Hikaru Utada is the Asian music scene's baby. She is the youngest artist ever to appear on MTV Unplugged. And she has firmly cemented her pop star status with several chart-topping hits in Japan.
Hikaru Utada was born on January 9, 1983 in New York. She recorded her first album, Precious in English at age 12, under the stage name Cubic U. It wasn't a success in the Sates but its release paved the way for a prolific Japanese music career.
"Someone in Japan heard it, at a Japanese record company, and he said, 'Oh, can't you write in Japanese? You speak Japanese,'" Utada says, "and I didn't want to say no, so I had to try it."
In 2000 she returned to the U.S. to attend Columbia University. But breaking into the Japanese music scene was easier than expected and she left Columbia after only a year to pursue her career.
She is currently married to photographer and film director Kazuaki Kiriya. He has directed several of her music videos. He is fifteen years her senior.
"Chinked out" Hottie
Few artists can get away with coining a new genre. Leehom Wang is one of them. Wang's "chinked-out" music incorporates tribal sounds from China, Tibet, and Mongolia as well as more classical influences to create deeper pop.
In his most recent album, "Heroes of Earth," typical candy chords were combined with elements of the Beijing Opera.
At 22 he was the youngest artist to win the Golden Melody Awards, the equivalent of the Grammies, for Best Male Artist of the Year and Best Producer of the Year. Wang has released a total of 10 Mandarin and two Japanese albums.
Leehom Wang was born on May 17, 1976 in Rochester New York. He comes from a family of men and doctors. His father is a pediatrician, his older brother is a Yalie doctor based out of Chicago. His younger brother, also a doctor, graduated from MIT. Wang himself is no academic slouch. He was high school valedictorian, scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs, and was accepted to both Yale and Princeton. But he passed up the prestige of the Ivys for the chance to pursue his true passion, music. He ended up attending Williams College and the Berklee College of Music.
Genre Fusion Hottie
Just as her music mixes two apparently different genres, country and pop, Vienna Teng herself is a mix of two distinct minds. Having earned a Stanford computer science degree, she and is at once techinical and inpired. Before her success as a musician, Teng worked as a full-time software engineer at Cisco Systems. She adopted "Vienna" in honor of the city's strong musical history when she began her performing.
Teng has performed on the CBS Early Show, NPR Weekend Edition, and The Wayne Brady Show. Her debut album, Waking Hour peaked at #5 on Amazon's bestseller list. Her second album Warm Strangers reached #3 on Billboard album charts and rose to #2 on Amazon.com's Bestseller List. She released her third album, Dreaming Through the Noise, this year. Teng has opened for musical legend Joan Baez as well as for Patty Griffin, Joan Osborne and the Indigo Girls to name a few. She has played the piano since age 5.
"February to May 2002 was when things really started to happen," Teng says. "That was when I started to sell out the little venues I was playing in."
Vienna Teng was born in October 1978 in San Francisco. She earned her computer science degree from Stanford in 2000. She is currently touring with Duncan Sheik.
Best Bluegrass Boy
It's a bit jarring to see an Asian guy play the mandolin for a bluegrass group. Michael Kang is the Sting Cheese Incident's only Asian member. He is also their only clean-shaven member. The band combines Calypso, Latin and Afro-pop sounds with their staple bluegrass.
Kang plays both the violin and mandolin. As the violinist for an essentially bluegrass group, he arguably occupies the spotlight. Kang began playing the violin when he was eight. His teacher bribed him to keep attending.
"It was all about having fun, from the beginning. The guy had this sick electric miniaturized train set that took up half the room. So if you got through your lesson, he'd let you f--k around with the trains."
The band released their first record under their own label.
"We'd gotten courted by the 'majors,' stuff like that. We just decided that we had the resources to do all the stuff ourselves. We weren't hearing the best stories from bands getting involved with major labels, feeling like they just weren't able to maintain control. We built our own thing. We have a pretty big fan base"
They have opened for Bob Dylan and Phil Lesh. String Cheese Incident plays over 160 shows a year. They have released eight albums and sold 590,000. Last year they played in front of over a half a million fans worldwide.
Sweet and Fierce Indie
Jenny Choi may well be the only Asian American female who actually makes a living playing indie rock. She's the vocalist, keyboardist, “programmer” and cellist of Sanawon, a two-person band that has been touring U.S. major metro areas for the past three years, playing colleges with Asian organizations and clubs for trendy teens, some of whom aren't old enough to drink. It beats the “shite” out of teaching high school English, Choi will tell you. That's how she was earning a living until late January of this year when she went full-time with Sanawon.
Choi's love of words like “biotches” and “shite” makes her sound grittier and edgier than she looks or sounds. She's the cute, petite product of a Corean American family from a comfortable Chicago suburb. But like most indies, Choi casts her lot with the gritty realities of urban survival. One of her blog entries links street-people B.O. to her own after a few days of birdbaths in public restroom sinks while on the road.
Why does she use the word “fierce” as her group name? For one, Choi is fierce in her aversion to those stereotypes that shackle small and cute Asian American women to sexual commodity roles. Choi shuns what she calls “hoochie” shots, photos that seem to trade on her sex appeal. As a mattter of fact, Jenny Choi sees herself as a warrior and her music as bullets fired at objectionable images of Asian women as docile, materialistic, clueless sex objects.
The most difficult thing about listening to Tata Young is reconciling her sultry Thai beauty with the thick midwestern drawl. That comes of being the offspring of an American father and a Thai mother. What about the distracting cleavage? That comes of Young's ambition to become Asia's Britney Spears. Her breast-flaunting outfits and songs like "Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy" have made her the target of Thailand's moralists.
“She's just showing off her breasts,” proclaimed one conservative former senator and cultural watchdog.
Young started out as a cutesy bubble-gummer under the management of her father. With the release of her first album I Believe in 2004 she began busting out, so to speak. The spicier new look and sound expanded her following beyond Thailand to include Japan, India and other Asian nations. Her first album sold millions.
What makes Young a sensation throughout Asia is her flashy, brassy and sassy American style. That cross-over potential to become a global pop star has made Sony BMG supply her with quality songs by top writers such as Paul McCartney, Diane Warren, Adam Anders and Nikki Hassman.
“I have good people backing me up who want me to be successful,” Tata says. She is proud of the fact that Temperature Rising, her second album, is enjoying worldwide release. She has set her sights high — a concert at Madison Square Garden and a starring role in a Bollywood film.
Their hot tans, killer bodies and sexy outfits make One Vo1ce a pleasure to watch. Their sultry vocals and past Billboard Top 100 hit make them a pleasure to listen to.
There's Marie Ceralvo, the "Crazy One," her sister Mae, the "Baby," Monica Castillo, the "Hottie," and Melissa Ruiz the "Spunky One." Despite their commercial polish, One Vo1ce began organically. The girls are high school pals and began practicing together the night before a school talent show. In 1998 they signed with Kamikaze Records and released the single "All Day, All Nite," a Top 10 seller in the Bay Area. Their first album, "Just the Beginning" was released in 1999. Its success secured them a singles deal with MCA. In Spring 2002 they changed labels to Straight Hits Entertainment. Their latest album, Luvin' You was released in 2002.
"Triple Threat" Hottie
Being called a "triple threat" by the judges of NBC's Fame, hasn't gotten Harlemm Lee far. After his 1987 Star Search win and Polygram record deal, he should have had it made. But even with a couple of hit singles including a remake of Ruby and the Romantics' classic "Hey There Lonely Girl" which rose to #27 on Billboard's R&B Chart in 1987, Lee's success has been a constant struggle. The rewards promised to him for his 2003 Fame win, have not all come to fruition. Despite his soulful vocals and hot dance moves, almost 20 years later, in his late 30's, Lee is still working hard to catch a break.
Lee's most recent album, coming on the heels of his 2003 win, showcases his impressive vocal stylings. It has a four-and-a-half star out of five-stars customer rating on Amazon.com. Many of the reviewers bemoan the indifferent marketing pushing his recent debut.