‘Asian Idol’ to fight stereotypes

Mary Jane Yoon ’08 had a “vision” after watching the television phenomenon “American Idol” last year — she wanted to help break the Asian stereotype represented by William Hung, a contestant on the show made famous by his off-key singing, and create a Yale “Asian Idol.”

The Korean American Students at Yale is hosting the first-ever “Asian Idol” competition on Jan. 26. The event, which is open to students of all races and ethnicities, only requires that the participants sing an Asian song, whether the language of the song be Korean, Japanese, Indian, Russian, Vietnamese or Chinese. For students who do not know an Asian language or any Asian songs, three workshops will be held this month to teach potential contestants songs that can be sung at the competition.

Yoon said she does not believe singing an Asian song will prove especially challenging for participants who aren’t native speakers.

“Singers sing in foreign languages all the time,” Yoon said. “I don’t see why a talented singer can’t sing an Asian song even if it’s not so common.”

When Yoon first came up with the idea for the competition, she said, she wanted it to be a showcase of talented Asian performers that could prove that not all Asians were the “uncoordinated, untalented singers and dancers that William Hung seemed to exemplify.” But she said she later realized the competition could be expanded to promote cultural awareness.

“I thought it would be a good idea to open the show to the rest of the Yale community and expose students to Asian music and culture,” Yoon said.

Originally scheduled for the end of the fall semester, “Asian Idol” was postponed so that more students, especially non-Asians, could participate.

Christina Park ’09, the leader of the Media Committee for the event, said she hoped that moving the event back two months will allow for more time to inspire interest and better publicize the event.

“I felt that it could go on an outward spiral if we could get both Asians and non-Asians to participate,” Park said. “It could be bigger next semester if we make the information more accessible.”

The most important consequence of expanding the event was the need to raise additional funds to support the costs of the competition, the organizers said. To spark more interest, they plan to bring in three judges from outside of Yale, one each to judge fashion, music and dance. They also plan to bring in a special guest to perform during the intermission, depending on how much money they raise. The venue and special effects for the show also depend on the success of their fundraising.

The Undergraduate Marketing and Advertising Association is assisting KASY in its fundraising efforts.

The show will be formatted more like a one-time talent competition than “American Idol,” which typically spans about five months. Twelve contestants will perform for a minute and a half each. During intermission, the audience will be able to vote for the top three performers, who will then go on to each sing a full-length song. The judges will eventually choose the “Asian Idol.”

Park said quite a few people have expressed interest and have signed up for the auditions. But despite efforts to make the openness of the event clear, she said, many students still believe that the competition is only for Asian students.

“After sending out a mass e-mail, I received a few replies asking why people got e-mails when they weren’t Asian,” Park said. “This is why we need to spread the word that the competition is for everyone.”

Raj Persaud ’10 said he plans to audition.

“I will be able to experience a different culture,” Persaud said. “It will be fun and I’d love to be a part of it.”

Auditions for the competition will be held from Dec. 1 through Dec. 3.

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