When I was 15, I got one of those phone calls that pop stars often get -- a phone call that can catapult a performer on a journey from unknown to music superstar. The beginning of my story is the same, but the ending is different.
My name is Kevin Yee, and I’m a perfect trifecta of gay, Asian and Canadian. I’ve been a performer since I was fresh out of diapers (Asian mothers like to crack the whip), and as for the gay thing, I figured that out when I was pretty young.
So, the phone rings, and on the other end is a major record label looking to cast their latest boy band. When they ask me to sing for them over the phone, the first song that comes to mind is “My Heart Will Go On,” so that’s what I sing. My first audition for a major record label and I chose to belt like a Canadian diva. Let’s just say Queen Céline was smiling down upon me that day, because a few days later I was on a plane headed from Vancouver to Los Angeles.
It seemed simple; go to LA, become a star. Things probably would have gone smoother had it not been for one major detail: the band sounded terrible together.
But music was not the main concern for the group’s management; marketability was, and I was their main target. One day our manager walked me into the offices of our record label for a closed-door meeting with the head executives. I was told that if I wanted to be a star I would have to do a few things. Translation: change everything.
“You’re coming off gay. It’s okay if you are, but we’re selling this band to teenaged girls. They’re the ones spending money. The success of this group is contingent on these girls having a crush on you, so you have to act like you like them.” What does it mean to act more straight? “Well, let’s start with the way you walk. You walk very gay, and we need to fix that.” So the lessons began. We would walk up and down the aisles of a grocery store practising my “straight walk.” Said “straight walk” is best described as a slow lurching limp, a far cry from my superb balletic posture.
“We need to make you look . . . well . . . not so . . . you.” With that I was sent off to get my hair spiked and bleached white. A few piercings and a fake tan and I no longer looked like me; I looked like a rebellious sea monkey.
When the band ended three years later, the first thing I did was come out of the closet. I was sick of pretending to be someone else and wanted to be happy. I gave up on the music industry. If they couldn’t appreciate who I was, then I wasn’t interested.
Since I’ve always loved writing music, I recently rolled up my sleeves and started recording again. The music industry is losing its power, leaving the playing field more competitive for independent artists. I hope after reading this you will go online and get to know my gay self and music. My name is Kevin Yee, and I’m taking back the mic!— Kevin Yee