Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The "Real" Fame for Harlemm Lee

“Rumors have been percolating that Fame finalist Harlemm Lee is actually Gerry Woo…”

“Anybody remember an Asian American artist named Gerry Woo from the mid-80's? He was a short (5'6" tall) Filipino American from Detroit who was trying to break into the music industry where very few faces like his could be seen in R&B/Soul music of the 80's.”

“The Re-Birth of Gerry Woo…”

"35-year-old Harlemm Lee Wins NBC's 'Fame' ..."

"... By summer 2004 he told fans if not for unemployment checks and the free hotel stay, he would have been penniless and homeless..."

"#27 on Billboard's R&B Chart in 1987"

Harlemm Lee is actually a 1980s recording artist Gerry Woo who sang under the category of R&B/Soul music. Woo was the winner of a TV show "Star Search" and received a deal with Polygram Records releasing an album titled "Listen to My Heart Beat" in 1987. His music video "How Long" was completed in 1987 and aired on MTV, BET, and Friday Night. Woo also appeared at the Apollo Theater and surprised audiences. People who went to see the show at didn’t think much of him because he was seen as just an Asian guy, until they heard him sing. But Woo had limited success at the time, since it was hard for an Asian American to fit into the music industry in America and especially into R&B / Soul music. The recording company saw talents in him and they wanted to promote him, but it was difficult at the time to find a place for him or “a” category. And soon Woo faded away... (AA Rising)

“I’m 35. I’m bald. But I’m beautiful”

Then in 2003, Woo came back under a new name as Harleem Lee. This time Woo had a new look with his shaved head at the age of 35. Harleem Lee had to lie about his age in order to enter NBC's show Fame. The show had a lot of promises or so it seemed. Audiences as well as the judges loved Lee and his performances. He was something special, unique, and his performances bought a distinct taste and personality they had never seen before. Lee was no doubt a triple threat because he could sing, dance and perform very well. All his hard work paid off when he won the talent show in 2003. Lee soon released an album titled "Introducing Harlemm Lee" but that was barely known or successful. Part of the reason was due to the fact that Lee did not receive the full prize that was promised to the winner of the show. The deal was that Lee was supposed to get a “one-year representation deal with Johnny Wright, a guarantee that the winner record a single under Wright’s record label Wire Records, one year of training with The Debbie Allen Dance Academy, a suite in a W Hotel for a year, and, finally, one of the top Hollywood agencies will guide their careers and living expenses will also be provided” that was supposed to kick start his career but instead what he got was W Hotel prize and an album released that barely made news. (Reality Blurred). And once again Lee faded away...

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over…it became a butterfly”

It took almost 20 years for Gerry Woo to transformed into Harlemm Lee. How long will it take now for Harlemm Lee to make another transformation and a comeback into the music industry in America? Will he ever come back considering his age and that is an Asian American, which is always the number one disadvantage that stood in his way? Harlemm Lee or Gerry Woo is no doubt talented and a true performer, but can either survive the reality fate like of that many Asian Americans endured when they tried to break into the entertaining industry in America? Maybe the third time will be the charm.

My Thoughts:
I felt in love with Harlemm Lee when I saw him on Fame and I was so excited when he won. I couldn’t wait for his CD to come out. So I waited… and I waited… I didn’t hear anything about him ever since. Nowadays I see shows like American Idol and how the winner and even those who didn’t win go on talk shows, news, radios, etc… But I didn’t see any of that for Harlemm Lee. I never knew he had a CD out until recently. Indeed Harlemm Lee got ripped off. Maybe because NBC’s Fame didn’t live up to its promises or it is just not a big scale production. It doesn’t matter anymore, because Lee’s story and struggle stood as an example to the kind of road that many people, not only Asians but also everyone who struggles to follow their dream whether it is singing or not. Sometimes the end result isn’t always the best or what people wanted it to be but the idea is that they try and they follow their dream even if they didn’t make it. It is about the process and not always the ending nor the beginning.

Although this post about Harleem Lee and some of my posts in the past days may not seem to be related directly to Vietnamese entertainment industry, it painted a bigger picture. Being Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, or whatever is just a small part of who we are. But together we are Asians, and even bigger than that we are human beings. There is unification in all of this that we need to focus on. A person’s story may not seem of any relating to you but if you look outside the box, there is always something you can learn from it.

Enjoy the videos


Harlemm Lee sings at "World Aids Day"

Take Your Time - Gerry Woo

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