By Samantha Test
Northwest Asian Weekly
Calling what happened downtown at the Moore Theatre last Friday night, Oct. 12, a “talent showcase” wouldn’t do it justice. Kollaboration Seattle’s third annual event was more than that. It was a statement that the bar has been raised and it’s only getting higher.
Vocalists Nate Vibez, Hannah Hipolito, and Ariel Yang; hip hop group J-Pros; fusion musical group Pentatonics; and dance group Natya competed for a grand prize of $1,000.
Kollaboration founder and comedian Paul “PK” Kim hosted the event.
Winning the grand prize after stunning the packed theatre was Ariel Yang. The final competitor to perform, she entered the stage innocuously, wearing cutesy pajamas and carrying a giant teddy bear as big as she was. Her performance that followed was an almost unbelievable combination: an operatic range which melted down into a sultry growl and then picked up speed to turn into a girly pop voice.
The audience choice award of $500 went to Natya and a combination of $100 cash and $400 YesStyle.com award went to Hannah Hipolito.
Yang, a graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with a vocal performance degree, has her own teaching studio, in addition to working as a social worker in Pierce County. As the winner of this year’s event, she will also have the opportunity to compete against the top six out of all 12 Kollaboration city grand prize winners at L.A.’s All-Stars finale show. The winner of this next competition will go on to perform at this year’s MNET Asian Music Awards in Hong Kong.
Although Yang may have been one of the most trained performers on stage, this competition was about more than that.
Founded by Kim in 2000 in Los Angeles, Kollaboration is an arts and entertainment foundation that provides a platform to performing Asians and Pacific Islanders. Its motto is “Empowerment through Entertainment,” and that motto doesn’t just end after one night of performances. Kollaboration continues to support participating artists after the competitions through management, recording, and networking needs.
The nonprofit organization established a Seattle branch in 2010 and now produces 15 shows across 14 cities in North America.
Hip hop artist Gowe auditioned in 2010, made the cut, and became a Kollaboration Seattle alumni. This year, he was featured as a judge, along with James Sun, Apprentice finalist and CEO of Pirq.com, and Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter. Guest judges included Eugene Cho, executive director of One Day’s Wages, Mimi Jung, King 5 news anchor, and Yuji Okumoto, owner of Kona Kitchen.
In 2010, Gowe debuted a song he had written, “I Wonder,” that was dedicated to his biological mother.
“It’s very personal to me. It’s just been a blessing to be able to see how people can be touched by that,” Gowe said of the song.
Raised by Chinese parents, he did not find out he was adopted until he turned 18. As if that were not enough to rock his world, he also found out that he was not even Chinese — he was Korean.
“When I debuted it, I didn’t know if people would be able to relate to such a specific story, but it touched the hearts of many and through that, I was able to get connected with different videographers and we made a music video for the song,” he said.
“I would not have been able to do it without Kollab. Since then, my fan base grew tenfold. I’m continuously releasing content thanks to Kollab.”
This past June, he released his debut album, “We Are HyperGiants.” Soon, he plans on touring colleges on both the West Coast and East Coast.
“You need a lot of help. You can’t do it by yourself. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned and I’ve been truly blessed with some amazing producers,” Gowe continued.
Nate Vibez, one of this year’s competitors, feels as lucky as Gowe does to have been a part of Kollaboration Seattle.
Vibez came to the Kollaboration stage in a different way than Gowe — the Audience Freestyle Vocal/Dance Competition that takes place during intermission. Audience members are selected for the informal mini-competition and they perform on the spot with the loudness of audience determining the winner.
Last year, Vibez’s girlfriend pushed the shy soul singer to give it a shot.
“I wasn’t even going to go up, but then my girlfriend, she pushed me to go, so I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll go,’ ” Vibez said.
He sang “Ordinary People” by John Legend.
“I was coming to support everyone else. So I went to go do it and then I won it,” he said.
“And I just thought, ‘Why can’t I keep going with it?’ I kept in touch with Kollaboration and they let me know when auditions were and I just went from there.”
From there, he was featured on a Kollaboration compilation album, released a three-song EP, and became one of this year’s main competitors.
Although he didn’t win this year, he still remembers how great it felt to win last year.
“Well, I felt bad, because I was competing against a 14-year-old little girl,” he said. “And I wasn’t trying to beat her or anything, but it felt really good to know the audience believed in me.”
He hopes he can influence others to take the step that he did.
“First of all, just believe and practice and don’t give up. If it wasn’t for people who supported me, I wouldn’t have done it,” Vibez said. “It took people believing in me and practicing my craft and sharing it with people. If you don’t share it with anybody, it’s not going to touch anybody. They won’t hear it and it won’t move them like you want it to.”
Although, he still gives credit to his girlfriend for pushing him up there in the first place, he laughed and mimicked her voice, remembering how she had said, “I told you! I told you that you were going to win!”
Sharing the spotlight with the competitors was the show headliner, acoustic singer-songwriter, and Youtube favorite Joseph Vincent.
Joining Vincent, who has been featured twice on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, were fellow guest performers Cathy Nguyen, a Youtube sensation in her own right; Lion’s Ambition, Kollaboration Seattle 2 winner; and Chapter1NE, a local hip hop dance group.
Vincent may not be an alumni of Kollaboration, but he completely embodies what the organization is all about — natural talent, a can-do attitude about succeeding in the entertainment business, and a positivity which likes to help, and work with, fellow artists.
“I want the people who come here to realize that there is no difference between me and you. You can do this, too,” Vincent said.
“If you can do this and you want to do this, and you want to put in the work, then you can do it. It’s being that role model kind of thing,” he continued. “Hey, I’m not cooler than you. If you can sing, do it. Do it and see what you can do. If you like it, try it out. You only have one life, so try things out.”
Vincent played a duet with Nguyen before singing his own “Blue Skies,” the title track off of his debut album coming out this week.
“This entire album is called ‘Blue Skies’ because it harnesses the message that — and I know its really cheesy — but having an optimistic view, an optimistic perspective on life,” he said.
“That even through stormy weather, [bad] days, you’re going to end up having a blue sky one of these days. So keep determined, keep moving, and you’ll one day have that day.” (end)
For more information, visit www.kollaborationseattle.com.
Samantha Test can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.