Scandal didn't hurt his career

Former MTV VJ Utt, now back in Singapore to be an artiste manager for Beam Artistes.

SINGAPORE - A few weeks ago, former MTV VJ Utt ran into a female fan here on a public bus. And she apparently started hyperventilating when she realised she was sitting next to him.

No doubt some other fans would react the same way. The Thai-American host-actor left our shores in 2012 for what he thought was a permanent departure.

After being ordained as a monk in Thailand in February that year - a rite of passage for every Thai man - he moved back to Bangkok to focus on a new role, consulting for an English-language TV network.

But Utt, 40, is in Singapore again.

He stayed here for more than 13 years when he was with music cable channel MTV Asia.

In his new role as a director at talent agency Beam Artistes, Utt will be involved in managing the careers of artistes like Paul Foster and Shane Pow. He will also be exploring roles on the small or big screen here.

"Many friends in the industry said, 'Singapore misses you'," he told The New Paper in an interview last week.

And Utt, whose full name is Uttsada Panichkul, said he missed Singapore as well.

His application for permanent residency was rejected several years ago.

Some fans may remember, though, that when he left in 2012, there were rumours of a nasty video circulating in which a man who looks like Utt is shown performing a sex act.

At the time, he declined to talk about it to local press. Utt was later quoted in the Bangkok Post as denying the man was him and refuting talk that the rumours about the video had caused him to leave MTV and Singapore.

"We didn't go to the media about it because we had gone to the police and we thought (talking to the media) would hinder the investigation," Utt said.

"Eventually, I had to address it in Thailand, where there were like 30 cameras in front of you. Also, in Thailand, there's a scandal every two days."

At the time, Utt said that he felt very "attacked".

"It was hard to understand that somebody would resort to these measures to do something like this to me," he said.

He said he went back because he felt it was time to "take a break" from the industry.

"I wanted to be in a place where I could reflect. That was why I decided to go into ordainment," Utt said.

"I was really sad, because I felt like I was cutting Singapore off, but then I realised that it had never really cut me off," he added.

He has been back here several times since to host events like the Fide Fashion Week and was named as the "It Guy" for skincare brand SK-II, alongside "It Girl" and close friend Sara Wee of local band 53A last year.

'Career okay'

Although he admits the video scandal has been the "biggest" one he has had to overcome, Utt does not feel it has harmed his career in any way.

In Thailand, he has been busy starring in the hottest TV drama in town, the Thai remake of popular 2004 Korean series Full House, and juggling that with other professional and personal projects. (See report on facing page.)

But Utt, who declined to reveal his dating status, pointed out that the popularity of this new Full House with teenage girls is what may bring up the scandal again.

"It's inevitable," he said, shrugging. "Now they're finding out all about me."

Well, here are some fresh facts for Utt's fans: He has moved back to the same street he used to live in in the Katong area.

"I love East Coast because I longboard and bike," he said.

It is also a good place to get his favourite food such as oyster omelette and crabs.

And Utt does take buses because he had sold the Suzuki Swift he owned when he was here.

Time to try for PR status again soon? Laughing, he said: "I got rejected, but that could change."

New beginnings for Utt

New show

For a new generation of teenage Thai girls, Utt is not VJ Utt but "Guy", the charming interloper character he plays in Full House.

He recalled: "I lived near a school in Bangkok and one day, I was just walking around the area when these girls from the school just started pointing and shouting 'Guy! Guy!'"

Guy is the equivalent of the original show's Yoo Min Hyuk, played by Korean actor Kim Sung Soo.

He is the romantic foil to the drama's male lead - K-pop singer Rain's big breakthrough - played by Thai pop star Mike D. Angelo.

Both vie for the affections of sweet heroine Aom (Thai actress Aom Sucharat Manaying), whose life is in a mess.

The Thai version is so popular that fans have uploaded it online with subtitles in languages such as English, Vietnamese and Bahasa Indonesia.

Utt said he has been getting messages from fans from all over the world about the show.

"It's amazing because the episodes are made available online now in places like China and Vietnam, so there's been a lot of support from everywhere," he said.

He is due to star in a Love Actually-like romantic drama with Thai actress Taya Rogers. The show will start filming this year.

New house

He may have sold off his car in Singapore when he left two years ago, but Utt is very proud to talk about the latest vehicle he bought in Thailand - a pick-up truck.

No, it is not a new trend back home, but a practical purchase to help him with his new personal passion project - building a summer home on the outskirts of Bangkok.

The house is being built on the 1.6ha of land he had bought years ago when he was still in Singapore.

"It's the project for me and my dad," Utt said.

"As your parents get older, you kind of not want them to sit around.

"We're saving money because we're buying the materials ourselves, like the roof tiles and everything else."

New job

Managing artistes is nothing new for Utt, who has had his own talent management company, Seven95ive, in Thailand for years now. It manages more than a dozen celebrities in Thailand, including actress Taya Rogers.

So it makes sense that he will now be with local talent management company Beam Artistes, which is headed by entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow.

"I think it will be both a hands-on and a 'big picture' kind of role," Utt said.

"Samuel's a great business guy, so I will be the creative guy.

"It's such a natural thing for me because I've been in the industry for so long and when I was starting out, I always wanted to have people guiding me about my choices."

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