One night nearly five years ago, Wang Weiliang was crooning his heart out in a karaoke lounge when a stranger came along and changed his life.
The man asked Wang if he would like to sing at a getai, a live stage performance usually held during the Hungry Ghost month and other Chinese festivals.
Then a 22-year-old used car salesman bored not just with his job but also with life in general, he decided to give it a shot.
He made his debut in October 2009 at a getai in Bedok, singing two Hokkien songs - A Sad Passerby and Xiao Wei - for which he was paid $80.
"There were no rehearsals and I had to sing with a live band. I was so nervous I was rooted to the stage and didn't move an inch," recalls Wang, 27, in Mandarin.
The audience did not know who the newbie was, but applauded warmly.
"I was hooked. I told myself this was what I wanted. You could say my new life started with that $80," he says.
The Secondary 2 dropout and former teen gangster bade adieu to his hitherto chequered past - which included stints as a pasar malam hawker, alarm clock salesman and contractor - to pursue a performing career.
The road was rocky, filled with heartbreak and hard times. Things got so dire at one stage that he had to sing at a gigolo bar to make ends meet.
But a series of serendipitous breaks came his way, the biggest of which was landing a role in filmmaker Jack Neo's Ah Boys To Men, a two-part comedy chronicling the lives of several army recruits. The two films were box office sensations, collectively raking in nearly $14 million.
Even though his was a supporting role, Wang became the break- out star, thanks to his nuanced and naturalistic portrayal of Lobang, the street-smart recruit from a troubled family.
Life has been hectic ever since. He landed the leading role in another Jack Neo two-parter, The Lion Men, and recently completed a star turn in the musical adaptation of Ah Boys To Men at Resorts World Sentosa. In August, he will start shooting From Ah Boys To Frogmen, Neo's new movie about the naval diving unit.
Making the transition from Ah Beng to celebrity is something Wang takes seriously. He turns up for this interview in a sharp dark suit from Suit Select, hair dyed a fashionable ash grey.
But make no mistake, he is proud of his roots.
"I am who I am today because of where I came from and what I went through," he says.
The younger of two children, he is from a broken home. His parents divorced when he was a toddler; he and his brother were raised by their mother, a coffeeshop assistant-turned-office cleaner.
Fearless and rambunctious, the former student of Montfort Primary and Secondary was often thrown out of class for being disruptive.