Tue, 06 Aug 2002

Tantowi, a man of a million talents

Joko E.H. Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

A man makes his way hurriedly down to the makeup room while asking his assistant to find a list of songs he is supposed to perform that night. He arrives late for the taping of Country Road Special music program at state-run television TVRI.

Fortunately, it does not take long for the man to put on his white cowboy hat and get on stage, greeting the audience who are clearly pleased to see him.

Meet Tantowi Yahya, a man with a lot of talent.

"Howdy!" the host of RCTI's popular quiz show Who Wants to be A Millionaire greets his enthusiastic audience of older men and women dressed in country-style outfits along with cowboy boots and hats, who are quick to respond.

While waiting for the TV crew to get ready, Tantowi entertains his audience with jokes. He even shows off his new belt buckle to those sitting at the front of the stage.

When everything is set up, he starts belting out country songs while playing his guitar. The audience seems to really enjoy dancing to the music.

The smart, clean-cut 42-year-old well-known quiz show host, country singer and record producer, who is blessed with good looks and an infectious smile, has the gift of being accepted by audiences of any age.

He seems to be very aware of his star quality and does not back down from acknowledging his hard-earned success.

"As a quiz show host, I'm already at the top in this country," he said, while driving to dinner after the show.

He, indeed, is very good at it, outranking his seniors like Kris Biantoro and Koes Hendratmo.

Tantowi started his career as a quiz show host on Gita Remaja produced by TVRI in 1989 after beating many other candidates to the position. The show's producer, Ani Sumadi, who was looking for "a good looking man who knew music and could speak well", turned her eyes toward Tantowi, who at the time was a star in a TV commercial.

"Today, I'm the host of the world's number one game show," he said proudly, referring to Who Wants to be a Millionaire

Tantowi has also proved himself to be the country's top master of ceremonies.

He was even asked by Indonesian billionaire Peter F. Gontha to his daughter's wedding party in Beverly Hills in 2000 to entertain guests including top celebrities like Celine Dion, David Foster and Steven Seagal.

"It was not easy attracting people's attention at that kind of big party, you know. But I did it. They paid attention to me and they loved my jokes," Tantowi said.

Tantowi's unbeatable confidence, which makes him seem ready to conquer a small country, did not grow in a single night.

Young Tantowi, a native of Palembang in South Sumatra, was born on Oct. 29, 1960, and knew early on that he would be big someday.

Raised as a happy, optimistic child, young Tantowi looked up to his father, who played music, was active in sports and earned a living selling used glasses on the sidewalk. His mother stayed at home to take care of the kids.

For him, his father was a simple man with an advanced way of thinking.

Back then, when he was just 14 years old, his father signed Tantowi and his little brother Helmi Yahya -- who is also a well- known quiz show host -- up for an English language course, knowing that mastering the language was necessary if people wanted to be successful.

"My father is my idol," he said in open admiration. He said his father had always stressed that being humble and simple was the best way to live ones life.

That was also his reason for falling in love with country music. "It's simple, honest and harmonious," Tantowi said.

Many people may object to Tantowi's seemingly unsuitable voice for country music, but his first album last year, titled Country Breeze, comprised recycled local and western songs and went double platinum selling 250,000 copies.

The album was produced and distributed by his own company, Ceepee Production, which have also produced albums for high- profile local artists like the all-girl group Molukas and child sensation Sherina.

Still, the man, who has the big ambition of becoming an internationally recognized country singer, feels he owes his success in the local entertainment scene to his good relationship with many people.

"Success is 30 percent education and 70 percent networking," Tantowi said. "I believe that only those who respect people will get respect from others. Whatever you say will be echoed back to you."

Tantowi is entitled to say so since, unlike many local celebrities, he has been able to lead a clean life away from cheap gossip and real-life melodrama.

He remains loyal to his wife, Dewi Andayani, although it took the couple 11 years to have a child. He vows to raise his 15- month-old son Muhammad Adjani Prasanna Yahya to be "a person who is loved and appreciated by many people".

But with his career running at high speed when is he going to slow down?

"Never," he said. "I still have a dream. But I can't tell you what it is because it would make me sound arrogant."

"I'll never stop dreaming and nobody should either."