Meiyang Chang is one of my favorite Next Gen Multi Hyphenate entertainers: he is talented and tireless, he'll give anything a shot, he aces everything he tries. He's funny, loyal, socially connected and maintains a direct line to his fans. Getting back to what made him famous in the first place, Meiyang has two new songs out called Kuch Dino Se (his first single) and Hanju (a Punjabi collaboration with Neha and Tony Kakkar). Go listen to them first by clicking on those links. Then come right back here and read what he's been up to since we last spoke to him on the Drift way back in 2008.
Hi Meiyang, it's been a long time since we caught up. Since then you've hosted TV shows, gone on tour with Sunidhi Chauhan and Shahrukh Khan, won Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa, made your film debut in the hit Badmaash Company, run the Mumbai Marathon, acted in commercials and have a new single.
And life has come full circle on the Drift, hasn't it? I remember being here in 2008 when I'd been drafted by Sony Television to host Indian Idol 4, the very beginning of my career after dentistry. You've always been a great support
I need to hear from you: is there anything you can't do? How about something really wacky like running the marathon or dentistry? Wait, you can do both actually. Cooking maybe?
The universe probably conspires to make me explore every aspect of myself. I was recently invited to be part of the Indian adaptation of Come Dine With Me. As exciting as it could have been, I politely declined because even making tea is not my cup of tea. So there are plenty of things I can't do...yet!
Let's start with your most recent work. You have a new single. Tell us everything about it: what's it called, what is it about, what type of a song is it, is it part of a collection, who worked on it.
I'm very excited about this song! It's called Kuch Dino Se: my first independent single released by Sony Music India and it's a breezy, part-mush part-philosophical number, composed by Ajay Singha (Miko) as part of his for-the-road album Inn Raahon Mein. He's an old acquaintance who I've worked with on the F4 album in 2008 apart from Amit Trivedi (in his pre-DevD days) and Leslie Lewis. It was unfortunate that Ajay's catchy original score for that album wasn't heard much. Years later, we met again and he had this song for me and conviction in my voice. The lyrics are simple yet meaningful and have been penned by Pinky Poonawala.
The video for the song was shot with the children from Smile Foundation and they really add a soft, human touch to it. And I consider it a gift to myself since it released in October, my birthday month. It is a labor of love and the goal is to have as many people hear it and love it, share it and shower bouquets as well as brickbats on it.
I'm also excited to introduce Hanju, my Punjabi collaboration with Neha Kakkar (also incidentally from Indian Idol) and her brother Tony Kakkar with Times Music. This is my first Punjabi song; a love ballad with an underlying hint of pathos. I remember having a tough time holding a serious expression when we shot the 'intimate' music video for Hanju with Neha, that too with Tony as the cinematographer. Talk about pressure! Having said that, Tony has done a wonderful job of single-handedly producing the track as well as the video.
Of all the things you have built your career and life around, what's the one thing that is most precious to you and wouldn't give up?
My reality checks: my friends and family, mostly those who knew me before or during my Indian Idol days. They keep me grounded and let me live life without taking myself too seriously.
Indian Idol 3 really launched you. What was the original intent of participating in Idol? And at what point did you start feeling that you could have a career in entertainment?
I won't lie; I had never harbored dreams of becoming a professional singer nor, if you can believe it, watched a single episode of Indian Idol before the auditions. Cocooned in my extremely hectic Dental School life in the South of India (where mainstream Hindi shows do not have a massive following), I did not know how insanely popular the show was or how it could change one's life for the better. I have a natural affinity for music, thanks to my father and my music teachers in school and it was my friend and sister Archana who egged me on for the auditions.
Once I cleared the initial few rounds, I started taking the competition seriously. It was not until after Indian Idol 3, however, when I was offered an album deal by Sony Music that I genuinely contemplated a career in entertainment. I was all set to head to the US for further dental studies if Indian Idol had not happened.
You came back to host Idol for Sony. How did you prepare for it and what was the feeling like?
Once on-board, I had to follow the show backwards: DVDs of seasons and anchors gone by (punishment for not having watched the show before perhaps?), mock interactions with the general public, look tests. I have a great rapport with Deepali, so the auditions were an adrenaline-pumped blitzkrieg. It was on my extension for the Piano and Gala Rounds that I had to strike a rapport with Hussain, who is a great guy but also my senior and a veteran. I'll always be indebted to him for treating me as an equal and showing me the ropes.
The most down to earth? John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Vidya Balan, Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor
The most strikingly good-looking? Deepika Padukone, without a shadow of a doubt. This lady makes my jaw drop every-single-time! I met her again during an SRK event in Dubai and she really is a girl next door. I guess the mix of her on-screen hotness and her off-screen vulnerability makes her all that desirable and respected.
The most different from their on-screen persona?
Unless they're being snooty, I've found most of them to be very close to what they are on screen on vice-versa. Natural actors, yeah?
Have you kept in touch with the show that launched you? Or with the people who you've met on it?
I will always passionately follow Indian Idol whether I'm part of it or not. For me, it's not just a singing talent show but a sentimental journey. Many from the production and creative teams have moved on to other shows, channels or professions altogether and as expected, even friends fall out of touch with each other over the years.
I'm still in touch with most of them. Among my own batch mates, I'm in touch with Abhishek, Emon, Ankita, Deepali, Harshida, Bhavin, Shantanu, Charu, Prashant, Amit (that's pretty much all of them!). And from the other seasons I've been in touch with Abhijeet Sawant. Mini Mathur, Hussain and I talk often and bump into each other once in a while. A get-together has been on the cards for a long, long time though.
Ok, you've acted in a hit movie - Badmaash Company - with some pretty cool people. Did you have to audition for that part and how did you prep for that role?
I was just about to embark to South Africa for the Indian Premier League (IPL) when I got a call to audition for the character of Zing. Like any other starry-eyed boy who'd never imagined he'd be called for a Yash Raj film, I'd decided to say yes even before I knew who the director and my co-stars were. When I was headed for the audition a couple of days later, I let better sense prevail and told myself: read the script, see what it has to offer. That Parmeet Sethi was directing the film; Shahid Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Vir Das were my co-stars and that the role was interesting, meaty and gave me a lot of dynamics to play with convinced me to take on Badmaash Company.
Of course, I had no personal experience to fall back on to play an alcoholic, so I drew from my memories of college in Bangalore where I always had drunk people around me. I found genuinely nice people in Anushka and Vir and an extremely focused and disciplined actor in Shahid. I learned so much from them. It goes without saying that the experience of filming Badmaash Company was a landmark one for me. As Indians, we fantasize about acting in movies. I am fortunate to have lived that dream.
Any lessons in dancing from Shahid and Anushka?
I was terrible at dancing during the film so no, I did not ask for any dancing tips then. Perhaps, Jhalak was the lesson I was meant to learn on my own. However, when we were shooting the song Chaska, Shahid and our choreographer Ahmed Khan played a prank on Vir and me. They made us believe we had to do this extremely complicated 15 second routine for the song! So you had the two of us, grave and struggling to perfect the steps, and you had to see the relief on our faces when the prank was broken to us! We have fond memories of that incident and the film in general and keep performing together when we can.
I recently did a commercial with Chris Gayle where he hints at giving me cricketing lessons in exchange for singing lessons. Now THAT I wouldn't mind!
Moving on to Jhalak 4. You know I love you, man but even I didn't think you could win that show until about the fifth or sixth episode. Holy Hannah! What a risk taker you are. At what point did you start believing in the final destination yourself?
Hahaha! Well, Anushka and Ranveer came to encourage me on Jhalak and taught me a trick or two. But as you've mentioned, it was not until a couple of episodes into the show that I realised I could dance at all. I was kicking myself after the first two episodes as Marischa and I had been preparing those routines for weeks. To see it crashing and to score so low was demoralising! I can definitively say that the Tamma Tamma performance for the Madhuri Dixit Special was the turning point where, not only was I in a do-or-die situation but I also realized that nothing is impossible.
Jhalak sure looks like the most difficult thing you did in your life. Was it?
God, yes. I don't remember a time in my life when I've ever physically exerted myself for 13-16 hours at a stretch for a continuous period of 4 months! They say that when you work out and dance continuously, you get used to the pain. That never happened! The benefits though, were immense. I could touch my toes without bending my knees for example! Just kidding.
My stamina, core strength, posture and muscle memory saw a quantum leap for the better and I'd never felt fitter and more game for life! And I saw myself do things I'd told myself I'd never be able to do. Jhalak played a big role in instilling self-belief and the lesson that if you put your mind and body to it, no-bloody-body can stop you from succeeding.
Do things get tense between competitors on these reality shows? I mean, do you part as friends or do people leave all bitter?
We may or may not keep in touch but so far, I've only made friends on reality shows. If at all, we become frenemies during the course of the competition, which is but fair. There have been instances of people bitterly fighting each other on many reality shows but I've been fortunate to never come across that. Also, in music and dance shows, despite the intense competition and prizes up for grabs, we understand what we're collectively going through and empathize with each other. We give no quarter on the battlefield, but off-screen we're super cool!
Your singing and hosting has taken you all over the world. Some questions related to that…
Most fun you've had on a show: I've had some very memorable moments on stage across the globe but nothing beats the Indian Idol 3 Top 10 concert in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2007. It was a scorching hot day and well-wishers in excess of 50,000 came to watch us perform live. The ground AND the hills were overflowing with people. I've never seen such a sight in my life!
And the Temptation Reloaded Tour with Shah Rukh Khan in Australia and New Zealand: it's taking me to many corners of the world! The scale of production and SRK's power over the audiences is definitely something to experience! I get to host and sing on these gigs and to be so close to this humble superstar is a learning experience in itself. Add to that my gracious Jhalak judge, Madhuri Dixit and one of my favorites Yo Yo Honey Singh! We've just finished Australia, New Zealand and Dubai and will be traveling to Kuala Lampur, Fiji and Sri Lanka soon.
Most talented singer you've shared the stage with:
Sunidhi Chauhan. What a powerhouse she is!
Most memorable city you've visited:
Braccianno, 30 km northwest of Rome. I've performed in palaces and castles before but the Castello Orsini Odescalchi was special!
Strangest fan experience you've had:
Some overenthusiastic, albeit drunk fans accosted me after an IPL match in South Africa. I've never been asked for an autograph with so much aggressive love. My ears still ring from their "request".
You recently ran the Mumbai Marathon to raise funds for Concern India. What was that experience like and would you do it again?
I've used this term before and I'll do so again. Running the marathon was a cathartic and humbling experience. Imagine running alongside thousands of Mumbaikars as one team towards a common cause! And to not have a single untoward incident!! Running was just a healthy excuse; the prime purpose was to raise awareness about various charities and causes and to help raise funds for the same. For this I had fellow Indian Idol Abhijeet Sawant for company
Would I run the marathon again? Absolutely! I ran the Dream Category (7 kms) this year. I intend to train harder next year and attempt the half-marathon (21 kms). However, I'd request everyone to give their time and efforts over money to a charity or the causes they support. Yes, funds are required to run things but nothing can replace the personal touch. This is an advice I intend to follow myself. To that extent, for the first time ever I lent my support by way of my music to a new political party for the elections just gone by. The Indian populace is fed up of the corruption across governance and I believe that the people in this party deserve a chance to affect a positive change
You once wrote about Sunidhi Chauhan that every conversation with her was a learning experience. You've gotten to watch her up close. What do you think makes her so special?
Sunidhi is, without doubt, the most successful female singer and performer we have today. She saw success of gargantuan proportions at a very tender age and yet, never let it go to her head. She is a perfect example of how not to take fame and success too seriously and just focus at bettering your craft. Add to that her genuine nature and her mischievous streak, she's a really nice person to hang out with
You've talked a lot of being a big dreamer and how it's an essential fuel for life.
These days, what are your dreams about?
I'd say that I'm maturing with age. Haha!! What I mean is that after the initial fun and games and dabbling with many things, I know what I want to be ten years down the line. I definitely want to devote most of my time to music and acting. Television has obviously been a big part of my life but I don't see myself hosting for that long, even though it will still remain an integral part of my live profile.
To this end I recently tweeted, “Man with many faces and man donning many hats. I strive to be both”. With the interesting things coming my way, whether they materialize or not, I see my path very clearly. I will be better at what I do, have only myself to compete with and leave no room for insecurity.
OK I normally don't do this but since you are so personable, I'll ask personal questions. Anyone special in your life right now?
That's my heart crying out in pain. Although I am interested in someone, until it works out the way it is meant to, I am still single. Hey, that sounds cool: "Single man releases new single!"
What do you look for in your partner? What's a deal-breaker in a relationship for you?
She's got to be drop-dead gorgeous, with curves in all the right places!!! Haha!! These qualities are a bonus, but she must be a great conversationalist and a strong woman with an unchallenged zest for life. I love women with a happy light in their eyes who make the world a better place just by their outlook towards it. Of course, with the kind of timings and travel I indulge in, she would also have to be extremely understanding!
I'm sure you have been on great dates. Any horror stories of bad dates? I'm asking because they are cathartic to relate and interesting to read.
I wouldn't call it a disaster but it surely knocked me out. Back in Bangalore, I took this Jordanian colleague out for a date. There was a definite spark between us but at the date all she would talk about was how dedicated to Dentistry she was and how she dreamed of being an upright, brilliant dentist. I'm not sure if it was just nervous chatter but after spending 9 hours in the clinic everyday for six days a week, dentistry was the last thing I wanted to discuss! That night, I cursed myself for being a good listener. I'm still working on not being one to this day!