In 2016, Malaysian magician Andrew Lee was invited to perform in Australia. Two days before he went live on an Australian TV channel, he found out that his parents’ home in Shah Alam had burnt down early in the morning.
“Fortunately, my parents escaped uninjured. While I was shocked when I heard the news, the reality only hit me once I was back from Down Under,” recalls Lee, 31, who realised he had lost his magic show paraphernalia in the fire.
The incident, according to Lee, forced him out of his comfort zone. “Having nothing and starting all over, I took on whatever opportunities came my way.”
One of those “opportunities” was season two of Asia’s Got Talent (AGT) last year.
“In hindsight, losing everything to the fire was one of the best things that happened to me. By having less, I learned how to do more.
“I had to come up with new routines as I didn’t have my old props anymore. Limitation forces creativity,” muses Lee, who reveals that he was initially hesitant to participate in AGT.
“When I was approached for season one, I initially thought it was some scam. That was before I saw the show.”
For his audition, Lee performed a card trick with a dangerous twist for judges David Foster, Anggun and Jay Park.
Lee, who made it to the show’s semi-finals, says: “I was actually disappointed I didn’t get the golden buzzer, as I was told Foster was looking for a magician this time round.”
There’s no denying that AGT boosted Lee’s profile in the region, and made him decide to branch out even further.
Early this year, Lee auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) and managed to get through the audition round. (Touted as Britain’s biggest television talent competition, the series is now in its 12th season.)
Lee’s audition was judged by four renowned British personalities: reality show producer Simon Cowell, actress-singer Amanda Holden, singer-model Alesha Dixon and comedian David Walliams.
Asked by Holden why he was auditioning, Lee replied: “It’s always been a dream to be on Britain’s Got Talent and it’s always been my hope to perform for the royal family.” (Aside from a cash prize, the winner gets to perform at the Royal Variety Performance in front of members of the British Royal Family.)
Lee, who repeated the routine from his AGT audition, got a standing ovation from all the judges, including the notoriously hard-to-please Cowell.
“That was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen on this show: near death, magic ... everything I love!” enthused Cowell.
Lee is obviously still stoked when talking about his BGT experience.
“The best part of my journey was to perform in front of Cowell and to receive such an overwhelming response; when you talk about BGT, you’d think of Cowell as its icon. And I am the first Malaysian to be on that show!”
Time will tell whether he makes it to BGT’s semi-finals (we have our fingers crossed) and Lee is understandably cagey.
“All I can say is I will be leaving on a cruise contract soon (starting next week). You can follow me on my Instagram account (@andrewleemagic) for more updates!”
How the magic began
At the age of 16, Lee had fallen under the spell of magic tricks.
“I got my first magic book from the MV Doulos (the world’s largest floating bookshop). The ship used to dock at Port Klang, and when they opened their ship for book sales, I would learn tricks in there and perform for family and friends,” reminisces Lee.
He also enrolled in a correspondence course from Australia. “As I was home-schooled by my mother, picking up the skills via correspondence course felt just as natural,” says Lee, a trained nutritionist from the Global Institute for Alternative Medicine in California, the United States.
Throughout his student days in the US, Lee continued practising magic as a hobby. “I just kept wanting to learn and understand more about what magic is. Day and night – from breakfast to lunch and dinner – you’d see me practising non-stop.”
After his graduation, Lee returned to Malaysia, where he worked as a sales manager and nutritionist with a gym for six years.
Yet his love for magic never waned, and Lee uploaded videos of himself performing tricks onto YouTube and Facebook.
It was from those videos that Lee landed his first international gig. “I got invited to perform in Mumbai, India, in front of 10,000 spectators. I was nervous as it was my first major gig in front of a large crowd,” says Lee, who was performing at school shows and parties up until then.
Having had a taste of the limelight – and the resounding reception his debut show received – Lee decided to quit his 9-to-5 job and turn his hobby into a full-time career.
On whether he encounters jitters before a performance, Lee answers: “I don’t get stage fright but I do still get nervous, especially when I have to perform before a large audience. It is a good problem, as it demonstrates how much you care for the show.”
Thus far, Lee has performed all across Asia and countries such as India, Egypt, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar and Australia. At one point, he performed in Genting Highlands as their in-house magician.
Lee also calls himself a mentalist.
“Some would describe it as a psychic entertainer that utilises skills like non-verbal communication, linguistic deception and psychological manipulation to create the illusion of a sixth sense. We do not claim to have any supernatural powers or abilities!”
Reading family members and close friends is easy, according to Lee, as one lives and grows up with them. “The challenge is reading someone whom you have never met.”
While there are many great magicians, says Lee, he admires veteran David Copperfield and his ability to take audiences on an emotional journey in his shows.
“It was by watching his performances that I learned that magic is more than just tricks, it is about the presentation.”
Lee strives for a particular reaction from audiences. “The greatest satisfaction is seeing the audience’s faces come alive, and the feeling of momentarily stopping time,” explains Lee, whose other passion is camping.
“I love the outdoors. I like the idea of disconnecting myself from the Internet and being away from the city.”
On his advice to young people who want to follow in his footsteps, Lee replies: “Take what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely yours. That’s what Bruce Lee – one of my other inspirations – once said.”
In terms of inspiration for his craft, Lee finds it in travelling and being observant of his surroundings.
“I am always working (on a new act). When I’m not practising, there is a lot of time put in to the thought process of the whole show. Certain things such as props or music can trigger little emotions which build up to the climax. All these are considered magic in their own way.”