by JAMES S. KIM
When KoreAm got in touch with Clara Hong yesterday, we were supposed to discuss last week’s blind audition on NBC’s The Voice, in which she brought down the house with her stellar performance. The young singer was trying to process what had happened since then, including random strangers raving about her on social media, her much-talked-about “You’re silk” comment, and of course, Pharrell Williams.
Then, she realized what the date was.
“Today is Sept. 30, right? Oh my gosh,” said Hong, apparently slightly freaking out over the phone. “I moved out of my house to Atlanta exactly a year ago. That is so crazy! I remember I moved in on Sept. 30 and went to the studio the very next morning. … But that’s so crazy!”
It’s been a long and explorative year for the Georgia resident, who put her college education on hiatus and moved to the city to pursue a career in music. But even before her recent milestone on The Voice, Hong said she was exponentially happier than when she was in school.
Despite the “silk” comment, Hong surprisingly chose Maroon 5’s Adam Levine over Pharrell to be her coach. Her sessions with Team Adam haven’t started yet, but whether The Voice plays a significant part in her future or not, the vocalist says she is definitely glad to be in her current position.
How do you feel about your blind audition, now that you’ve had some time to digest what happened?
Clara: I think when you’re onstage, you know what happened, but it’s almost like now, it didn’t happen. It’s been overwhelming, and it’s really cool to see the reactions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — it’s surreal. It’s really cool to see the reactions from legitimate strangers.
It’s almost like you can’t believe you can do it sometimes, for us musicians. I talk about this with my friends all the time, but we’re so used to the idea of — and this is not to sound negative — things not working out sometimes, so we almost prepare ourselves for the worst in a way.
Music isn’t … an instant gratification kind of industry where things always work out the way you want it to. In my case, you almost have to be like, whoa, that’s me. That’s not someone else’s life. That’s my life. So it’s been really nice and cool to believe in myself again.
How have your parents responded to your successful blind audition?
It’s been positive. It’s been nice. My parents were very keen on me pursuing education since I came here [from Korea] when I was 8 years old. It was never something where they pushed me to take piano lessons, or pursue music. As soon as I got the idea to leave school and pursue it, they were really against it.
Eventually, I was like, you know what, I’m an adult, so I’m going to move out regardless, but it would be nice to have their support.
It was kind of a struggle for a year. The only reason they were okay with me pursuing music before The Voice was that they saw how happy I was as a person. The light changed on my face, my attitude on life — I felt like a really beautiful person. I felt like I had purpose, and I felt really OK. And then when the three judges turned around for me, that was [my parents’] way of knowing, she’s going to be OK.
The Voice has been a gift in many ways, but I think that’s one of the biggest ways it has been good to me. It opened my parents’ eyes to my potential.
Why did you choose “Chuck E.’s In Love?”
There’s a process that goes into choosing the song. It’s not 100 percent the producers; it’s not 100 percent me. It’s kind of like this conversation we have going. Ultimately, I really wanted that song. It probably was a risk … because it’s not a tune everyone is familiar with. It’s a song that parents nowadays, they reminisce about that song, and might say, “Hey, that came out while I was in high school!” I really love Rickie Lee Jones, too, she’s cool and funky, and she’s always done her own thing.
In hindsight, I’m really happy I chose that song, but really I think I picked that song because I love it. … I think when you find the song, and you sing it once and it feels right, you know that’s your song. When I sing it, it just feels really good to me.
What did you think of the judges’ individual pitches? Adam, Gwen and Pharrell each went all out to try and recruit you.
That was really cool! To be honest, when I saw the episode on TV, I remembered a lot of the things they said to me, but when I was up there, there’s so much adrenaline, one, and two, it’s also a very out-of-body experience. I remember when I was singing, I almost saw myself in a bird’s eye point of view where I watched myself. It was really bizarre. I just remember hearing a lot of words, and I did comprehend them, but I don’t think I really heard them. I do remember the whole “silk” part, and I’m still like, “Why did you say it like that?”
I just remember feeling very overwhelmed and wowed by these coaches giving me compliments and … I was just in disbelief the whole time. Of course I knew it was happening, but it was a lot at once. I just remember feeling so bad and awful having to pick someone. I really wanted to work with all of them. It’s hard! It’s a funny role change, because you would think it would be the other way around, where you beg them to take you in, but the chairs are turned — pun intended — and the coaches fight for you.
What have you been able to do in the past year since you moved to Atlanta?
I’ve been trying to put together an EP, [but] because of The Voice, I wasn’t able to finish that project. But outside of the studio, I’ve been going out as much as I can and meeting people and making connections. Meeting inspiring musicians around the area, and jamming with them — it was really cool.
“House shows” are probably my favorite thing. They’re really casual. You can mingle with people, and then jam to really original music. The best part about it is that you’re so close to the artists and you see every facial movement that they make, and I love watching people’s faces when they sing because all the emotion is right there.
I think they really inspire me to always write genuine songs. That kind of setting, you can’t fake your way in with this song you wrote because you thought it was catchy. It’s not a fancy stage set-up with lights and mics; you really just have your voice and your instrument to impress the crowd.
I’ve done a few house shows in Atlanta where it’s just a bunch of twenty, thirty-somethings having a really chill time. I really think that’s where the real music scene is. Atlanta is packed with so much talent, it’s hard not to be inspired.
What have been your greatest challenges?
My biggest struggle [is that] I’ve never had consistent support, so I really wasn’t sure if anything was going to work out. And I’m pretty sure that’s the question I’m going to ask for the rest of my life. One moment or one blind audition isn’t going to change that mentality, but it has worked out well, and when I say “worked out,” I don’t mean that I made it or I crossed the finish line, but I think it’s a lot easier when you don’t worry too much.
If you’re centered, and your head is in the right place, and you wake up with a smile and do what you need to do … things will always fall into place.
It’s weird. Sometimes I feel really overwhelmed, but other days, I think, it’s quite simple really. You get up, you show up, you do life, and you call it a day. But it really depends on how you look at it and how much you want out of everything.
Photos courtesy of Tyler Golden/NBC