SINGAPORE - In 2009, MJ Kuok, then a budding singer, was forced to pull out of reality singing show Singapore Idol because of his studies, despite advancing to the Top 13.
The 26-year-old is back, although in a different musical guise from the one that fans of the television show might remember.
Kuok, who was born in Singapore but grew up in Hong Kong, Britain and the United States, is now making his name as a DJ/producer under the moniker MMXJ.
He launched his debut album, Into The Wild, with a set at Zouk in November 2015.
In a recording for ST Sessions, he surprisingly went back to his roots as a singer-songwriter and played stripped-down, acoustic versions of songs from the album.
Here, he talks about his time on Singapore Idol, his path in music and why he chose the performing name of MMXJ:
Until two years ago, Kuok, who graduated from California's Stanford University where he majored in communications and digital media studies, was not even sure if he would return to the entertainment industry.
"I was actually going to stop making music," he revealed in an earlier interview with The Straits Times at the office of his music label, Warner Music Singapore.
"After I graduated from Stanford, I moved back to Hong Kong with the intention of getting a nine-to-five job and being happy."
He ended up jumping from a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, to an advertising firm in Hong Kong and, eventually, to his family's real estate business in Hong Kong.
"It was a humbling experience because, during those two years of doing real estate, I realised I got my passion for making music back."
Every night, after getting home from his day job, Kuok would stay up until 3am and produce many of the songs that ended up on his debut album.
"I would be falling asleep at my desk the next day. I had so many musical ideas floating around after two years of working and then I thought to myself, 'All right, something needs to change.' That's when I decided to move back here to pursue music again."
Here, he talks about how his debut album is not the typical electronic dance music album.
Watch MMXJ perform a song from his album - an acoustic version of Kings, which is about following your dreams.
Kuok, who plays the piano and guitar, switched from being a singer-songwriter to DJ/producer after he witnessed electronic dance music (EDM) stars Alesso and Swedish House Mafia perform at the Coachella Arts and Music Festival in California while he was studying there.
For the vocals in his album, he engaged singers such as home-grown singer-songwriters Gentle Bones and label mate Reuby, as well as fellow Singapore Idol finalist Mae Sta.
Songs from his debut album are already finding favour with dance music listeners.
Pre-album release single Kings, a collaboration with Gentle Bones, was played on radio and topped the Singapore Viral 50 chart on streaming service Spotify.
For ST Sessions, he performs an acoustic version of Starlit Sky, a song about Christmas.
Watch more and connect with MMXJ:
ST Sessions official backline equipment provider: Ebenex
Full list of ST Sessions acts in Season One
List of ST Sessions acts in ongoing Season Two