Carrie Underwood is a household name. So is Clay Aiken. And so is Jennifer Hudson — all thanks to ''American Idol.''
A world away, Thanh Bùi has quickly become a household name, thanks to ''Australian Idol.''
He’s been all the buzz on the eighth season of the Australian counterpart of ''American Idol.'' Millions tuned in to watch Bùi, the first Asian performer on ''Australian Idol.''
The 25-year-old Australian-born Vietnamese ended his successful run this week as one of eight finalists. His positive attitude and undeniable talent — seen through the show’s video blogs and performance clips — inspired a loyal following.
Thanh Bùi's page on Australian Idol’s Web site (www.australianidol.com.au) captures the enthusiasm of fans who logged on after performances to send encouragement and suggest songs, like ''Whole Lotta Love'' by Led Zeppelin. One fan wrote, ''Thanh, You’ve got what it takes. I think you are too classy for Idol. Be true to yourself, keep doing what you do best, and I look forward to being able to buy your first album.''
Despite criticism from the show’s judges about Bùi's lack of 'edge,'' the singer believes he has his own edginess, one that brought soulful sound to a rock-leaning reality show. In one recent performance, Bùi played the piano while singing ABBA’s ''The Winner Takes It All.'' The performance nearly brought him to tears, he says in a video blog. ''There was nothing more than me expressing the lyrics for what (they) should be.''
Although Bùi didn’t make it to the final, he left an indelible mark as one of the show’s competitors, making it to the top 12 in an elimination process that began with 100 hopefuls picked from an international talent pool.
Exuding the same positive outlook that won over fans, Bùi said after the recent elimination, ''Well, this is just the beginning of things to come and there’s an album ready to go so I’ll be working really hard to get that released!''
Bùi shared his thoughts with Nguoi Viet 2.
NV2: ''American Idol'' is huge in the U.S. Could you give a sense of the popularity of ''Australian Idol''?
Bùi: ''Australian Idol'' is a massive show in Australia, with ratings each week at around 2 million people, which is 10 percent of the population. It is extremely popular with many of the contestants going on to big careers in the music industry. I’m finding it extremely flattering and weird being recognized everywhere I go. Wow, life will never be the same again.
NV2: You were one of eight finalists. What do you believe gave you staying power on the show?
Bùi: I think the ''staying power'' (was) due to me being really different from all the other contestants I am the first Asian person in the show in its history and I think that people find that unusual and interesting. Also, all the other guys in the show are very 'rock' whilst I (had) more of a soul/pop vibe. At the end of the day, it’s so important to put in better performances each week I think people want to see the singers improve each week and grow, which is something I believe I (did) each week. The support has been amazing, especially amongst the Asian communities, but I think Australians have been amazing in the way they have embraced me and been very open minded about me.
NV2: You’ve been criticized by the judges for not being edgy enough. How did you handle this criticism?
Bùi: I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned from ''Idol'' is that you have to stay true to yourself. The judges telling me that I’m not edgy enough is just an opinion — as an artist, I do believe I am edgy, but not the edge that they want me to be — the rock edge — my edge is more the soul/R&B vibe and that’s what I am sticking to, as that is the style of music that I am most passionate about. I plan to take on board all the criticisms that are directed at me, but I will only use what is relevant to me, without losing my integrity as an artist.
NV2: Your success on the show seems very meaningful to other aspiring Asian musicians. What sense do you get, from fans, of this sentiment?
Bùi: I really do get a strong sense of representing not just myself and my family, but also a whole generation of Asian people. I think it is time for someone to step up, take the reins, and succeed in the entertainment industry. I have been getting so many messages from Asian people all around the world telling me how my journey is inspiring them to not be afraid and go for their dreams. For me, this is the biggest motivation for me to do well. I want to inspire all young Asian (Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese) people to reach out and dream big. You live once so why not be dangerous and live life to the full(est)?
NV2: You’ve inspired many with your story. What difficulties have you had to overcome to get where you are today?
Bùi: It has been a really hard journey up to this point with many ups and downs, but I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly and wouldn’t change anything.
I think it was really difficult getting the approval of mum and dad to do music full time — growing up in a very traditional Vietnamese family, my parents wanted me to do the Asian thing and become a doctor, a lawyer or accountant. So to get the approval of my parents, I had to finish a university degree (three-year IT degree) and countless chats about how I was going to make a living as a musician. I’m so proud and fortunate that things have worked out so well, but it has been a hard road.
The other difficult thing I’ve experienced in just working in the music industry itself. It is perhaps the toughest, most fickle, corrupt industry that you can ever imagine, and succeeding in it is almost like winning the lottery. Working with the record labels, different managers, agents, I find that everyone is out to earn a quick buck it’s really 99 percent business, one percent music and I had to learn the hard way to always think smart and think business.
The other big difficulty is just the competition a-round. Everyone wants to be a rock star! Being Asian hasn’t helped either, because you have to be three times better than everyone else to be recognized. I think my ethnicity is actually an advantage, as it has really pushed me to reach out and dream big and dedicate my life to being the best that I can possibly be.
NV2: How has your Vietnamese family and heritage influenced your work? Do you sing in Vietnamese as well?
Bùi: I am passionate about my heritage and about preserving my roots. My kids will be able to speak and write Vietnamese, and it’s just something that has to happen. Growing up with refugee parents just makes you realize how lucky you are to have all the opportunities here in Australia, and my parents’ struggle to give me a better life has pushed me to work harder each day. I really enjoy singing in Vietnamese and it is something that I am passionate about. I really hope that after this ''Idol'' journey that I will have the opportunity to sing and share my voice with the Vietnamese community and be a more prominent figure in the community and help inspire the young generation. But before I sing more in Vietnamese, I really need to improve my accent. There is a slight accent, and I need to get rid of it!
NV2: What advice do you have for other aspiring musicians?
Bùi: My advice to other aspiring musicians is to work hard and never think you are too good. There is so much to learn and the more that you learn, the more that you realize that you don’t know much at all. Also, really get some good training and always be around people who share your passion. It is so easy to lose your way in the music industry and lose the motivation as it is so difficult, so always have a strong network of people around you who will support you and get you through the hard times. Also, just be yourself and be true to whom you are. Never try to imitate or be someone that you are not. Do music for the passion of music, not for the fame or money music is real, the other things are not †so tread wisely and always remember to have fun.
NV2: What do you plan to do now?
Bùi: I plan to really use the exposure and opportunities and get myself out there as an artist being a professional songwriter, I already have many albums of music ready to release, so the plan is to release an album, a single and do a tour. I’d love to get myself out there as far and wide as possible, not just in Australia but overseas as well. On the Vietnamese side of things, I am inspired to keep improving my Vietnamese singing and record an album of Vietnamese songs, including originals as well. I’d love to be able to combine a modern twist into the traditional music that our community loves and adores. Essentially, I want to spread the word of positivity live a healthy life and dream big because nothing is impossible, anything is possible!
NV2: Who inspires you?
Bùi: My parents, my family, my wife, my future children, my roots, my community, my students — I have been given so many opportunities and the support from everyone just inspires me to work harder each day and break through the barriers.