Mon, Sep 07, 2009
The New Straits Times
Top 10 influential celebrities in Malaysia: Stars with the x-factor sizzle

Popular, wealthy, talented, daring and fearless. Indeed, 10 of our local talents seem to have it all. When they sneeze, the nation blesses them. Industry observers say these celebrities are the most sought after for endorsements, have a huge fan base, and legions of admirers. They also set trends, and influence public opinion and tastes. These well-known names have an X-factor that others of seemingly equal talent do not. SHUIB TAIB lists out the apples of our eyes

Born in 1951, Mohammad Nor Khalid or Lat is a revered cartoonist. His cartoons which reflect his view of Malaysian life and the world appear in the editorial pages of the New Straits Times. He started with an editorial comic strip called 'Scenes of Malaysia', then was known for the comic strip published weekly called Keluarga Si Mamat. His first book Kampung Boy, an autobiography of his life, was published in 1979 and sold thousands of copies within three months.

Like him, Lat's works travelled far and wide. Kampung Boy was published in France by a French publisher. An American edition of Kampung Boy was also published in Aug 2006. This was the first of his books to be published in the United States. His second American release, Town Boy, was released in Oct 2007.

Datuk Lat
Datuk Lat

Incidentally, Kampung Boy and Town Boy were also reprinted in Japanese. Lat's latest book is Dr Who', dedicated to former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah.

His other books include Lat 30 Years Later, Lat and Gang, Lat and His Lot Again..., Lat as Usual, Lat at Large, Lat gets Lost, Lat was Here, Lat with a Punch, Lat's Lot, Lots More Lat, Lots of Lat, Mat Som (English Version), Mat Som (Malay Version).

He has also came up with Be Serious Lat, Better Lat than Never, Budak Kampung, Entahlah Mak... and It's a Lat Lat Lat Lat World.

BASED in New York, fashion designer Zang Toi was born in Kuala Krai, Kelantan on June 11, 1961.

He left Malaysia for Toronto, Canada, when he turned 18 and moved to New York a year later.

He attended Parsons School of Design in New York and apprenticed with Mary Jane Marcasiano and Ronaldus Shamask.

In 1989, with a modest collection of bright sarongs, strong suits and regal dresses, he opened his own studio. It did not take long for the personable, affable and friendly Toi to make a name for himself among fashion's elite.
Since then, Toi has cultivated his business into an international success story.

He is the favourite designer for Sharon Stone, Ivana Trump, Hazelle Goodman, Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley, Jennifer Tilly, Meg Ryan and Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. Be it the "House of Toi" signature collection or the "Z" collection, his moderately priced bridge line, Toi's creations are original, feminine and exude glamour in every way.


He has two signature lines, Zang Toi and House of Toi, both of which are sold at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and specialty boutiques in the US and around the world. Zang Toi also has freestanding stores in Malaysia.


Datuk Siti Nurhaliza
Datuk Siti Nurhaliza

IF Oprah Winfrey has her own network (OWN), Siti had her own channel (Siti)!
Although it ran for only two days on Merdeka eve and Merdeka day, it was a first for any Malaysian artiste.

Then again, Siti also became the first Malaysian artiste to have had her wedding ceremony telecast "live" over TV3.

After 14 years in showbusiness, she has accumulated more than 200 local and international awards.

These include the gold award from Shanghai Music Festival 1999 in China, Best Female Vocal Performance at the South Pacific International Song and Singing Competition 1999 in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia through the song, We'll Be As One beating more than 3,000 contestants.

At the "Voice of Asia 2002" in Kazakhstan, she won the Grand Prix Champion title.

Siti created history when she became the first non-Chinese artiste to be invited to perform at the 15th Golden Melody Awards, Taiwan in 2004.
Apart from performing solo, she sang a Mandarin duet with Taiwan's Lee-Hom Wang, in a number made popular by the late Teresa Teng, loosely translated as The Moon Represents My Heart.

Siti's songs have been covered by other artistes.
Cindai was re-recorded in Mandarin by Chien Bai Hui, a singer from China, while Aku Cinta Padamu was covered by North, an Australian boy band.
Siti also became the first Southeast Asian artiste to have held a solo concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2005.

GROWING up in the tin-mining town of Ipoh, young Michelle spent countless weekends swimming and diving with her friends.

As a teenager, Michelle was a tomboy and loved sports. She represented Malaysia in swimming, diving and squash.

This world-class action star was crowned Miss Malaysia in 1983.
Towards the end of her term, Yeoh was introduced to a Hong Kong businessman named Dickson Poon, who was scouting for talent to appear in a commercial with Jackie Chan.

The commercial led to a film contract by Poon in his newly-found film production company, D&B Films.

Yeoh has not looked back since, appearing in no less than five films produced by D&B Films. It was during her time with D&B that Teoh began performing her own stunts. She is the only female actress that gets one hundred per cent approval from Jackie Chan to do her own stunts.

Film critic website, Rotten Tomatoes, hails her the greatest action heroine of all time.

Yeoh became the first Asian to appear in a Bond movie alongside Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies.

This was followed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Touch, Memoirs of a Geisha, Hua Mulan, Far North, The Children of Huang Shi, The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Babylon AD.

Like her movies, Yeoh's share of awards are also impressive. Among them are Achievement Award, Marrakech International Film Festival (2008), Chevalier de Legion d'Honneur, France (2007), The Asian Film Award, MTV Asia (2004), International Actor of The Year, MTV & SMG Style Awards (China, 2003), Producer of the Year Award, CineAsia (2002), The Outstanding Young Persons of the World (Cultural Achievement, 2002), The Outstanding Young Malaysian Awards (2002), and the Montblanc Arts Patronage Award (Hong Kong, 2002).


Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: SPH)

BORN Redzuawan Ismail in Singapore in 1958, Chef Wan, as he is fondly known, is the eldest in a family of seven.

Although he qualified as an accountant, his real passion is cooking.
Chef Wan has an associate degree in Professional Chef Training and Hotel Management from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
He also has a Ritz Escoffeir Diploma (Ecole Ritz-Esscoffier De Gastronomie Francaise) from the Ritz Hotel in Paris.

He has cooked for many famous personalities, including the Sultan of Brunei and former US President Bill Clinton.

This actor, talk-show host, comedian, lecturer and food ambassador has hosted cooking shows all over the world in the last 20 years.

He has even published cookbooks in Malay, Chinese and English.
His latest is Sajian Tradisi Bersama Chef Wan.

His work has received international recognition.

His biggest award came recently when he was named "The Best Celebrity Chef In The World" at the World Gourmand Cookbook And Media Awards 2009.

For the moment though, nothing can top this next piece of news. Chef Wan has been invited to appear on Oprah! The invite came from Oprah via Asian Food Channel CEO, Maria Brown.

Before this, Chef Wan was interviewed by Lorraine Hahn on CNN.
He became the third Malaysian to have appeared on the talk-show after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Chef Wan has also been interviewed by Al-Jazeera, BBC and made an appearance on CNBC's show called Driven.

HE adds sophistication and class to the world of rockers.
The charismatic and age-defying Amy Search was the man at the helm of Malaysia's most well- known rock band, Search.

When Search's debut album, Cinta Buatan Malaysia, was released in 1985, it signalled the arrival of rock music in Malaysia in a big way. It also inspired many young musicians, most of whom did not receive formal training in music, to start a rock outfit.

To its credit, Search was managed professionally which allowed the band to flourish and spread its wings to other countries like Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia. Filling up stadiums was never a problem for this band.

With more than 18 studio albums and two compilation albums released, Search has collectively sold more than three million units, making them one of the most successful Malaysian bands of all time!

That Search managed to attract 15,000 people to its 25th anniversary concert held at Bukit Kiara Kuala Lumpur early last month was testimony to the band's appeal and longevity.

AZNIL is said to be the man who revolutionised hosting on Malaysian TV.
He turned it from rigid and monotonous to witty, fun and lively.

A graduate from Universiti Malaya with a Bachelor of Economics degree, Aznil or "Pak Nil" as he known among his young fans, started in 1990 as a broadcaster and a media reporter with TV3.

He first started doing news in the broadcasting industry, then moved to hosting in 1992. Pop Kuiz was the first programme he hosted.

But Aznil became "bigger" when he moved to Astro.
Indeed, Akademi Fantasia fans would testify that it was hard to disassociate him from the show which he hosted for five years. When Aznil began hosting Akademi Fantasia in 2002, the first reality talent show in the country, some were sceptical. But it turned out to be a huge success for both AF and Aznil.

Today, turn to Astro Ria and you will find Aznil on a daily basis. If he's not on Macam Macam Aznil, he is on Tom Tom Bak or Jangan Lupa Lirik. Is it any surprise then that he also won the Best Talk Show Award at the Asian Television Awards 2005 in Singapore?

SINGER, actor, model and spokesperson. That's Mawi.
He received the highest vote count in the history of reality show Akademi Fantasia, Season 3.

His landslide vote went extraordinarily high on the final concert. Since he burst onto the showbiz scene, Mawi has always been associated with terms like "aura", "tsumawi" and "world".

Interestingly, "tsumawi" was coined when Mawi's position jumped from the second last to the top. And the votes grew larger each week.
While the "Mawi World" terminology was used for his signature campaign during the weekly concerts, his fans started to call him "Mawi World".

Mawi's albums also sold like hot goreng pisang.
Collectively, since his first release Mawi World in August 2005, Mawi has sold more than 500,000 copies.

Like Siti, Mawi has also collected many trophies. He has more than 30 awards to date.

Even in fashion, there was a hijab (veil) named after him. Called Tudung Mawi, sales flourished in various parts of the country. Indeed, while his female adorers flocked to get the tudung, his male fans rushed to the nearest barber for a Mawi crew cut. Mawi is, without a doubt, a phenomenon.

KNOWN as Malaysia's "Prince of Fashion", Datuk Bernard Chandran's talents have earned him many faithful clients among Malaysia's elite, most notably the Royal families of Malaysia and Brunei, and two former Miss Universe.

He's also the chief designer of the reality television show Project Runway Malaysia when it debuted on 8TV in 2007.

Like most successful designers, Chandran went international when he introduced his couture in Europe with a boutique at swanky Knightsbridge, London.

He is also a brand ambassador for the Tiffani By Izen service apartments (to be completed in 2009), developed by Ireka Land Sdn Bhd.

Chandran studied fashion in a local fashion college known as International Fashion Training Centre (IFTC) in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
As a student, Chandran was shy, especially backstage around the undressed models during his early fashion shows.

When Chandran arranged for his debut solo show, his father was elated and helped fund his son's further studies at the prestigious Paris Fashion School in France.

Chandran became the first Malaysian to win the "Open European Contest for Look of the Year 2000" in 1991.

He returned to Kuala Lumpur and set up his maiden shop in KL Plaza in 1993. The first Bernard Chandran couture house was a small rented shop with a handful of staff in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

From there, he built up his client base among the who's who of Kuala Lumpur, ranging from the rich to royalty.
He has since expanded his shop in KL Plaza to take up four shop lots. He was voted "Designer of the Year" by the Malaysian International Fashion Awards in 2003.

At the 2008 MTV European Music Awards, singer Estelle wore his creation. The avant garde dress was from Chandran's Spring 2009 collection.

JIMMY Choo Yeang Keat was born in Penang in 1961. His late father, Choo Kee Yin, owned a shoe-making shop in Penang.

Choo went to a primary school, but studied until Year 6 when he quit to help his father. When he was 11, Choo made his first shoe and fell in love with the business.

Choo studied shoe design at Cortwainers College in London.
His father paid for the first year of his four-year course.
When he opened his shoe shop in London, the first four years were very tough.
But after Vogue stumbled upon his seemingly weird creations, they loved it and gave him eight pages.

The late Diana, Princess of Wales, was an avid fan of Choo shoes. She would commission Choo to create magic for her feet. Needless to say, Choo's sales rocketed.

In 1996, he co-founded Jimmy Choo Ltd with British Vogue accessories editor Tamara Mellon.

In April 2001, Choo sold his 50 per cent stake in the company for £100 million (RM579 million).

He has since been concentrating on the exclusive Jimmy Choo Couture line produced under license from Jimmy Choo Ltd.

The Jimmy Choo London line, also known as Jimmy Choo Ready-To-Wear, or simply, Jimmy Choo, is under the purview of Tamara Mellon.
The ready-to-wear line has expanded to include accessories such as handbags.

In 2000, the Sultan of Pahang made him a Datuk.
Two years later, he was conferred the Order of British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his services to the shoe and fashion industry in Britain.

It puts his status at the same level with other recipients like David Beckham, Rod Steward, JK Rowling, and Pierce Brosnan.

In 2004, Choo was awarded a fellowship by the University of the Arts London, conferring on him the use of the title Professor. He lives in London.



GOOD looks, an aura, a sense of professionalism, ingenuity and remaining humble in the face of fame.

These are some of the factors that set the 10 most influential celebrities apart from the rest of the pack. That is why they are beloved and sought after by people not just within the country but abroad. That is why they influence, motivate and inspire.

They have a certain something which is not easy to define. In other words, an X-factor. It is not something anyone can hone, take courses in, or fake. You either have it, or you don't.

Interestingly, industry observers say it is extremely important to be punctual for appointments, photo shoots, interviews and functions.
Celebrities who make others wait will never make it to any popularity lists.

Director and producer Saw Teong Hin says it is hard to put a finger down as to what it is that makes certain people different from the rest.

"Sometimes, you only need to be yourself. Datuk Siti Nurhaliza, for instance, is a much beloved idol. Why? It is because she seems like a simple and ikhlas (sincere) person. She's very real and her fans like her for that. After all, she is their darling." They discovered her, grew up with her and live vicariously through her," says Saw.

He said the late multi-award winning director and writer Yasmin Ahmad had that "certain something".

"When people relate to her, they do it very intensely. Her biggest contri- bution is presenting a certain type of Malay identity. She presented them as something different - educated and worldly. That's why the middle class respond so well to her."

Multiple award-winner Azean Irdawaty describes Chef Wan as a trendsetter and Malaysian icon.

"Wherever he goes, Chef Wan not only promotes the country but also the culture. When he cooks, he doesn't just talk about the ingredients, he also explains how they came about and why it is like this or like that."

"I also like it when he brings mortar to the kitchen and shows how our great grandmothers prepared food in the kitchen in the olden days. He also promotes local cuisine to the world and he does it very confidently and proudly. As a matter of fact, I feel that he should have been decorated a long time ago. I am so proud of what he does," says Azean.

Lyricist Johan Nawawi says Amy Search is a big influence, especially on young musicians.

"I have sat down with him a few times and I could feel his strong aura, particularly when the young ones talk to him. You can tell there is so much respect from them. He was also among the first few rockers to perform the umrah and now, more and more rockers are following suit," says Johan.

Although they are not on the list, Johan also credits Raihan and Ramli "Papa Rock" Sarip as influential.

"I actually know someone who converted to Islam after listening to Raihan's Puji Pujian.

"His name is Graeme Nesbitt, a journalist who wrote for Billboard magazine, who has passed on.
"He had heard Raihan's music and fell in love. Eventually he converted to Islam. Since he also appreciated M. Nasir's work, he named himself M. Ilham Nasir. (Ilham is Nasir's son.)"

"I also find Ramli quite "powerful". When you go to the mosque, you wouldn't expect to see someone who is high in the industry to be sitting at the front row but there he was, looking so humble and down-to-earth. I thought that image was so powerful," recalls Johan.

Music director, arranger and composer Helen Yap says besides the names on the list, another celebrity who is also influential and inspiring is the multi-talented Anita Sarawak.

"I think if we are talking about music, I see Anita Sarawak as a trendsetter. Her aura is so strong and people will follow or copy her style. I don't like to use the word old and I have to say that Anita is very experienced in this business." -NST



  Photos: M'sia's Top 10 influential celebs
  Revamped Robbie Williams to entertain Aussie awards show
  Michael Learns To Rock big on KTV
  Karl Lagerfeld Art Photos opening
  Sex Pistol singer John Lydon to reform Public Image
  Not bad: Jacko's crystal glove scoops S$70,600 at auction
  Taiwan may show China anniversary film -- but late: officials
  Lasseter, Pixar win career Golden Lion at Venice filmfest
  Lady Gaga tops British all-time download chart
  Video: Is Tanya in love?