Korean pop music has been the love of AleXa’s life since 2008. “My best friend introduced me to K-pop one day and I fell into the metaphorical rabbit hole,” she said. It started with the boy band Super Junior before AleXa discovered SHINee’s multi-hyphens. Fourteen years later, the 25-year-old from Tulsa, Oklahoma, is himself a professional K-pop artist. And in her latest song, which AleXa appears on NBC’s American singing competition, the star sings about a different rabbit hole. It’s one that captures the start of her wonderful journey from the United States to South Korea, where AleXa launched her musical career.
“We all know the story of Alice in Wonderland and how the white rabbit has led [Alice] through his travels, “AleXa, the semifinalist representing Oklahoma in American singing competition, told TV Guide. On the reality competition series modeled after Eurovision, the K-pop artist competes for the title of best original song with “Wonderland”. In the classic tale, Alice faces obstacles and finds her way through them. “The people in Oklahoma who raised me and shaped me to be who I am, they were my white rabbit who led me,” AleXa explained. That’s why the song feels “Oklahoma” to her. Before moving to South Korea in 2018, the singer had spent 21 years of her life in the state. In many ways, the song is a tribute to those who have been next to her as doors that led to becoming a K-pop star opened in her personal wonderland.
American singing competition, which premiered March 21, is hosted by Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg. Participants representing the 50 states, Washington, DC and five U.S. territories performed original songs in the qualifying rounds, and a combination of jury placement and audience voting determined which artists would advance to the semifinals. AleXa is one of them, having secured a place through the audience’s voices. She delivered another performance of “Wonderland” on April 25, awaiting the results that will determine which contestants will participate in the grand finale.
After the first part of the semi-final, AleXa spoke to TV Guide about her recent appearance on “Wonderland”, how she became a participant in American Song Contest, and what it’s like to represent both Oklahoma and the K-pop community.
For the semifinals, participants were asked to perform “slightly elevated” versions of their tracks. How did you decide how much you wanted to change your set?
Alexa: From the qualifying round, we thought from the beginning okay, if we get to the semifinals, then how can we get to the top, how can we lift it? And then we literally decided to “high” the performance, if you will, when we started with an air silk scene in the beginning. And then I’m not sure how it read on the camera, but the harness that I was wearing in the original phase, now we added red LED lights so it lit up at the beginning and we had it turned on during the dance break towards the end.
Do you have experience with air silk?
Alexa: When I was in Korea, I think it was last summer maybe I did aerial yoga once or twice. Granted, it’s different from air silk because it’s not that high elevated, but still I worked a bit with silk.
What was your reaction to a fifth place in the jury ranking?
Alexa: At the end of the day this is American singing competition. It’s not necessarily a talent show. So even if we had planned a really bold stage, it is not always a guarantee of being passed in the eyes of the jury. But I’m still really grateful to be at least number five. The jury said what the jury said and now it’s up to the audience to vote. (Voting for this round closed on 26 April at 05.00 PT.)
Since K-pop fans are known for mobilizing online, do you feel any kind of pressure to advance?
Alexa: Oh, for sure. For while I emerge as the Oklahoma Representative, I am ultimately a K-pop artist, and I also represent the K-pop community in this competition. The fact that there are so many, not just my fans in general, but I’ve seen so many different fandoms combine to support me in the show. It just makes me so grateful because it’s like, look at this wonderful thing that K-pop is. It just brings people together with the love of music, the love of art.
So much of this show is about breaking stereotypes about music from different states. What do you think are stereotypes about Oklahoma music?
Alexa: Without a doubt, I would definitely think that when people think of Oklahoma, they probably think of country. I mean born and raised, I was surrounded by country music all my life and I am a fan of several artists. When you think of Oklahoma, the last thing you would probably think of is K-pop coming out of Oklahoma. So I’m a little proud to be like that, hey, guess what? It’s coming from Oklahoma, it’s possible. So it’s a little nice to showcase the different facets of musical and cultural diversity that the state and America as a whole have to offer.
What do you think are the stereotypes surrounding K-pop?
Alexa: If there are any stereotypes surrounding K-pop music in general, I feel that many people tend to put every single K-pop act in one category. When there are so many different – again, to say the word facets – so many different facets and different genres within the K-pop umbrella itself. We have K-hip hop, we have ballad singers, we have all these dance numbers, we have R&B, we have EDM, there are so many different things within the umbrella of K-pop itself. One song is not like the other.
Do you think those stereotypes are starting to change?
Alexa: I would like to hope for a change in the future. As it is, K-pop is becoming such a world-renowned genre at such a rapid pace. So I really hope that the more and more people become aware of K-pop and Korean culture and consume K-dramas – it’s been a really big thing lately – that they can open their eyes a little more to see how different Korean culture, Korean pop culture it really is.
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Behind the scenes, with the other participants in the show, have you shared about things from the Korean culture?
Alexa: In some of the downtime we have, in the middle of the wait during shows, the participants will all talk to each other because we are really close. Everyone on the show is a gem – wonderful personalities and incredible talents to match. So sometimes some of them have asked me, oh, how do you say that in Korean? Or how is it in Korea? They will ask so many questions and I have taught them how to do it with little finger heart, for why not?
Going back to the beginning, how was the opportunity to participate American singing competition come to?
Alexa: When we first heard it American singing competitionst come to [be a] things, my team and I were very excited about it because there are a few of us on my team who had been long Eurovision fans. Our creative director, she comes from mighty Sweden, so if you need to know anything about Eurovision she is basically your encyclopedia. I myself have been following the competition for many years and I have been given as many favorite scenes by performers as I could pick out. But I was like, okay, so America will take their bid Eurovision, it should be interesting. And admittedly, I’m born and raised in Oklahoma for 21 years, so it’s okay, there’s a chance I could compete, let’s try. There were various audition rounds to pass, even just to represent your state. And then we found out we got in to represent Oklahoma, and the rest is history.
Do you still have family in Oklahoma right now?
Alexa: I have family and many friends in Oklahoma. And it was really interesting because I’ve lost touch with so many of my former classmates because I’ve lived abroad for the last four years. But now I’ve seen on social media that so many of them have come forward and said oh my god, “We see Alex on the show, it’s amazing.” It’s just so heartwarming to see this Oklahoma pride continue to be really strong right now.
These friends in Oklahoma, did they see the artistic and creative sides of you when you were growing up?
Alexa: The funny little fact about how my really close friends we all met each other, originally we all really liked anime and cosplay. So we used to meet about the conventions every year, and eventually we all found a love for K-pop. And so some of us have covered dances together, we have gone to concerts together. So everyone knew I had a love for K-pop and performing in general, but they have supported me for countless years, some of them for more than a decade.
What is your thinking right now while you are waiting for the poll results?
Alexa: Oh, man, I’m very nervous to see what it is, for this time, compared to qualifications, it was a much shorter voting time. We only had 12 hours. But luckily my team and I prepared a lot of small, hey, the poll is only open for X number of hours now, small media pictures. And I had completely forgotten which ones we were filming, so every time I came back on Instagram when I looked at my story, I thought, oh, yeah, I forgot we were filming it the other day. But the fans seem to like it, so hopefully the votes came in, but we’ll see next Monday.
American singing competition sent on Mondays at 8 / 7c on NBC and can be streamed.
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