As K-pop spreads its popularity worldwide, there has been an increase of global participation for K-pop competitions. Such competitions allows a way for fans of K-pop outside of Korea to come together and share their passion for K-pop as well as provide them with the opportunity to showcase their talent.

Britaney Chanel, the winner of 2016 K-pop World Competition, was also a huge fan of K-pop before participating in the competition. In the exclusive interview with GMM, she spoke about the behind-the-scenes of the exciting competition, her love for music & K-pop, and her aspirations as a musician. In this interview, take an exclusive look into her humility and warm sense of humor behind her charismatic persona on stage.

Hi Britaney! Congratulations on your winning the 2016 K-pop World Festival’s grand prize. You were absolutely amazing! 

Watching your winning performance on YouTube was the first many people have come across you. Would you fill us all in, and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Of course! Let’s see where to begin with this. Well, as a musician, I am a singer-songwriter whose primary instruments are the ukulele and piano. I began playing piano when I was 6 and ukulele when I was 20! As a person, I am a Jesus-loving, video game-playing, mystery-chasing, memory-collecting, overly-curious, coffee-addicted nerd. My purpose in life is to aid in Mental Health efforts through music. I would like to use any fame or money I accumulate to lower suicide rates across the world, provide knowledge on Mental Health, and fund projects to help those suffering.


 

Tell us about your first encounter with K-pop. And, were you already passionate about music before this?

Funny story, but I learned about KPOP through the Jonas Brothers. In high school I was a HUGE fan of the Jonas Brothers and went to every single concert faithfully. In 2008 or 09, the Wonder Girls opened for them and I found myself fascinated with their performance, their music, and the language. At the time ’So Hot’ was their popular song. I followed them exclusively for years, ignorant of how large and vivid the KPOP world was. It wasn’t until after two friends of mine stayed with me for a weekend to attend KCON LA in 2015, that I discovered other groups such as GOT7, EXO, Super Junior, Mamamoo, and quite a few other groups that got me completely hooked! Yes, very much so! Music has always been a very integral part of my life. I began playing piano by ear at at the age of 6 and it’s kind of taken off from there, branching into ukulele, singing, musical theatre,writing, composition, and now KPOP!
 

Was it hard to learn how to sing in Korean? Did you have anyone help you overcome the language barrier? And, any helpful tips for our readers?

It was quite difficult but not excruciatingly so. I have been learning Korean since November of 2015 and also had two native Korean friends helping me throughout the entire process. Helpful tips…yes! Learning Hangul is most certainly the first step to take. It’s a lot easier than people might assume it to be and learning proper pronunciation while learning Hangul is the most important.
 

Have you had any prior experiences with music contests prior to this one? And, how did you come to audition for the 2016 World K-pop Festival? Did you have any expectations going in?

The world of competitions was very new to me. Prior to KWF, I competed in a KPOP competition put on by the Korean Cultural Center of LA – this is where I take my language classes – and the competition was exclusive to students. I won the popularity award! I auditioned for KWF after being recommended to do so by Yona Shin of Big Mama and my friend Kevin. Honestly, I had no expectations whatsoever because I was unsure of how competitions in the KPOP world operated.


 

Was this your first time in Korea? What was your first impression? And, any unforgettable moments you want to share?

Yes! It was my very first time. Cool right? I was quite happy that my first time to Korea was related to my purpose in life. My first impression of Korea was that the country was very romantic. There was a strong sense of community there that I find romantic. The most unforgettable part of the entire trip was how close all of the contestants became so quickly. I can’t being to express how much I miss them, especially my roommate Priyanka (India ) and my soulmate Agustina (Italy), they were all like family to me. They still are.
 

Why Ailee!? And, why U&I? She has one of the most powerful vocal ranges in K-pop, weren’t you apprehensive or intimidated? Basically, how did you handle the pressure? (PS: You really looked like a pro on that stage.) 

So! Originally, I was supposed to do ‘Piano Man’ by Mamamoo. I qualified in the preliminaries and won the US Final round with that song. However, a few weeks before the competition KBS contacted the Korean Cultural Center and told them I had to change my song because another group was doing Mamamoo. They suggested I do a song by a solo singer. I was really nervous when this happened because I had gotten so comfortable with ‘Piano Man’ and because this meant I had to learn a whole new song in a short amount of time. I was also nervous because there aren’t very many solo artists to choose from and I had my heart set on not doing a ballad. After going through Ailee and Lee Hi’s catalogue of music I eventually decided on U&I because it was powerful and not as widely covered as her other songs. To be completely honest, I was very intimidated by the high note. When I selected the song, I totally forgot the high note was there. It wasn’t until I began practicing that I heard it and remembered and panicked about being able to sing it. I had never sang up that high before, but I told myself I had to do it because the song choice had already been finalized and there was nothing I could do about it. Once I felt comfortable with the pronunciation, I didn’t feel much pressure. I guess from performing so much and knowing that God was taking me to Korea to do this, those two things made me not worry much about anything. Thanks so much! I was extremely worried about how I would appear on stage, because I was so used to performing behind my ukulele. This whole competition was the first time I had performed without an instrument.
 

Maybe this is obvious, by now, but do you have a particular K-pop role model? And, what about them inspires you?

It’s a little difficult to name a KPOP role model because I am noona/unnie to so many of them!! If I were to pick someone though, I would say Dean. Not only is Dean extremely talented, but he’s extremely versatile in his writing, composition and delivery. He’s the perfect blend of Western music and KPOP. He seems to not care for trends but at the same time is inspired by them, which I think is inspiring in itself.
 

While we are on the topic, in general, who or what inspires you? What drives you?

Curiosity. Curiosity drives me. Almost everything in the world has some unanswered question to it and I have an insatiable desire to answer those questions. Something as simple as a leaf on the ground can send my mind into a whirlwind of questions.
 

For the rest us, take us behind the scenes of the K-pop World Festival? Was there a moment that totally blew you away? Maybe rubbing shoulders with K-pop stars?

Oh boy, it was like living one of my many day dreams. The busy, hectic schedule, the long hours and late nights, the endless rehearsals. I was tired and stressed but I loved every second of it and would love to leave that dream on repeat for the next 15 years. What blew me away the most was the talent of the other contestants. Every country had something different to offer to their respective category. Not many KPOP star shoulders were rubbed, but I wouldn’t mind high-fiving Jimin again.


 

For your winning performance, how did you come up with the choreography? Did you have a team of people helping you prepare for the stage? And, did the organizers also provide you with the back-up dancers?

Truth be told, that choreography was actually from Ailee’s video. We did! We all had the same team of choreographers and vocal instructors (for the singers) helping us with our performances. Yes, yes. KBS provided the background dancers and they were the sweetest people. I wish I had gotten more time to talk to them.
 

There’s this picture of you on your Facebook page, with you arms spread out staring out into the crowd. And, you had a smile on your face. What was going through your mind at that moment? 

I wish I was going to be telling you something spectacular about that picture, but I honestly was thinking ‘don’t move for four seconds and don’t do anything awkward.’ The producers had told us to hold our final position for 4 seconds before we could exit the stage.


 

Tell us about your outfit? What about your hair and makeup? 

My outfit was made by the KBS staff! There was a tiny miscommunication between KBS America and The Korean Cultural Center, and I was told that a costume would be provided. This was not true, but the show must go on right? So, they made me a costume. My hair was done by me, myself, and I! My makeup was done by the KBS staff.
 

Have you thought about how you would like to spend your grand prize, if you don’t mind sharing?

I don’t mind sharing at all. I tithed the first 10% of my grand prize money to my church! The rest was divided up into different savings accounts: Rainy Day savings, Music savings, and Move to Korea savings!
 

Now that the event is over, and you’ve had some time to take it all in, what’s next for Britaney Chanel? Is the plan to dive deeper into the K-pop scene and potentially become a K-pop artist or musician, as a profession?

Ahhhh this question! After praying on what avenue would be best to take for breaking into the music industry – whether that be in Korea or the US – I have decided to start a YouTube channel! I’m in the process now of testing out software and cameras. I would love to be active in both markets. As English is my primary language, all of the songs I have written thus far are in English – though lately, I have been toying with the idea of how I can make some adjustments to fit those songs into the KPOP market. As far as KPOP goes, I wouldn’t mind being a performer, but I’m [not] too sure I’d want to be an idol. I would want to be someone more like an Ailee, Crush, Dean, or Eric Nam. I would, however, love to write KPOP music or write for OSTs
 

Do you have interests in auditioning for the entertainment agencies in Korea?

Not necessarily. I’m a bit older than the age requirements for auditions, being that I am a 90-liner. Also, my apprehension is that with an agency, I wouldn’t be able to release music that I’d written. Essentially, I’m an ahjumma and I want more creative control than I think I’d get in an agency.
 

The founder of JYP Entertainment, recently gave a groundbreaking interview calling for the integration of foreign talent into K-pop. Do you have any specific thoughts on this?

Honestly, I’m not too shocked by JYP’s comments. He always seemed to be the most relaxed and open of the big 3. I think it is a wonderful idea that would have to be curated and delivered very carefully, because changing the kpop dynamic is a sensitive subject that if not executed properly could mean the end of attempting to change it.
 

Do you have a lot of support from your friends and family? Did any of them come to Korea with you, and what do they think of your passion for K-pop?

I have tons of support from my friends and tons of confusion from my family. Haha. My friends all know about KPOP, so they are extremely happy for and proud of me – most of them were just as shocked as I was that I’d won the whole thing. My family was unfamiliar with KPOP but were happy and impressed all the same. My younger sister is now an ARMY.
 

And, to wrap things up, with a random question, what’s your favorite fruit?

I am totally obsessed with honeydew melons!
 

Thank you so much for participating in the interview with us! Do you have anything else to add or share?

 No problem at all! Thanks so much for interviewing me! I would like to share that if anyone is interested in following my adventures they can follow me on Instagram and Facebook! 🙂

Check out Britaney on Facebook and Instagram!

Also, watch Britaney’s winning performance at the 2016 World K-pop Festival in Changwon, Korea. And, you can read on JYP’s ground-breaking interview, as well.

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