HoChie Tsai, creator of TaiwaneseAmerican.org, takes a whirlwind weekend tour through Hollywood and Los Angeles and squeezes in visits with several emerging celebrities and leaders within the Taiwanese American community!
Archive for June, 2009
I am 15 minutes late to our meeting because LA traffic and passive driving do not mix. I see her across the room and she waves at me, mid-sip from her Chocolate Latte. Halfway through my breathless apology, Calista waves it off and orders me the same drink. “They have the best coffee here,” she beams at me. She’s cool and smart– conversation flows easily. What I like most about Calista is that though she is fully aware about Asian American issues and all the pressures that come with being an Asian American female in the entertainment industry, she remains undaunted. She speaks about her life very simply with words that cut deep into the relatable grooves of our childhood passions. Her language is full of hope; her words are wise but relatable. I am mildly jealous of her calm attitude towards struggle: it’s as if life has a single goal, a light at the end that will surely come. That end goal is a dream deferred that will one day burst into fruition.
Upon meeting Calista Wu, I am struck by the magnitude of her person. Where does such a petite woman get such immense power with which she not only sings, but also lives her life? We reclined in comfortably tattered armchairs in the industrial yet quaint coffee warehouse tucked away in Pasadena, California and this passionate, driven, young Taiwanese American woman humbly shared her journey of talent, self discovery, and her upcoming CD release.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Calista grew up in a household that was nurturing of her musical talents. She began keyboard/piano lessons at the age of three, and then branched into the violin, clarinet, guitar, drums, and voice lessons. “[I] was a melodramatic kid, I felt like practicing piano was the bane of my existence, but now, I love it. When it stopped being a chore and started to become a vessel for creative expression, I fell in love with it. And I’m so glad that I can play because it’s so much easier to write songs and perform when you have that foundation.” When asked about the venues she has sung at, it is impressive and diverse, ranging from University commencements to large conferences.
Her style is contemporary, R&B smooth, but behind the voice are big ideas, a purposeful decision and a rich history. Her life story is perhaps relatable to some Asian Americans: “I worked hard throughout high school and college and did as much as I could to establish myself into a safe and logical career choice.” As a Berkeley graduate, Calista was a young, bright businesswoman working long hours at a well-known company. Her work was paying off and she was up for a promotion that would guarantee her success. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for practical career choices… you can do so much with that. You can help change society with your finances and influence, but if you know what you’re getting into with the entertainment industry, if you have a solid sense of your identity, and if you just know you have to try because it’s your destiny, then I would tell you to consider stepping out and trying entertainment.” It is at that point where she made a pivotal decision to go to Africa.
“I am so passionate about orphans and justice,” she takes a deep breath and we dive into her memories of Africa, visiting orphanages, serving at charities and church conferences. “After that, I realized the world was so much bigger, that there were things I was created for, that I needed to slow down and listen to this voice in my life that never stopped speaking to me…” Calista continues, “I knew when I was little that I wanted to be a singer, I wanted to be a lawyer.” After a 2 year hiatus of traveling, speaking and working at conferences, Calista began to take strides towards her music career with the support of friends and her family. Her new CD “The Prologue” is scheduled to release on June 16th, 2009. (http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=87883178738)
She laughs when I call her a celebrity, “People sometimes contact me and say they get nervous talking to me, but all I have is a website up with some pictures… does that make me a celebrity? I guess anyone can be one now.”
As for Asian Americans in the industry, she is excited to see who is coming next. In her mind, there seems to be no doubt that there will be more talent on the horizon and she welcomes it. “I am Asian American. It’s part of my identity, but it’s not the whole story,” she says. “No matter what, whether or not someone is Asian American, I think it’s all about being excellent in what you do.” As an upcoming Taiwanese American artist, Calista Wu draws from a deep wellspring of talent and passion. With a well-rounded, talented freshman album to be released, Calista Wu is equipped with a bold and humble attitude that is refreshing and points well to future success. Best of luck, Calista, from TaiwaneseAmerican.org!
Visit Calista’s website at: http://www.calistawu.com
Listen to Calista on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/calistawu
If you’re in LA on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009, check out her CD Release party: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=87883178738
Self-proclaimed coffee addict and actually a safe, adept driver, Christina Chou is a recent graduate from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Economics and Political Science and the ITASA Midwest Conference 2009 Co-Director. She is currently interning at an Asian American media production company in Los Angeles and it is straight trippin’. Her photography can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seechou/sets
I’ve been following Diana Li for some time now since a fellow leader in the Los Angeles Taiwanese American community clued me in to this talented singer-songwriter. After watching her perform on multiple YouTube clips, I instantly became a fan and have since invited her to perform at San Francisco’s Taiwanese American Cultural Festival for two consecutive years. Without a doubt, she is always a hit, stopping crowds in their tracks. I’m sure they, too, are captivated by this young performer whose robust and penetrating voice resonates beautifully between the towering downtown buildings. I’ve caught up with Diana several times in the past year and have asked her to share some of her background story. So here we are, with an exclusive interview with Diana Li.
On first impression, Diana is like any other young professional you would meet. By day, she works, but on a weekly basis, she performs a regular evening restaurant gig at Gemmell’s Restaurant and is a frequent performer at local coffee shops. “I’m a girl a few years deep into her corporate life, with a few non-corporate activities sprinkled around on the side to provide some personal fulfillment and variety! I’m a ‘woman of action’ type. I like to get things done and be productive in all facets, including music.” And, as I’ve gotten to know Diana over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered that she does know how to balance work, music, and spontaneous inspiration. I’ve caught her working late at night, recording songs to share with her YouTube audience. Now, that’s dedication to be admired.
Currently, Diana resides in Orange County in Aliso Viejo. “I’ve been here a couple years, and previously have lived in LA for school as well as work. I’m originally from the central coast of California.” I’m more interested in her musical background and foundation. After all, many Taiwanese American kids are encouraged to play the piano or violin when they’re young. I’m curious to know if she shares the same experience. Interestingly though, she’s had a unique background and interest in music. “Like many Asian American kids, I did take private piano lessons from the ages of 5 to 17. And unlike many kids, I did do theater, musical theater, and choirs as well to develop the singing part. I only took a few private voice lessons, but nothing compares to the thorough piano training. My roots go back to listening to Broadway and theater type music. Prior to that I even learned to sing some songs in Chinese and Japanese as a child. As the years went by, I’ve listened to all sorts of music from pop to R&B to hip hop… but my acoustic pieces sound closest to the Broadway style I mentioned. I have a soft, emotional touch when it comes to music.”
Emotional touch, indeed. One only needs to listen to a few of the YouTube videos that she’s posted to see what kinds of positive responses her viewers have given. One video, featuring “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, has drawn over 100,000 viewers. Another subtle thing her viewers might pick up on is that some of her creative compilation pieces likely aren’t available on printed sheet music. Sure enough, Diana is able to play many songs by ear. “I have a pretty quick ear for music, so when I hear something I usually internalize it right away and can pick out the chords and arrange the song myself. If I’m drawn to the music, it’s all the easier. After that it’s practice and patience – that good formula works for everything.”
I’ve watched Diana perform live twice now, and I’m looking forward to her upcoming show this weekend. There’s something amazing about watching someone do the thing they love. Diana clearly loves music and sings at any opportunity to do so. “I do love performing and feeling the high of sharing music with the audience, but honestly sometimes the best moments are the intimate ones I have with small audiences. But I wouldn’t sing so much in public if I didn’t truly enjoy it. I’ve loved seeing the reactions of the guests at Gemmell’s Restaurant that I sing at. And children’s reactions are priceless!” The excitement in her tone is contagious. I think to myself, there are young people who will be inspired by her voice and love for music.
Diana has a bright future ahead of her, and I enjoy how she balances her work and passion. As I wonder what she has in store for the future, she offers a glimpse of what’s to come. “I continue to strive for balance with my job and my music, and hope that someday I can possibly teach music full time to combine the two professions and/or just do music on the side. I’m flexible. My CD ‘Dream & Do’ should be coming out very shortly… so look out for that! Performance-wise, I do keep them frequent and updated on my websites!” Secretly, I hope she realizes that she has all the talent needed to succeed in a full-time musical career.
I ask her if she has any final words for the audience of TaiwaneseAmerican.org, in particular if she has any advice for people who are thinking about pursuing the arts. “I say that as long as you know what you are in for and don’t mind making the sacrifices necessary to succeeding in this path, then it’s for you.” I smile, because I know she has the formula for life just right. She adds one more thing, which makes me smile a little bit bigger. “Just a big thank you for all your support and attention and hope that you like listening as much as I like sharing!”
Thanks Diana! We look forward to seeing your musical career as it continues to rise!
If you’re in the LA area on Friday, June 12th, 2009, come listen to her perform at Hollywood’s Cinespace with Christine Ofrecio.