After last week’s American Idol premiere there was one name we absolutely had to Google: Yoji "Pop" Asano. The Japanese contestant capped off the episode with an, uh, awe-inspiring rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” — complete with Michael Jackson dance moves. Although he didn’t get a ticket to Hollywood, he still won a place in our hearts. We talked to the man (in the mirror) himself this week. Yoji gave us all the deets on his AI audition, his brand-new single, and what he really thinks of the William Hung comparisons.
First thing to know about Yoji is that he has a legitimate musical background. The 25-year-old performer studied Classical Percussion at the Osaka College of Music in Japan. The surprisingly accomplished musician can play the drums, tympani, and piano. But Yoji aspired to be more than just a percussionist and packed his bags for the United States. He tells us, "I really wanted to take my talent worldwide, not only in Japan." Now residing in New York City, Yoji's next logical step was to audition for American Idol. He reveals that he's never actually seen an episode of the reality competition; he only watched clips on Youtube. But at the urging of a friend, Yoji decided to try out for the show. "I never imagined I would take the audition because it was a super singers competition," Yoji says. "But I wanted to entertain more than be a singer. I did a pretty good job, I think." If Randy's laughter on the show is any indication, we think he succeeded.
As we all know, the road to American Idol fame isn't paved with Coca Cola endorsements and quickie renditions of "She Bangs" — it involves a lot of hard work! Yoji spilled the details of his grueling American Idol auditions. He arrived bright and early at 7 AM for the New Jersey event. But before he got a chance to meet J.Lo and the crew, he had to audition for the producers three times. The AI contestant sang Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" during the first round of auditions. Then as a test each contestant was required to sing the Miley Cyrus fave "Party in the USA" for the producers. That's right, Yoji's seemingly random song choice was actually aided by producers. At the auditions Yoji told producers that he hated the song. But he was forced to belt the tween anthem to make it to the next audition round. Luckily, Yoji warmed up to the tune and says, "The more I practiced that song, the more I liked that song." During our interview he was quick to correct us in saying that he didn't just like Miley Cyrus, he loved her.
The AI producers also had a hand in one more important audition detail: they encouraged Yoji to dance. The contestant tells us that he never intended to dance during his audition — he'd only planned on singing. But when producers realized he loved impersonating Michael Jackson dance moves, they quickly urged him to perform it for the judges. And well, we know how that turned out.
Once he got to the judges table, Yoji decided to nix the Michael Jackson standards and stick to "Party in the USA." Yoji reveals that he switched to the Miley Cyrus song because he wanted to be more original. He figured he would stand out more if he did a Miley Cyrus song with Michael Jackson dance moves. The judges choose not to send Yoji Pop to Hollywood, but the auditioner has no hard feelings. Yoji says they were all very cool but admits the judges were "not real at all" and "acting always."
When the episode aired, Yoji drew immediate comparisons to memorable Idol alum William Hung. Yoji shrugged off such references and says, "I'm Asian, that's all. It's because I'm Asian and weird on American Idol." We'd have to agree with Yoji on this. There's no way William Hung could've pulled off those fierce MJ moves.
Despite being the brunt of jokes after his American Idol stint, Yoji has decided to move forward in his music career. He just released the single "The Power" on iTunes. Yoji wrote, produced, and played all the instruments on the track. The lyrics tell the classic story of meeting a cute girl at a dance club and wanting to take her out. The inspiration must have come quickly because Yoji reveals he came up with the song in just 20 minutes.
Love Yoji as much as we do? Be sure to join his Facebook fan page, purchase a T-shirt, and of course, buy his song "The Power" on iTunes.
Don't forget, Yoji does more than sing Miley Cyrus. He's a percussionist! Watch him rock out on the drums (and a million other instruments):
Watch Yoji "Pop" Asano's American Idol audition: