Kollab Watches: Fresh off the Boat 2.05 – “Miracle on Dead Street”

One of the things that executive producer Melvin Mar said that he was most looking forward to this season at CAAMFest San Jose last month were the holiday episodes. Since the first season began as a mid-season replacement, the show never got a chance to do any special episodes of the kind. That’s what made this week’s episode very special, it was the very first holiday storyline for Fresh Off the Boat, and it really was an episode of firsts: Louis’ first Halloween in the suburbs, Eddie’s first “normal” trick-or-treating experience, and Jessica’s first restored house since partnering up with her mother-in-law and Honey. However, as it tends to be the case when it comes to the Huang family, things never quite go according to plan.

Louis is psyched for his family’s first experience of celebrating Halloween since their move from Washington, D.C. However, he is disappointed when his youngest son Evan informs him of how they live on a “dead street”… and no, contrary to Louis’ original assumption, it has nothing to do with the walking dead or anything like that. As Evan explains, they live on a street where trick-or-treaters rarely visit. Unwilling to miss out on his first suburban Halloween, Louis guides everyone with preparing their street for the ultimate trick-or-treating experience (and all in a total of only five hours).

Meanwhile, Jessica- who has never been fond of Halloween as it gives kids an excuse to behave badly- has her hands unexpectedly full when her newly restored house is in danger of being attacked by a group of obnoxious teenage boys. She at first tries to get them preemptively arrested for something they planned to do. When that back fired, along with a failed attempt at recruiting her family to help, Jessica makes it her mission to protect the house at all costs.

While Halloween can be seen as a children’s holiday, this episode of Fresh Off the Boat focused more on Louis and Jessica’s experiences. Like in the last episode “The Fall Ball,” Louis’ obsession with American culture and fulfilling the American Dream was on display in full force. While it may have seemed corny when he made that heartfelt speech about bringing the Halloween spirit to their neck of the woods (with lines stolen from Field of Dreams), it makes sense when we remember where Louis is coming from: He’s a man who immigrated from Taiwan and has been working from the ground up for his family to be as successful and comfortable as any other American family.

Meanwhile for Jessica, her story highlights the darker side of Halloween; the side that adults may face when their property becomes a potential target for intrusion and vandalism. While she may seem like her usual wet blanket self, she does have a valid point about how Halloween is a time to be wary of pranks. The different outlooks from the two Huang parents is part of what make Fresh Off the Boat very unique; as it continues to expose different layers of common American traditions from the Huang’s Asian American experiences.

It was also fun seeing Halloween celebrated on Fresh Off the Boat; especially when it came to the costumes (though I confess to looking up who was dressed as who on Angry Asian Man’s blog post about the episode, for I didn’t recognize most of them). Despite her not having a big role in this episode, let’s please take a minute and zoom in on Grandma’s Garfield costume, for she looks incredibly badass in it!

Lastly, I also wanted to note Nicole’s return in this episode, for I was certainly surprised to see her (and that Eddie actually had enough dignity to talk to her without giving her a death stare). In a way, I can see her appearance making sense, not only because she and Eddie attend the same school, but also because his mom is friends with her stepmom. I wonder what role she will play from here on out?


Featured image courtesy of ABC

Kollaboration SF 6 Brought Musical Mash-ups and Familiar Faces

On the evening of Saturday October 10th, in the midst of San Francisco’s Fleet Week, the Marines’ Memorial Theater was occupied by excitement of a different kind: the 6th Annual Kollaboration SF Showcase. Unlike past Kollaboration shows featuring fresh-faced finalists competing in front of a panel of judges, all of the acts this year were alumni of past shows, with each of the six alumni would collaborate with another in a non-competitive exhibition of talent.


R&B group ANAK – winner of Kollaboration SF 2 – and R&B/Soul band The Delivery – a finalist of Kollaboration SF 3 and 4 – were the first mash-up to perform. From original songs to covers, the two groups were a good mesh as vocals (from both sides) and instrumentals collided in an almost Motown-esque kind of vibe. They kept the energy high onstage and the performers were really engaging with the audience.


The energy went from high to mellow as the next collaboration took to the stage. Melvin Sings!– a finalist of Kollaboration SF 4 – and &Blue – winner of both Kollaboration SF 4 and 2013 Kollaboration Star – were accompanied only by a guitar as they sang their set in a chill, laidback vibe. Their voices blended harmoniously together with each song they sang, as the audience soaked in their serene yet fun performance.


The final performance brought together the musical talents of violinist CryWolffs Violin – a finalist of Kollaboration SF 3 – and a cappella group SanFran6 (whose members include a number of finalists from Kollaboration SF 4 and 5). Kicking off with a showdown between CryWolffs and SanFran6 member DRC Beatbox – winner of Kollaboration SF 5 – the rest of the a cappella group, who were also previously seen on NBC’s The Sing-Off, came together for a musical explosion made up with covers of hit songs. Together with CryWolffs as the solo instrumentalist, the singers of this collaboration performed along with him with melodic voices and skilled beatboxing.


Host Ashly Perez of Buzzfeed Motion Pictures kept the audience entertained throughout the show and in between acts. From making her first appearance by dancing out onstage to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” to recounts of youthful shenanigans and even a rendition of “Smelly Cat,” she was an enjoyable and hilarious host. She even served as the judge for the audience singing competition that immediately followed the intermission and she, along with everyone else in the audience, was blown away by the astounding vocals of the eventual winner, Kollaboration SF staff member Layla Yu.

It was a fun night of tunes, jokes, and cheers; all without the stress of wondering who would be the winner at the end of the night. If anything, the night’s events served as a reflection of the words spoken by Executive Director Daisuke Kojitani in his introductory speech, explaining how powerful entertainment is in its ability to send messages and influence thoughts and lives, and why it’s so crucial now than ever before to provide a platform for a more accurate representation of the Asian American community.

In other words, it’s all about “Empowerment through Entertainment.”


Fresh off the Boat Recap 2.04 – “Fall Ball”

It’s not unusual for an Asian household to be multi-generational. While it varies from household to household, living with extended family is a lot more common in Asian American families. Having three generations living under one roof can be pretty hectic; especially when members of different generations are either trying to help another out, or are butting heads. In this week’s episode of Fresh Off the Boat, we get a little taste of both.

Jessica is in desperate need of a loan in order to strengthen her career as a real estate agent by going into house flipping. Conveniently, Grandma Huang’s late boyfriend (who, for some reason, everyone knew about except for her) left money for her in his will. Seeing an opportunity to get the money she needs, Jessica – who’s always had stiff relationship with her mother-in-law – attempts to get on her good side. Not one to be fooled, Grandma lays down some harsh truths about Jessica’s attitude that causes her to stop and re-evaluate her motives and relationship with her.

Meanwhile, the Fall Ball at Eddie’s school is coming up, and Louis is more psyched for his eldest’s first school dance than Eddie himself. Having never been to a school dance himself, all he knows about them are from re-watching the John Hughes classic, Pretty in Pink, over and over again, back when he worked at a New Jersey pizza savers factory with Jeremy Lin (er, I mean, Chau). However, when he sees how ill prepared Eddie and his friends are for the dance (cue his horrified expression as they demonstrate their dance to Shaggy’s “Boombastic”), Louis takes matters into his own hands as he helps the boys get ready.

I think it’s safe to say that this was one of my favorite episodes so far this season, and while there are several reasons that come to mind, the main aspect I enjoyed was really the character development exhibited in the episode.

Grandma Huang has always been a fan favorite with her funny one-liners and just generally being awesome. In this episode however, we began to see and learn more about her, and that especially goes for the scene where she calls Jessica out on her scheme to get her money. It’s a genuinely interesting direction the episode took with her, though I have to say that her remark about white people being the cruelest race went a little too far, even for her.

I got to see this episode screened in advance at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum’s Hella Asians on TV event last week. During the panel discussion afterwards, comedian Jenny Yang pointed out that the scene between Jessica and Grandma Huang proved just how revolutionary Fresh Off the Boat is as a TV show starring an Asian American family. She discussed how incredible it was to see a conversation on an American sitcom conducted entirely in Mandarin – and that the one Mandarin line where subtitles didn’t show up for was when Grandma calls out Jessica on being cold-hearted. That is surely something you hardly ever see otherwise from other family sitcoms.

The other character that I felt got to develop more this episode was Eddie. After encountering Allison (the flute-playing girl from the end of the second episode), he developed a new crush on her. While he’s eager to pursue her, his insecurities show when he reveals to Louis how he doesn’t want to go through heartbreak again. It’s a sign that he’s growing up, and it’s a clever storyline to follow as we continue to watch Eddie transition into adolescence.

Overall, it was a fun episode of Fresh Off the Boat that continued its streak of NBA guest stars with a cameo from Jeremy Lin, as well as its ongoing effective 90’s throwbacks (remember frosted tips anyone?). Also, congratulations to the cast and crew of Fresh Off the Boat, for it has recently been announced that the show has been given a full season order!

Please note that Fresh Off the Boat will not be on next Tuesday, but be sure to tune in the week after that.



Featured image courtesy of ABC

Hyphen presents Real Talk about #HellaAsians

On the evening of October 8th, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, in collaboration with Hyphen Magazine, hosted Hella Asians on TV. The three-hour, sold out event included an advanced screening of the episode, “The Fall Ball,” from ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, followed by a panel discussion about the shifts and challenges that come with representing the Asian Pacific Islander American community in mainstream media.

In the dimming sunlight overseeing the Civic Center Plaza of San Francisco, the museum slowly came alive as the event kicked off with a happy hour, 45 minutes prior to the doors opening to Samsung Hall for the screening and panel itself. Not a single seat was left empty as Hyphen Editor-in-Chief Michelle Carlton made the introductions to the episode.

Photo by Vi Son Trinh
Photo by Vi Son Trinh

The lights went out and the screen flickered to life with the Huang family at it again with their day-to-day shenanigans. Laughter ensued for the next 20 minutes for what was surely an episode that was worth seeing five days ahead of its air date.

The discussion kicked off immediately following the conclusion of the episode with a panel that included comedian Jenny Yang, comedian/performance artist Kristina Wong, and author Jeff Chang. They began by discussing the episode, as Chang noted how the relationship between Louis and Eddie in the episode felt very much like the Season 1 episode, “Persistent Romeo”, when the sex talk is given. Yang found it particularly trippy when a conversation between Jessica and Grandma takes place entirely in Mandarin- subtitles and all- on an American television show.

Photo by Jenny Yang
Panelists Jenny Wang (left), Kristina Wong (center) and Jeff Chang (right) – Photo by Jenny Yang

On the show in general, Wong stated how she’s constantly wowed it’s still on the air, for she’s always scared that it’s suddenly going to go away. As far as the statistics go as to whom is actually tuning in to Fresh Off the Boat, Yang revealed that the largest Asian American viewership is Filipinos. She also noted how there’s a large Black audience for the show as well.

The panel touched on a wide assortment of aspects regarding Fresh Off the Boat; from their worries about how it could turn out wrong prior to the series premiere, to how the actors portray their characters, as well as the controversy surrounding Eddie Huang’s outspokenness on his stance on the show based on his life. They went beyond Fresh Off the Boat and discussed the number of Asian Americans that are on television now, from returning shows like Agents of SHIELD and America’s Best Dance Crew, to new shows like Dr. Ken and Quantico.

While the panel made it evident throughout its discussion – as well as during the Q&A – that it’s wonderful to see an emerging diverse media landscape, they made sure to point out how there’s still more progress that needs to be made. However, the fact that we’re at a point in time where we are finally seeing “hella Asians” on TV – such as the first Asian American family sitcom in 20 years – is a wise direction to go in.

Watch the Panel here:



Featured image courtesy of Hyphen Magazine & Asian Art Museum

Fresh off the Boat Recap 2.03 – “Shaquille O’Neal Motors”

For those who may not know, buying a car is serious business in an Asian family. One must go into the dealership with their game face on, ready to take advantage of all the deals and not get taken advantage of in the process. Mentally, it’s like entering the Hunger Games, only not life-threatening (and less blood). This week’s episode of Fresh off the Boat explores high stakes adventure through the eyes of the heads of the Huang household.

In honor of their 12th wedding anniversary, Louis recreates the day he and Jessica got married by bringing her to a car dealership, Shaquille O’Neal Motors specifically, to pick out a second car (which they desperately need). Despite the thoughtful gesture, Jessica is uneasy about buying a new car; not so much out of frugality, but because as a proud, top notch bargainer, her confidence was shaken when they bought their first car and she accidently missed out on a deal for free floor mats. Luckily, Louis brings Jessica back to her senses and she regains her mojo to finally go back and get a good deal on a new car. Their coordinated tactics through the gauntlet of “top managers” sent to negotiate with them is eventually rewarded with a face to face with the dealership’s real top manager, the eponymous Shaq himself.

Meanwhile, Eddie and his brothers have their eyes on a waterslide that’s shaped like a hot dog (appropriately called the Hot Dogger) but they can’t afford to buy it themselves. After learning from his neighbors that his brother Evan’s limited edition Beanie Babies are worth some real cash, dollar signs appear in his eyes as he decides to use this new development to buy the waterslide. Although he may have missed a crucial step in the process and is later met with negative consequences when Evan finds out what he’s done.

This is the first episode of my memory where it was really about the relationship between Louis and Jessica. Their personalities may be anything but alike, but this episode showed how they really are on the same team. Randall Park and Constance Wu have such great chemistry together, their comedic timing and acting are on point as they naturally bounce off each other, especially in the negotiation scenes at the dealership.

This was also the first time where we see the Huang brothers together throughout a whole episode. It was nice to see all three of them in a storyline for once. Similar to Park and Wu’s performance, their scenes in this episode gave me a good look at how Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen perform together and I have to say, they really do a convincing job as onscreen brothers.

Finally, I really liked O’Neal’s guest appearance as himself and I thought how he was incorporated into the storyline as the manager of his own car dealership was very clever. While he is not the first NBA star to appear on Fresh off the Boat, he still made a big impression (pun intended) in the two scenes he appeared in with a distinctive camera presence and impeccable comic timing. Also, this might be stating the obvious but I have to say: That computer Shaq was typing at looked tiny compared to him. My awareness for just how tall this man is popped out even more when he and Jessica stood up to shake hands on the car deal. I swear she looked like a small girl from the back of her head compared to him.

Another great outing for this show, until next week!



Feature Image Credit: ABC 

Fresh off the Boat Recap 2.02 – “Boy II Man”

It’s no secret that Fresh off the Boat wears it’s 90’s setting on its sleeve, trading equally on sharply written jokes and nostalgia; such as trips to the local Blockbuster, Eddie’s love for the Notorious BIG, and at the end of last week’s episode, one of his friends even arrives at school dressed as The Mask. In this week’s episode, “Boy II Man,” 90’s pop culture is taken even further when the music of quintessential R&B group Boyz II Men take center stage… sort of.

In attempt to get out of piccolo class his mom Jessica is forcing him to take at school, Eddie decides to serve as a tutor for his crush Nicole (when in reality, they just spend the class period, listening to Boyz II Men). Unsurprisingly, Jessica doesn’t approve of this arrangement. Unfortunately, her attempts to get Eddie to go back to band practice fails due to him manifesting the early signs of teenage rebellion, resulting her first encounter with a flat out “no!” However, by getting inside the head of his faculty adviser, who has an Asian fetish without shame, with a made up story about a Chinese philosopher, Jessica arranges a perfect counter to Eddie’s scheme. Although as a result, any hope of him winning Nicole’s affection is dashed when an older boy, who shows up for his tutoring, wins her over with Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes and Butthead imitations.

Meanwhile, Eddie’s dad Louis is in a funk of his own when he pleads to Jessica that they try having a daughter, only for Jessica to tell him twice, “This shop is closed.” His desire for a daughter scares brothers Emery and Evan, out of fear of what that could mean for them in the long run.

Despite my memory being fuzzy on what pop culture was like in the 90’s (likely due to the fact that I was born in the 90’s), I am very aware of who Boyz II Men are and how popular they were then and now. From my impression of the title for the episode, I thought we’d be treated to a sampling of some of their hits, which is why it surprised me that the only song heard by them was their heartstrings-tugging “End of the Road.” While Eddie’s introduction to the group appropriately came right when he was about to go down in the dumps, how come their songs weren’t utilized at other parts of the episode, like when Nicole was watching them on MTV (good opportunity for the “Motownphilly” music video) or when she and Eddie hung out in tutoring (appropriate timing for their cover of “In the Still of the Night”)? Boyz II Men has a plethora of hit songs under their name, and if “End of the Road” was the only song by them that we were going to hear, then the episode may as well been named “Fresh off the Love Boat.”

On the other hand, I do like how Eddie’s storyline wound up in the episode. I feel that we are beginning to see him make the transition from childhood to adolescence, and that really showed through when he goes through his first heartbreak. Having feelings for someone can be hard, especially if it’s one-sided, and it’s even harder when one is experiencing it for the first time. I was glad to see how, despite being difficult with him all episode, Jessica- with assistance from her friend Honey- was able to become more of a confidant rather than a parent when comforting Eddie by recounting her experience of getting dumped in college and how there are other girls out there who he has yet to meet (cue the girl in the band room, playing Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” on her flute).

Finally, I’m curious as to where the show is going to go with the faculty adviser with the Asian fetish. That scene where he and Jessica interact was funny yet pivotal, just to show how yes, Asian fetish is a thing; a creepy, degrading, racist thing might I add. I wonder if that character will be an one-off “creepy, Asian-obsessed white guy” joke, or if there will a story built around him in the coming episodes?


Feature Image Credit: ABC via Angry Asian Man

Advanced Screenings and Artist Spotlights at CAAMFest San Jose 2015

San Jose, home to the third largest Asian American population in the United States, recently played host to the annual CAAMFest San Jose film festival. From September 17-20, screenings, Q&As, and even an artist presentation marked the film festival’s 13th year in the South Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Friday’s opening night at the Camera 3 Cinema, usually reserved for showcasing films, features an unprecedented screening of a TV show, Fresh off the Boat. The family sitcom made history as not only the second show to star an Asian American family since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl, but also the first to be renewed for a second season. Stephen Gong, executive director of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), highlighted the show’s significance to the community, stating how Fresh off the Boat is both a phenomenon that is funny but with truth to it.



A large audience attended this first screening, notably a number of kids with their parents. The attendees were treated to the final episode of Season 1, as well as an early screening of the Season 2 premiere. Needless to say, laughs filled the room at all the right moments.

Melvin Mar, executive producer of Fresh off the Boat, was the night’s special guest, and after the screening, he joined CAAM Festival Director Masashi Niwano onstage for a discussion and a Q&A. Mar went in-depth on how he went from being fresh out of Cal Poly Pomona, not knowing what direction to take, to interning for Fox and DreamWorks, before eventually finding himself in a position where he was able to pitch an idea for a sitcom surrounding an Asian American family. As far as what to expect from the second season, he specifically highlighted how we’ll see the character of Grandma Huang (Lucille Soong) expanded more, as well as an upcoming Chinese New Year episode later this winter.

The Opening Night Gala followed afterwards at the San Jose Museum of Art. Richie Menchavez of the Asian American online radio station, Traktivist, served as the DJ for the evening with a playlist largely made up of 90’s music. Deviled eggs, mini cupcakes, beer and wine were consumed as attendees mingled with one another, having a good time, as well as even hitting the dance floor at one point. The night ended on a good note.


Saturday continued on with CAAMFest’s programming beginning with In Football We Trust. The documentary follows four NFL hopefuls, all of Polynesian descent, in Salt Lake City, Utah as they navigate their way to the ultimate glory, while with dealing with intergenerational gang violence, poverty, and their families’ expectations.

Co-director Tony Vainuku was in attendance and discussed with Niwano afterwards for the moderately sized audience how he conceptualized the idea for the documentary from his uncle’s experience, who was also once an NFL hopeful. He explained how filming for the documentary went about, in particular when it came to gaining the trust from both the subjects and their families. In addition, he also explained how actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who was completely moved by the film, is coming onboard as a producer for the film’s wider release next year.

Barney Cheng’s directorial debut, Baby Steps, followed afterwards, as the good-sized number of attendees were treated to a comedy-drama that follows Danny (Cheng) as he and his American partner are on a mission to find a surrogate mother, all the while he deals with his own mother/excited grandmother-to-be.

Felicia Lowe’s Chinese Couplets and Ham Tran’s Hollow– both of which were screened at CAAMFest last March- were the final two films for the day and the Centerpiece party was held that evening at the Nomikai Bar.

Sunday marked the last day of CAAMFest San Jose, beginning with a free screening of the web series Lucky Chow at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose and closed out with a screening of Vikas Bahl’s critically acclaimed Queen at Camera 3.

Sunday afternoon was when the centerpiece presentation took place with a focus on comic book writer/filmmaker Greg Pak, moderated by graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang. Accompanied by a slideshow, Pak first discussed his film career with works like Robot Stories, before going onward to his works he has done for companies like Marvel and DC Comics. He showed the step-by-step process of his illustrator’s work for his upcoming Kingsway West, pictures of his character Amadeus Cho as the new Hulk, and previews from his children’s books, ABC Disgusting and The Princess Who Saved Herself.


In discussion with Yang, Pak went even further into his background, explaining how while he grew up enjoying comics, he never thought of writing comic books as a career. Looking into the future, he is now considering a wide assortment of projects; some of them, he said, would actually work better as films than comic books.

The presentation wrapped up with musician Goh Nakamura performing a song from the soundtrack for Kingsway West called “Sonia,” as well as a cover of the Beatles’ “Red Balloons.”

It was another successful CAAMFest San Jose for the staff and volunteers! Now, they continue onwards with preparations for CAAMFest 2016.

Photos & Video courtesy of CAAM

Fresh off the Boat Recap – “Family Business Trip”

It’s been a minute since we were first introduced to Huang family on ABC’s Fresh off the Boat.  The first all Asian American family sitcom in 20 years recently made history as being the first one to last more than one season, after a solid first season mixing laugh out loud humor with the reality of growing up in an Asian American household.  After Tuesday’s premiere, it’s already safe to say that the second season is off to another hilarious start.

School is out for the summer and Eddie Huang spends the days away either watching TV or playing video games.  His goal is to return to school to show off the one cool thing he did during the summer, buying his own pair of “fresh as hell” Reebok Pumps.  However, after watching a report on MTV, made by hip hop luminary Ed Lover no less, he learns that Reebok Pump shoes were seen being worn by the legendary (but uncool) John Stockton and were now effectively uncool. With summer coming to a close Eddie must quickly come up with a cool experience to share with his school friends before vacation’s end.

Conveniently, he along with brothers Emery and Evan, mom Jessica and grandma tag along with his dad Louis on a “family business trip” to Gator World.  However, Jessica, who was already suspecting something fishy regarding her husband’s business trip, eventually learns that there was no business to attend to on this trip after all, and that in fact all of Louis’ past “business trips” have been secret vacations to unwind.

As someone who, until then, never believed in vacations (cue Jessica’s burst of laughter when her friend Honey suggested taking one earlier in the episode), she finds it difficult to wrap her mind around such a concept.  However, after attending a massage session Louis booked for her, accompanied by the sound of whale calls, Jessica at long last learns what it means to relax and be on vacation.

Meanwhile, Eddie ventures off to build up his reputation by riding the most extreme ride in Gator World, the Death Roll.  But all it took was a quick glimpse of a kid being pulled away, vomiting on a stretcher, for him to quickly chicken out of the idea.  Forced to return to school without a cool story to tell, his uneventful summer was not well received by his friends… at first that is.  Things took a 180 degree turn when his crush Nicole, who was supposed to have started high school, returns to redo eighth grade. She tells Eddie that she wished she could have played it simple over the summer like he did instead of skipping out on summer school. Her compliment instantly validating Eddie’s lazy summer.

In the end, young Eddie scores reputation points with Nicole, and more importantly, Fresh off the Boat scores big for making it back for a triumphant second season premiere! I look forward to seeing more strong and hilarious stories this season, as well as more character growth and exploration of the show’s world, in particular for the character of Grandma Huang.

Photo Credit – ABC

Interview with AJ Rafael: on YouTube, new collaborations, and audience chemistry

AJ Rafael is a popular singer-songwriter, with over 550,000 subscribers on YouTube. He was one of the guest judges at Kollaboration Star 2014. He has released two EPs, “Juicebox” in 2010 and “Beautiful Escape” in 2013, as well as an album, “Red Roses,” in 2011. In June, he announced in a letter published on New Media Rock Stars that he would take a hiatus from live performance in order to reassess his path in music.

Kollaboration recently caught up with him about his hiatus, current projects, and strategy for judging the contestants of Kollaboration Star.


It’s been about six months since you announced on New Media Rock Stars that you were going to take a hiatus from live performance. How has that been for you so far?

I took my very first “vacation.” It was the first time that I got to travel not for a show or any kind of other business, like no meet and greets or anything. That was in New York.

Since taking a step back from live performance, have you learned anything new about yourself that you didn’t know before?

I think right now, I’m still at the beginning of it, but it’s given me a lot of time to reflect and appreciate what I’ve done so far, but also explore other things that I haven’t been able to do in music – like theater, specifically musical theater, and collaborating with other artists that I didn’t really have time for because they lived out of state. I’m planning a lot more trips and collaboration with other YouTubers.

Also, hopefully I’ll audition for shows in New York or LA. I’m going with the flow instead of having a schedule for my next show. I’m always worrying about the next show and I’m tired of doing all that stuff for now. I’m not sure if I’ll get back to that anytime soon, but I gave myself a year from when I started the hiatus. I announced it six months ago, but I officially started it September 6th. I gave myself a year from that to figure it out and hopefully come back with maybe a new sound or maybe not come back until after that and try something really different. There are so many possibilities that I can discover during my hiatus.

When performing live, it’s important to have that chemistry with the audience.

In your letter, you talked about how maintaining your status as an independent artist has gotten increasingly difficult over the past few years; with YouTube becoming more mainstream, cover artists becoming more of a trend, and the pressure to meet expectations like getting a certain number of views or filling up venues. Do you have any thoughts on how this will change over the course of the next few years?

I talked a lot to people at YouTube and I have expressed my concerns on where it’s going – specifically the YouTube Music Awards; how last year it was very mainstream. I think that YouTube audiences knew that they were trying to enter into a mainstream audience, when YouTube’s audience is not a mainstream audience. I think that YouTube now is doing a better job at showcasing and highlighting creators who use YouTube as a platform for their art and for their skills, and not just people who happen to have covers of mainstream artists.

YouTube is doing a lot for creators. I know that intention is in the right place, but I do also realize that they need to adhere to or basically listen to the money that’s being spent on them. I know that they’re probably caught up in a vine. My hope is that we will see a lot more independent creators being featured. I’m not sure if that’s going to be anytime soon, but hopefully, in the next few years, it does.


Have you been working on any projects recently? You and Dante Basco were collaborating to make a musical based off of your “Red Roses” album prior to Typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines last year. Are you two planning to take up that project again?

It’s kind of tough to say with “Red Roses” because a movie requires so much money – it’s a lot of money to me. I guess in the movie world, what we were asking for was $75,000 – it’s not even a lot. It was tough to know that we didn’t get enough funding for that so unfortunately, that won’t be happening anytime soon. But I’m still working on other stuff. We’ve been working on this thing called We Own The 8th (#The8th or #WeOwnThe8th) which is a collective movement for Asians to release their content and collaborate with each other. We meet every 8th of the month in downtown LA. There are other movements that I’m working on currently. There are other projects – really collaborations with some people that I’ve never got to collaborate with. I’m collaborating with my friends the Gardiner Sisters and just making some music.

Kollaboration’s goal is to not only highlight up-and-coming performers from the AAPI community, but encourage people to pursue their goals and dreams. What was your perspective on being a guest judge at Kollaboration Star?

I haven’t judged before. I have been part of Kollaboration as a guest performer and contestant. One of the biggest things that I was afraid of was getting the judges to like me and trying to impress those judges. For me, what I watched out for was how they connected with the audience. It’s not about the judges at all; it’s about the artists and their connection and their ability to show their art to an audience. I just want them to be themselves. Everyone can sing nowadays and everyone can put a cool YouTube video up. But when performing live, it’s important to have that chemistry with the audience.

Photos courtesy of Chasz Everet, Melly Lee, and Felicia Tolentino.

Interview with Photographer Johnny Nguyen on his Viral Ferguson Rally Hug Photo

By now, many people have seen it. On November 25th, the city of Portland, Oregon held a rally following the announcement of no charges being pressed against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown back in August. From that particular rally emerged a photo that has since gone viral; a photo of 12-year-old Devonte Hart tearfully sharing an embrace with Portland Sergeant Bret Barnum. The photo has emerged as a light in darkness during this time of riots and protests and has since been featured on TIME, Fox News, CNN, ABC News, and NBC.

Kollaboration recently had the privilege to interview Johnny Nguyen; the man responsible for capturing this moment on camera. In the following interview, Nguyen talks about how he got started in photography, how he went about with taking this particular photograph, and his thoughts about the issue surrounding Ferguson.


Can tell us a little bit about yourself?  Who are you, where do you come from, and how did you first get into photography?

My name is Johnny Nguyen, a 20 year old Vietnamese-American and free-lance photographer based in Portland, Oregon. I’ve always been into the arts growing up. Either it being music, poetry, acting, I was always involved in the art programs at my high school, David Douglas High School. I’ve been interested in photography since I was a kid, but I didn’t take it seriously until I bought my first camera in 2011. From there, I read multiple books, and applied what I learned in the streets. That’s how I really got into street photography. Everyday I would go downtown and shoot anything and everything, messing with my camera, learning the way it functions, the way light works in an image. At this point, my camera is no longer just a tool, but it’s become my voice. Something every artist yearns for. I consider myself lucky. I shoot what I want to convey. I shoot things and people that inspire me or fire me up. I shoot because every image teaches me something either about myself or about the world around me.

Many people are probably more familiar with your work now after that photograph you took at the Ferguson rally in Portland of a 12-year-old boy tearfully embracing a police officer went viral.  Can you describe how you approached taking this particular photograph and can you explain the story behind it for those who don’t know?

I found out about the protest through Facebook. I arrived at the Justice Center in Downtown Portland, Oregon around 3:30-ish, and when I arrived at the scene, there was already a huge crowd of people. Naturally, I went and started snapping photos. I got inside the crowd and got close ups of people. I climbed a tall wall to capture a photo that displayed the amount of people. And basically whatever my gut was telling me to shoot, I shot. I walked down the steps on the side of the Justice Center, and walked across the street to which I saw Devonte holding a “Free Hugs” sign around his neck, tears running down his face. Right there and then, I knew something was special about Devonte. He was a subject I wanted to capture because in the midst of the signs protesting, his sign was the only one I thought was the most positive. I took some pictures of him without him noticing. My mind was telling me there were more photo-opportunities in the crowd, but my gut was telling me to stay with Devonte for a little longer. So, I stood on the side of the road, about 10-15 feet away. I was taking more pictures of people holding up their signs. Then, I turned back around to Devonte, and I saw him speaking to Sgt. Barnum. At that moment, I knew something special was going on. There was something powerful about the scene – a White American police officer speaking to a young Black American boy. A stark juxtaposition that had to be captured. So, I started shooting. Before I knew it, they were hugging it out. As fast as I could adjust my settings, I got as close as I could and shot about seven pictures, but I knew I had something by the third time the shutter opened and closed.


What are your thoughts on the attention this one photograph has been getting?

I am very happy that the photo has gone viral. Not because I’m getting recognition for my work as a photographer, but the fact that the photo has impacted people all over the country. I’ve even gotten emails from people across the world – France, Norway, Netherlands. All of the feedback I’ve gotten has been positive. People tell me how my photo has helped them feel more hopeful, that it’s restored their faith in humanity, that it brought them to tears, that this photo is what the country needed, especially in the troubled times we’re living in now. I’m just glad so many people have seen this photo because it has sparked a positive wave, and I feel like that’s the best way to go about our struggles. To be positive. To love. To be compassionate. I feel like that’s what my photo displays, and I feel like people see that too. I feel like people needed and wanted to see something like this, and that’s why it got so popular.

I don’t know how familiar you are with this, but some people in the Asian American community think we shouldn’t worry too much about this issue [surrounding Ferguson] because it involves the death of a black man.  However, there are others who say we should focus on this issue and take action, not only because of it affecting the country we live in as a whole, but also because it shows that there’s still a lack of equality amongst people of color.  What are your thoughts on that aspect of the issue and what direction do you think it’s going to go in?

What we should learn from this, and especially children like Devonte, is that we aren’t as different from each other than we think. Children know no color. Children just want to play, they just want to love and be loved. I think we have a lot to learn from our youth. As for me, I absolutely support all people of all races. We’re all human beings. We all have blood rushing through our veins. We all dream under the same sky.  What makes us so different is the way that we think. We need to find a way to educate ourselves. We need to understand that we’re all in this together, so why not help and work together? I think that if we continue to think like this, we’ll see progress.

Where can people find you or your works?

People can find my work on my website at www.chambersvisuals.com and on Instagram and Twitter: @chambersvisuals.

-Interview conducted by Lauren Lola on November 29, 2014. Photos published with Johnny Nguyen’s permission.