Monday, December 18, 2006

Asian Americans, music and reality TV...

So I just found out that Yul Kwon won the newest Survivor, which got me thinking about the abysmal record of Asians on American reality TV series, most notably the American Idol-ish ones.

Considering that Yul Kwon (from what I've seen the past few days on various mags and TV shows since I've refused to watch Survivor and its other shows in any other setting) is really hot, hunky, and smart, the fact that he's Asian probably won't affect how Survivor is set up the next time around, especially since he has other things to fall back on, and he's guaranteed to win his million bucks. Survivor, even with its short-lived, potentially interesting but ultimately disappointing experiment in racial dynamics, rewards those who are able to play the game--as long as they're fluent in American social dynamics, Kwon's winning shows that ethnicity isn't that significant a factor in determining the winner.

However, just thinking about American Idol and how the Asian Americans have performed--most notably Jasmine Trias, and also running into Harlemm Lee, it irritates me that there's still a belief (however true it may be) that Asians can't sell records in the US if they're pop-oriented. Jasmine Trias, while finishing 3rd in American Idol, has become a big star in her native Hawai'i and in the Philippines, yet barely registered a blip when her record came out a couple years ago on the mainland.

I've also noticed that there haven't been any really noteworthy Asians to make it to the finals in American Idol the past couple times, although they've figured relatively prominently before, even though Hawaiians called and texted in their votes when a Hawaiian is featured in the finals (nearly 5 votes per Hawaiian resident, or 5 million texts or voice votes when Jasmine Trias was in the top 3).

Harlemm Lee is a guy I've known for over 10 years after my coming out in LA, who's also won the first (and only) Fame reality TV series, and has since faded into obscurity after being told essentially point blank that he wasn't going to sell any records in the US because he's Asian. Chatting with him last night over dessert and tea in the Castro, he spoke with frustration and resignation about his being screwed over by not getting the contract that he won as part of his package for winning Fame. He's still trying to get his music out there, and is featured on Amazon.com, but at the same time, as he spoke, he knew that the odds were really stacked against him--how is a 30+ gay Asian American man singing R&B going to make it in US pop?

It burns me up to see that this guy who's worked so hard to do what he loves get continually screwed over because of the racism that's inherent in pop culture. Yul Kwon, by being the model minority, being the "strategic, soft-spoken" guy, will earn his 15 minutes of fame, then go back to being a highly paid management consultant since that's what we Asians do best. Harlemm, on the other hand, is still trying to be taken seriously, doing what he does, and yet will probably never get the big break he truly deserves.

If you're reading my blog, check out his CD or another CD by an Asian American artist. Start bugging your radio stations to include more Asian American artists. Put their songs on your myspace profiles.

Do something.

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