Today Glee premiered. And boy was it quite exciting. The series jumped right back into form and caught up with many of the characters after the summer. In fact, it covered so many other characters’ arcs that it was sure to have plenty of story threads to keep it interesting for the entire year.
Of course most notably, Filipina singing sensation Charice Pempengco (going by her first name only in the credits) made her acting debut that is sure to make heads turn if they haven’t already. Her character, Sunshine Corazon, is a foreign exchange student from the Philippines whose vocals are so strong and amazing that current Glee diva Rachel Berry (played by Broadway star Lea Michele) feels completely threatened.
[Warning: this is going to be a fully analytical, discussion-type post with an episode recap that is pretty much focused on the three Asian characters that are in this episode/series.]
I never really liked Rachel Berry to begin with; she was far too arrogant and needed to be humbled way too many times. I’m glad that others in the Glee club, New Directions, put her in her place, but sometimes they get swayed by her too. As for the actress Lea Michele, I respect and admire her talents no doubt, but I am also annoyed at how the show positions her as the lead and gives her most of the singing vocals. In all honesty, the other characters of New Directions are what attract me to the show (and the music). Their stories are far more interesting, including that of Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and Mike (Harry Shum Jr.) – who are also Asians. My dislike of her made me root for Sunshine Corazon more than I should have cared, since her character is a recurring one, but may not be as consistent as that of a series regular.
When we first meet Sunshine, she is bopping to the beat of “Empire State of Mind” as the New Directions members sing to it. When we meet her again, she is singing “Telephone” in the girls’ bathroom with her ear buds plugged in. Clearly, the scene – which has her singing right to the camera as though she were singing to the mirror – is meant to evoke this popular Youtube video:
In her version of Justin Bieber’s “Baby” (which in my opinion she sings waaay better) she has nothing to go on except the lyrics and the music that plays from her iPod/mp3. Doesn’t look like she has sheet music either.
Now to the song “Telephone” – I don’t have the video but you can listen to the vocals. The first voice singing is Charice, and the second is Lea Michele. [Edit: Found the video! -Kae] Both voices sound similar, but Charice has a lower voice, and less nasally and not as high as Lea Michele. (At the end of the episode, Rachel Berry gets a solo that shows off her range, setting her apart from Sunshine Corazon in terms of vocal skills).
Charice does not lose though:
Anyways – Rachel Berry gets jealous and instead of wanting Sunshine to join Glee club as a new recruit, she tries to push her away. She sends Sunshine to a crack house that’s supposedly the location for the audition, thus scaring Sunshine away. Of course, Tina and Mike hear about it and report Rachel to their teacher Mr. Schuester. Rachel apologizes and gives Sunshine a chance to shine in front of the entire club, and it leads to this – “Listen” from Dreamgirls:
(OK – that was not really from Glee, but videos of the actual performance aren’t up yet, and I didn’t want to post up another song that was full of z100 references. But you get the idea.) [Edit: Found the video -Kae]
She gets accepted to New Directions… only to be snatched away by their rival Vocal Adrenaline. Sunshine knew that Rachel never wanted her in the club – they would be rivals musically, and she didn’t want the drama attached with it. (Good for you!) So when the offer to join another Glee club came along – plus a new home with it – she took it.
Thus ends Sunshine’s story arc… for now. Charice is reportedly in for a few more episodes, but no word on how she will fit into the story just yet. As for her performance – I would say A++ on her singing, and a B- on her acting. During her sing-off in the bathroom with Rachel, she was smiling so much that she looked more like an excited fan than… anything else. Her happiness on being on the cast leaked through, which totally stole all the venom from Rachel’s wrathful expression.
Edit: On another note, in regards to her performance of “Listen” she can’t help but mimic Michael Jackson and has the hand exaggerations of Mariah Carey. Though it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is quite annoying. It’s as though she has not found her own style yet, but is good at copying others. In fact, when rewatching the episode with other friends (who are Asian too) they all kept smirking and saying how “black” she acted. Yes, that might be a racially and politically incorrect comment, but do you see what they mean at least? It’s a style that is uniquely seen in African American singers. That also makes me wonder – Asians are the minority just like African Americans, and in the past they have supported each other in the civil rights movements. Does this perhaps explain why we see Asian hip-hop artists being marketed as black hip-hop artists’ protegees (see: Jin, before he finally broke away and did his own thing)? Or see them sing like black singers with mighty pipes? If so, Asians really need to separate themselves from that.
Now on to the other two “Asians” in the drama. First mention we get of them is during a video clip where the school blogger interviews them about their supposed relationship. Tina says, “What, just because we’re both Asian (you think we’re dating)? That’s totally racist.” Mike seconds it, but when they walk away, a close-up reveals them joining hands.
So they’re dating – yippee! But then, really? Story-wise, it’s not too far off that the two of them would get together, but it is a little random. And yes, the entire video-clip-for-the-blog was all a bit meta-theatrical because of its sarcastic bite and nod to all the press (good or bad) the show got in regards to its themes. So the show likes to poke fun at itself. Those are both arguments as to why it’s OK that the two characters are now dating.
But I didn’t really like that they had to mention that it was racist to assume they were dating because they were both Asian – did you really have to put race into the equation? Why couldn’t they say, “Us? Dating? Are you kidding?”, walk away, and then join hands.
It does poke fun at the fact that in a school where Asians are a huge minority, (narrow-minded) people may immediately assume that because they look alike, they will date each other. That’s not an uncommon thought. The same scenario appears in the graphic novel “American Born Chinese” by Gene Yang, where the protagonist is the only Asian boy, and there’s only one other Asian girl, and so their non-Asian classmates think they’re both betrothed to each other. Heck, even in a class where Asians were a majority, a misspelling of my last name led to some minor teasing that I was getting married to a classmate of mine (whose last name spelled correctly was the same as my misspelled last name).
Then there was a scene where Tina and Mike confront Rachel about her sending Sunshine to a crack house. How did they know about it? “The Asian community is very tight-knit.” I shouldn’t nit-pick on this little line, but it sure had me laughing. It’s true in some ways, but then I wonder what that has to say about Asians in general. What will non-Asian audiences think when they hear that line? What will non-Asian audiences think when they see Tina and Mike call-out on the stereotype that just because they’re Asian they must be dating each other, only to affirm that stereotype seconds later?
Then again, the bigger question just may be, is it a stereotype?! Are the lines/scenes I’m nitpicking and questioning even stereotypes? Is it a bad thing to have Asians want to date other Asians, or for them to mention that word spreads in an Asian community as quickly as you can say, “Please pass the salt”? Stereotypes don’t have to be negative, but to constantly have minorities use the “racist”-card when confronted with something makes that “something” seem like a stereotype.
(Still following me so far?)
One last thing to nitpick – Mike shows his awesome abs. Not complaining! I was in awe of his super ripped body. He is a dancer after all (really, the actor is) so it makes sense that he is well muscled. But first thought that came to my head was the Korean boy bands with their “chocolate abs” and desire to show off their manliness by lifting up their shirt in concerts and making the fan girls squeal. (Oooh let’s not even get to the discussion about Asian men and masculinity…)
So, points for showing off how hot he is, but minus-points for doing just that. Why did Mike have to show off his abs? There was no reason to – he was dancing in a room full of little kiddies getting a music lesson from Tina. Why in the world was his shirt unbuttoned?! And why was he wooing Tina in front of a bunch of little kids?! (One particularly bright one took a pic of their make-out session with his cellphone.) The answer to the second question might be that because Glee is such a quirky show with quirky characters that Mike would woo Tina in a place like that.
All in all, I’m excited with the big exposure of Asians getting more screen time in this series. If you have ’em, flaunt ’em. And the prospects are looking good – after an entire year of having almost no lines until the last episode of last season, Mike/Harry Shum Jr. already had ONE LINE in the SEASON PREMIERE of the second season. Things can only improve from there.
Until then, I leave you with Charice’s hit single “Pyramid.” I personally think that they synthesized her voice too much, since her natural voice (which you can hear in Glee and in other self-made Youtube videos) is a lot richer and deeper than the higher one you will see/hear here.