself into a pool of pity until you drown, which isn’t really my style. Actually, strangely enough, I think obstacles and hardships in life are what make us and give us character. I don’t wish for them to enter my life obviously, but when they do pay me a visit, I make sure I learn as much from the experience as possible.
6. Can you say a few words about your experience working with Lara and Meimeiwawa on this mash-up thus far? What has the experience been like for you?
Terrible! Lara is a total nightmare to work with! SAID NO ONE EVER!!! Okay, all kidding aside, I was actually extremely nervous to be working with Lara. I’m not just saying this, but Lara’s “下雨天” is one of my all-time favorite songs. I sing it all the time (every single rainy day, in fact) and I even performed it while competing in two different singing competitions. So when I met Lara for the first time, I totally geeked out, and further geeked out when we started talking about working together on the mash-up. I think the project that we have decided to collaborate on is one that I feel very passionate and excited about because it’s fun and quirky and it’s something that I think will make our fans (and even new listeners) go, “Oh…that’s new!” I’m super-excited to be doing this project with the talented ladies at Meimeiwawa. Also, I have proof now that I know Lara and can brag about it to my friends.
7. What (or who) would you say has been crucial in motivating you to do what you have always wanted to do?
Probably my mother has been my main motivation over the years. I have been through a lot of rough patches during my years of pursuing a career in entertainment, especially in a foreign country, but my mom always has given me encouragement and positive energy even though we are on opposite sides of the world. We Skype [each other] almost every other day and talk about everything under the sun (we have had some 2-3 hour-long conversations, believe it or not). The one thing she said to me that always stuck with me is: “Stephen, don’t ever be afraid of failure. When you fall down, just remember to fall facing up, so you can always see the sky and know that there is always hope.” That definitely has helped me to maintain a positive outlook on life.
8. Self-evaluating your career overall, can you share one of your most memorable moments or achievements of which you are most proud?
Actually, I’m always proud of myself for everything I do. I know it may sound a bit conceited, but the reason is I believe people don’t give themselves enough credit for their own accomplishments. Our society teaches us “always be better” and we start getting into this comparison mode with other people, and ultimately this can be very damaging to one’s self-esteem. I always remind myself to push for self-improvement by comparing myself to myself only, and always to be grateful for getting work in this competitive industry and having the wonderful opportunity to be doing what I love the most. It doesn’t matter if it’s a singing gig, an acting job, or a commercial. I love all of it! But if you REALLY need me to choose an achievement, it would have to be the fact that my 2016 EP + photo album “100% Daily Life” includes a song that I wrote myself (with the help of my producer 何宗霖) called “母親節快樂” . It was the first time I ever had someone tell me that I could actually write songs and include them in my first EP; that was certainly an amazing feeling! It’s also an extremely easy song to sing, so it’s the best feeling in the world when you get people in the audience to sing along with you. You just think, “Wow, I can actually write something people can relate to”. Seeing that makes me want to write even more songs in the future.
9. Over the course of time, how have your goals and dreams differed, and/or stayed the same? Is there anything you would do differently if you could have a do-over?
My dream since I left America eight years ago always has been quite simple: I want to work in the entertainment industry and this hasn’t changed at all. Obviously, everyone who works in this industry dreams of success in some way, shape or form. My belief is to continue to work hard and do the best I can in every job that is thrown down my path. If I could start life over, I wouldn’t choose to do things differently at all. Even when I fail at a job, or don’t perform [it]to my expectations, my takeaway is always that even when it seems like a total failure, if I hadn’t gone through it, then I would never learn from it and grow from the experience. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the experiences that I have had in the past. You should never beat yourself up for having flaws, but you always can push yourself to be the best you can be.
10. Everyone’s story is different, but in telling your story to our readers, what do you think the biggest takeaway from your [career] is?
To never, ever give up unless you, yourself, feel like that is the decision that is best for you. It’s good to listen to other people’s advice sometimes, especially from people that you trust, but never listen to other people just because they are the “pros” or have been in the business longer. A lot of people give in when someone else (especially a person of an authoritative position) tells them “Oh, you can’t do that” or “You’ll never succeed” or “You have to be like this in order to succeed”. Most people mean well, but everyone’s situation is different and you, yourself, must be the best judge on what to do with your life.