For those of you who watch House of Cards and are wondering who the talented Asian American singer in episode 3 is….
Look out for an interview with him this week!
Jo Im is a Korean-American jazz singer who I was lucky to grab an interview with this week. Check out her cover of Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Like a Star” above!
Can you give us a little background? What do you do besides music?
I just graduated this last year, and right now I am working as a waitress. However, I am working on applying to grad schools for teaching social science and music. Besides working on music, I also like to hike, do pilates, and cook!
How did you get interested in singing and music?
I first started in the same way many children are introduced to music in a Korean family – through classical piano lessons. In high school, I was a piano accompanist for a choral group called the Women’s Ensemble, and it was mandatory for every student to take a sight-singing test. Right after I finished taking the test, the choral conductor, Mrs. Alderman, told me she was surprised to hear my voice and encouraged me to audition for her other advanced choral ensembles. From then on, I auditioned for many vocal groups and fell in love with singing even more.
Who could you list as your major influences?
I have many major influences! But these would be the ones I can think on top of my head:
Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Sarah Vaughan, Rihanna, John Coltrane, Katy Perry, Kurt Elling, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Rachelle Ferrell, Amel Larrieux, Leah McFall, Ariana Grande, and Rita Ora.
What are the top 10 most played songs in your music library?
“Happy” by Pharrell, “Problem” by Ariana Grande, “Nature Boy” by Kurt Elling, “Yonce” and “Ghost” by Beyonce, “In a Sentimental Mood” by Sarah Vaughan, “Phresh Out the Runway” by Rihanna, “Unconditionally” by Katy Perry, “My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane, and “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera.
You release a lot of your covers on Youtube through Arella TV, can you tell us a little about that?
My friend Jay Arella asked me to do a Christmas music video with him; it was a cover of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” After that we just started making more music videos, and before we knew it, we made six videos together. However, I am planning to make my own Youtube channel soon!
What does your family think of your venture into music?
At first my family was a little cautious because the pursuit of a music career is very risky financially. However, once they saw that my professors truly believed in my musical abilities, they began to support me in creating music. My mom feels nervous about me pursuing music as a career but the rest of my family supports me but would encourage me to have a back up plan.
Do you feel that your ethnicity or identity has helped you or held you back in any way?
I felt being Korean-American in America held me back when it came to pursuing a singing career because singing was considered risky and unprofessional. You don’t see any Asian American women in mainstream music. Not only that, but for one to possibly enter the industry, they must fit certain stereotypical roles that degrade and pigeonhole Asian and Asian American women. This held me back because in the past, I was always hesitant and afraid to show my family my passion for singing. However, when it came to being a classical pianist, my family had supported me more because like many Koreans believe, the classical piano was considered a “dignified” and “virtuosic” solo art.
When it came to a musical performance career, the classical piano is one of the most stable instruments to play. Nevertheless, playing the piano gave me an advantage because I was able to sight-read and use my knowledge of music theory to enhance my progress. In addition, I learned a lot about discipline and ambition from Korean culture, so that helped me excel in my musical skills because my work ethic was built upon those values.
What’s next for you? What can we expect in 2014?
I’ll be experimenting with music a lot since I’m still trying to find myself musically. I will also be releasing my own Youtube channel and posting a lot more videos there. Hopefully, I will start writing and producing my own music!
Is there any advice you’d give to someone pursuing music?
Do not let fear stop you from being original. Continuously experiment to discover yourself. When it comes to covers, try to find a way to change and find your own identity, whether it is through a concept of a music video, variation of melody, arrangement, instrumentation, and improvisation. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, embrace criticisms, ignore hate, and spread love!
Jae Jin is not your typical musician. A Baltimore resident for almost 11 years now, he recently transitioned from healthcare management into a civic and social organization doing work in the inner city focusing on providing human services and social work for individuals with barriers. After graduating from Johns Hopkins with a degree in public health, Jae decided to forego an MD/MBA program and instead dove into social work and community engagement. On the side, he sings and plays guitar and piano, a talent that got him a credited primary role on one episode of Netflix’s House of Cards. You can check him out at http://jaejinmusic.com, for any booking requests contact email@example.com
Can you talk a little about what’s led you towards this path? Can you give us a little background? What do you do besides music?
I’m perfectly content not being a doctor/lawyer or making big bucks. I’ve tried working long hours for a higher pay. And instead of doing that, I decided that I would do what makes me happiest and to also pursue my passions in writing and music. I suppose it’s every Asian mom’s worst nightmare to decided to forego an MD/MBA program and instead take a low paying job in social work. It also doesn’t really make me a “good catch” on paper with the ladies but hey, I like to think that I’m pretty much dating music instead…
How did you fall in love with singing and music?
I fell in love with music the moment I was capable of hearing, and it’s been an onward process where I’m still falling in love every day and will do so till the day I die. As an artist/musician, I’m not only a creator but also a consumer. I consume the world I live in and through the people I am surrounded by. I do this because it’s a perspective thing. I don’t look at music as a means to make big bucks, or to be famous or something. This means long hours oftentimes spent in solitude working at getting better at writing, at playing instruments, and just studying all sorts of music. You need to be willing to meet people where they are at and connect with all types. It means connecting with the barista at my coffee shop or even through the stories I hear about the brokenness that exists in my City through the work I do. It wrecks me every day but in its proper perspective, you gain insight and an appreciation for people and the world. It’s about hope.
Who could you list as your major influences?
Musically, my influences span across a wide array of genres and time. If you want to make great music, you need to be able to do that. Back in the day I would only listen to specific genres and artists that I liked, but you realize you need to find the silver lining in every single form of music whether you like it or not. That’s the beauty of art. Aside from music, my faith has everything to do with why I choose to give up the world and its empty promises. It’s the things that you cannot buy or hold in your hands that truly give you peace and joy.
You’ve been making music for years. What makes this year so special?
I wouldn’t say I’ve been making music for years. I’d say I’ve been attempting to sing songs and play notes. Over the past year, I’ve had some things happen in my life that have gotten me to the point where I’m boldly going to take steps to share my original music for the first time and to do a lot more with music. These days I’ve been practicing so many hours on piano and guitar, and will literally write songs upon songs and throw away pretty much 99% of it. I know I need to put the work in to get to a point where, once inspiration hits, I’ll be able to create something beautiful. I’m also keeping an open mind and continuing to connect with all sorts of people. That’s pretty much how all of my opportunities have come about. Through people.
What does your family think of your venture and focus on music?
The one thing I am certain of is that my parents love me. Because of that, I believe parents are very risk-averse. They kind of know that I love music but I keep what I do with music from them. It really does kill me to not be able to share all that I’m doing with music because I love them, but they just don’t understand and it’s a bit foreign to them to be able to do something like music for a living. They also know that the music industry has its negative sides. And that concern is perfectly fair. The way I see it, I’m going to continue to work hard, stay passionate, and be happy in my day to day life. And in the end, I know my parents love me and are happy if I’m happy. And yeah… I’m happy!
What’s the hardest thing about working in music? And the best thing?
Well easily the hardest thing is that if you are actually committing to grinding hard and cultivating something related to music, it’s going to take many, many hours. It means your music and art isn’t simply a hobby or a pastime, but a lifestyle and a business. You need to work at it hard each and every day beyond a simple 9-5 mold because you understand that true success arrives in years (and possibly more) rather than in months or weeks. The other challenge is the superficiality of doing something like music. I’m glad that I’m a lot older and I’m deciding to make something of this, because I’m not going to be sidetracked by the attention or small steps. I’m not really interested in living a party lifestyle or popping bottles in the clubs. I would much rather meet a milestone, and then start working toward the next thing. Of course this doesn’t mean I’m not having any fun. I am a people person and need to be around people. It’s just I’d rather find more chill avenues to connect with people over good libations. Again, to each his own.
Recently, you had a cameo in the Emmy award winning Netflix show House of Cards. How did that happen?
Like everything in life, when you surround yourself with good people and continue to work hard, sometimes luck finds you. I know that the show was holding auditions but I really wasn’t interested in that. I actually ended up having an actor buddy of mine out in LA (who has been pushing me to do music for many years) set up a private meeting where I got to sing for the producers. The next thing you know, a few weeks after that I’m heading to the shoot in a credited, primary role. The experience was an amazingly wonderful one. I got to meet some amazing individuals, some of whom were so nice to me. The day the Season 2 was released, I had show creator and writer Beau Willimon reach out to me to thank me. I got a chance to meet and talk to him and he’s seriously got an amazing story. Go check the link for some background on the guy. And he’s humble enough to take the time to reach out to someone like me. I’m really grateful to him, Kevin Spacey, and the casting directors for their roles in getting me on the episode. I’m really thankful to have had such an awesome opportunity to have a tiny part of a great show.
What’s next for you, career-wise and music-wise? What can we expect in 2014?
2014 is going to be a great year! Just last weekend, I had a show in DC where I performed all of my own originals for the very first time ever. Personally it was a big step and this year, I’m starting to get booked for many more opportunities and shows so I’m hoping this is just the very beginning. I don’t really want to let too much out of the bag, but there are some pretty great things currently in talks and I’m really just enjoying the journey.
Is there any advice you’d give to someone pursuing music or considering careers?
Your twenties are an important time to struggle to find yourself. It has taken me nearly all of my twenties to figure out how to be real with myself, to not worry about what anyone else is doing, to not worry about expectations others have of you, and most importantly to be happy and do rewarding work. The formula I’ve come to find is that the more you live outwardly and for others, the happier you are. And if anyone wants to talk about it or ask me anything, please feel free to link up with me on Facebook or Twitter! I interact with everyone, so it won’t be a blind follow.
Look out for an interview with him this week!
Use the hash tags #18millionhearts and #APATownHall !
1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a Korean American born woman with many passions in life. I have always been pretty ambitious since I was a child, and would like to believe that many of those goals have been accomplished only to make many more new ones. I love to explore new experiences and enlighten the rest of the world of any new discoveries especially when it comes to food and adventures.
2. What do you do?
I am currently President of VNV short for Visualize & Voice Corporation. It is a positive street wear brand made for both women and men. Currently we have over 20 different designs for tees and tanks, but I plan to expand the brand to other types of apparel in the near future.
3. What inspired you to create VNV?
There are many things that have contributed to creating VNV. I believe there was a necessity for any clothing brand to be unique in the industry, as well as a need for attire that was able to provide our generation of trends with more positive and healthier messages on a daily basis. Our world relies on strong visual imagery from everywhere, and it made sense to create a brand that would be aesthetically pleasing and beneficial for our growing youth. It couldn’t hurt to be more exposed to something inspiring or motivating that could help plant seeds of healthy thoughts, potential aspirations, confidence, and visions of future dreams for the people who are going to be the leaders of our future.
4. You say that it’s inspired by fallen youth culture, what do you mean by that?
Since 2006 I have been able to submerge myself into a culture I had not expected to be in. It had already been almost 2 years since I graduated from Carleton College, but I had befriended many students in the capital district because Albany happened to be a college town. Although I had adapted to my new surroundings (having been originally from NYC/NJ) and met some amazing characters, I have realized there were many downfalls to the environment, vibe, and overall mood Albany had been notorious for: 1) Kegs and Eggs incident which gave Albany a bad reputation all over the nation 2) tighter police enforcement leading to cancellation of events like Fountain Day 3) deserted downtown streets 4) cold and long winters.
Basically, it was difficult to find people who were actually proud of living in Albany or going to school in Albany. It dawned on me that it might not just be Albany that may experience these sentiments in their perspective locations. All of our 18-21 years old’s all over the country some commuting from home, and some traveling far from home experience discomfort from what they are used to in their hometowns. The whole experience could only be made better by the very people living in it to change what needs to be changed if we all wanted to see any change. There were plenty of college towns all over the nation that have plenty of traditions and things to be proud of that also give their students something to be proud of when they are residing there temporarily. Hence, I observed this over the course of my time here and I wanted to be a part of a bigger movement. Possibly a positive revolution for the students here and for Albany as a city. VNV was created in Albany, and was inspired by the culture here, but it would speak for the rest of the world also.
5. Who do you name as your role models and inspirations?
I have never considered anyone specifically my role model, but there have been many individuals who have inspired me by challenging my views, and shedding light upon new perspectives that I had yet to discover. For that I thank that I have God in my heart, a mother who sacrificed everything to make sure I was educated and properly raised, a father who has supported me until I became self-sufficient, friends who are the brothers and sisters I never had, and relationships I have been in that have been a reflection of who I was at the time.
6. Where do you see VNV in five years?
In 5 years, I see VNV participating in all major trade shows, and known in NYC and other major cities in the country. I have released over 20 designs just within the 1st year, which means by then I foresee having at least 100 designs ranging in tees, tanks, outerwear, and accessories. I plan to hire employees who will be able to do administrative work, market, sell, and design for me. I also hope to be on track for my own brick and mortar store.
7. What about yourself? Where will you be in five years?
As for myself, I see myself creating new goals because I would have already knocked out all the ones I have set for myself this year, haha. I would like to be traveling a lot to market my brand, speaking at events to younger people to spread the brand’s mission and motto, and participate at fundraising and volunteering events to support organizations through VNV’s profits.
8. What has been your greatest obstacle?
My greatest obstacle has been myself. I truly believe that we all can be our worst enemies when it comes to life. There will be many people who judge and talk about you, and because of what you hear or the environment you are in you are unable to move forward or be optimistic about any tasks you have set for yourself. You have no one to blame, but yourself for not having accomplished the things you wanted to. Don’t let anyone stop you, not even yourself to go anywhere but forward. There is no point moving backwards so that is not even an option. Standing still or being stagnant will get you nowhere, so force feed yourself something positive to hurry up and get you to moving forward towards whatever you may want to do.
9. In a male-dominated business, how do you gain the upper hand?
Honestly, I used to always fight for the upper hand during my younger years. But, I have learned that it isn’t always about getting the upper hand especially against the opposite sex. I am not a feminist and I don’t quite believe in complete equality because I believe men and women are both made so differently that we both possess specific talents that we can always share.
However, the society we live in does not allow for things to be any easier for women when it is already dominated by men. For that reason, I have learned to take less risks and strive to be completely, ethically, morally, and consciously by the books. We can’t be blamed if everything was done correctly and there was no room for any criticism, but to be so rigid aka a perfectionist. Unfortunately, we might sometimes have to work harder to even gain any respect to prove that we have the strength and endurance a man would easily have over a woman biologically. I have also learned to have ownership of anything you do, which means to learn everything from the bottom up and not relying on anyone to help you. Always be professional when it comes to business, and treat everyone with the same kind of respect you would demand. Finally, to be comfortable with rejection because men probably deal with that all the time. Any kind of constructive criticism or a plain rejection of your product or even YOU should not discourage you to be who you are and believe in the things you are proud of because you will never please every single person in this world.
10. What advice do you give ambitious young Asian women?
I guess this would be a continuation from question #9 but I would like to tell our ambitious young Asian women that it is okay to feel discouraged at times because it is that much harder for a female minority who is young and inexperienced trying to be successful in this world. However, there are many advantages as well as rewards because you would have worked that much harder than the average person for your dreams. Rest assured times have gotten better, and the Asian community is more accepted if not in more demand in the media and in the workplace. Our work ethics and wits have been acknowledged even as a stereotype. Be grateful for the ambition in your heart and the fact that you possess these dreams. Embrace challenges, overcome any hurdles one by one, build bigger dreams as you achieve your goals, always be optimistic and positive enough to share the wealth of your vibes to any dark clouds around you, and have faith that no matter what you do in life that as long as you are thankful for what you already have, there will be no permanent failures in life. If anyone would like more in-depth advice please feel free to contact me and I can enlighten you to have a happier perspective on life.
A born and raised Queens boy, Jake Choi is the hottest name on everyone’s lips these days. You may have seen him in the Superbowl Best Buy commercial alongside Amy Poehler, College Humor originals, or the new show Golden Boy on CBS. Jake took the time to answer some questions for Fascinasians:
1. How would you sum up your background and childhood in less than ten words?
I was very confused of my identity and insecure.
2. Have you always wanted to be an actor? How did your family feel about that when you told them?
No I actually wanted to be a professional basketball player. But when I stopped pursuing basketball, I didn’t know what to do. My friend actually suggested that I give acting a shot based on my personality. My family wasn’t too against it or for it. They just wanted me to be happy.
3. What ethnicity are you? Do you think this has held you back or helped you in any way?
I’m Korean. I don’t think it has held me back or helped me. I guess it really comes down to how you play the hand your dealt.
4. Have you ever been offered a demeaning or racist role? How did you handle that?
Yes a few times. I had to politely turn them down.
5. What are you most proud of?
Hmm…. maybe landing the Best Buy commercial since the role really was open to any ethnicity.
6. Do you identify as more Korean-American, Asian-American, or just American? What’s shaped your sense of identity?
I identify myself as just a human being. But if I had to choose, I’d say Asian American. There’s a rich Asian history and culture here in America and I’m very proud to be a part of it. But we’re all really one and the same. It’s not about what color you are, what nationality, or religion. As long as you are comfortable with yourself, that’s all that matters.
7. What are the five most recently played songs on your iTunes?
Lauryn Hill - Ex-factor, 2NE1 - I love you, John Legend - Coming Home, The Weeknd - Enemy, Lupe Fiasco - Hip Hop Saved My Life
8. What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?
I think my biggest accomplishment is not quitting what I love doing even when I had hit rock bottom.
9. What changes do you hope to make in the community?
I would just like to help mold the image of how Asian Americans are viewed and cast in the entertainment industry and media. The stereotypes have been slowly disappearing but you still see it a lot on TV and film. Which is why I refuse to audition for any demeaning or stereotypical roles.
10. And last but not least, the question that’s on everyone’s mind: are you single?
No comment :)