From the stage to the dance floor, all eyes are on Sophea Rous’s captivating moves and heart-rending voice. Is a jump to the silver screen next?
At a dance club on Sihanoukville's beachfront, the audience steps back to take in his seductive and captivating dance moves. The self-taught wonder moves instantaneously with the beat of the music.
Men and women watch as he rolls his torso, bends his back almost in half, and shakes his hips. A foreign male takes a step forward for what seems to be a dance-off. Sophea watches. His eyes betray his chain of thought – feet this way, hands the other. He responds to the move with perfection – just as he has done copying the moves of belly dancers, along with the likes of Shakira and Britney Spears.
The singer, songwriter, dancer, and possible actor and model, featured on The Idol's second season and made it to the top five. While he didn’t win, he has risen to new heights since.
Last weekend saw Sophea perform at Angkor Beer’s 45th anniversary in Sihanoukville, alongside fellow Idol competitors and top artists like Sok Sophea and Karana Pich.
Like every performance he delivers, Sophea gave it his all, bringing with him individuality, style and one hell of a voice.
“When I go on stage it’s not me,” he told 7Days. “I don’t know how I do all of it. It’s just natural.”
Since January, Sophea and his competitors have been on a whistle-stop tour of 15 provinces with The Idol. He has two shows remaining, after which he says he can focus on what direction his career will take.
The future is abundant with opportunity for Sophea since he made his break, but behind his intriguing Mediterranean good looks, smooth dance moves and a boyish charisma, is a story of bleak perseverance.
Born in Kampong Cham province, Sophea never met his father and was raised by an alcoholic mother.
"I never saw her sober, she was always drinking,” he recalls, adding that he would often go to school with no food and just 300 riel in his pocket.
Despite having step-siblings, Sophea's birth outside of marriage left him feeling never fully integrated into his family, and with a deep desire to find his father.
"I just want to see my father's face, to see how he looks," he says.
After his family moved to Phnom Penh, his mother’s drinking spiralled out of control, and violent outbreaks became common at home. He says this violence was the trigger for forcing him to leave home as a young teen.
“[The violence] made me want to go to the pagoda and learn about monks,” he said.
He stayed there for eight months, learning Pali and other languages. Then, an aunt told him to leave and work at her husband’s silk shop.
He lived and worked at the shop for no salary, but insists it was worth it because he was able to study Khmer and English.
Sophea knew he wanted “freedom”, and it was from there his life began to turn around. He left the silk shop to work at a tailor’s shop, making costumes for the likes of the Phnom Penh Pussycats.
In 2005 Sophea graduated from the Golden Star club with a certificate in singing, and began taking an interest in dance.
"I watched European style dancing, and I watched the superstars. I felt like this is what I was meant to do, and I put all my energy into it.”
He began singing on youth television programmes, was featured in Khmer music videos, and picked up supporting roles in comedy and horror movies.
Sophea has performed in numerous nightclubs in the capital, including Riverhouse Lounge, Star Palace, Emerald Club, DJ Club, MStyle, Classic, Olympic and Anyclub. Currently, he performs at Pontoon’s “Shameless” Thursdays.
He has a list of international DJs waiting to produce house remixes with him to be played at Pontoon, Heart of Darkness and the Riverhouse Lounge on White Label, and has even been asked to represent Cambodia at Mr Universe. He had to decline because of a clash with Idol commitments.
Sophea also has his eye on casting for the yet-to-be-named Bollywood Khmer musical with Princess Soma Norodom.
“This is my dream,” he said.
“I never thought I could be like this but now, this is my life.”
With everything opening up for the star performer, and fans greeting him wherever he goes, Sophea remains down to earth. “Follow your heart. Even if you can’t see where you are going, just go and believe in yourself. Everything that you want to do you should do – because you need to keep moving forward, you don’t need to go back,” he says, with a glimmer in his eye you can’t forget.