GoodMoMusic had the immense pleasure of featuring Jason Ray at our innaugural KpopKafe, in the winter of 2016, held on November 17 at the Funkadelic Studios in the heart of New York City.
During the show, we had a chance to have a Q&A with Jason and talk how some of the things we were curious about him. See below for the transcript of our exchange, edited for clarity. You can also listen to it on SoundCloud.
GMM: Tell us about your very first encounter with K-pop.
Jason Ray: Well, definitely. My first encounter with K-pop, definitely happened on the Internet. So my cousins, who are huge kind of K-pop fans, thought it would be a good idea if I would try and record a cover. So I did what they suggested, and I did my first cover, several years ago. And immediately, it like took off. And, it was shouted-out by the actual group that the song was by. So, that really encouraged me to continue posting covers… so that was probably my first interaction with K-pop.
GMM: Do you remember what song it was?
Jason Ray: It was, I believe, Kara – “Step Up”.
GMM: Kara – “Step Up”?
Jason Ray: Yeah.
GMM: So you started off at Berklee in Boston. So music is what you’ve always wanted to do?
Jason Ray: Yes, absolutely.
GMM: So what was the deciding factors when you chose to transition to K-pop?
Jason Ray: Well, more than anything, I think… I have a real appreciation for Korean culture. But I saw the love and appreciation they have for American culture and our music. And just the way they embraced… me, I have never experienced the type of love and appreciation, so that definitely inspired a lot of, you know, me kind of committing to focusing on South Korea right now.
GMM: So, how did you hear about Superstar K, and why did you decide to audition?
Jason Ray: Well, that’s funny, because I get asked that question all the time. But, Superstar K actually reached out and contacted me. So when they presented everything, you know, the package, I was like, totally amazed. Kind of, kind of caught off guard a bit on… ‘Cause it was such a wonderful sort of opportunity, kind of one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. So there was no way I could decline the offer. And, yeah, but they sort of reached out to me through, you know, through the viral videos that I posted. So, that caught their attention.
GMM: That’s amazing. I mean, they called you?!
Jason Ray: Thank you. That was a very, very humbling experience.
GMM: All right. So, take us through the audition process.
Jason Ray: Very, very painful. So, ….
GMM: First of all, give us a timeframe. You know, when was this? What year?
Jason Ray: So this was, I believe, two thousand… fourteen, fifteen. So the audition process sort of took a total, I mean three to four months, I would say. There was a lot of back and forth. Even before the live audition, you had to, sort of, submit videos. Video audition. So that kind of took several weeks. And then, all this time I was anxious, thinking am I going to move on to the next stage? So you’re really…, the whole time kind of just on edge – like in suspense
So once I made it through a certain point (through the process), they flew me out to Dallas, where I had a live audition. Which was very, sort of a big deal at the time for me, because they only had come out to interview, for what? Maybe three or four cities in the US. And I was the only one that was selected in the Texas market. And there were a lot of people that came out to audition.
So, that’s pretty much the audition process. You know, it was a lot of like, back and forth, a lot of paperwork, a lot of practice, a lot of like… they would just give you things, almost about to see how you handle it. And it was just, you know. Great experience though.
GMM: So, take us through, like when you now went to Korea? Like, from the videos we’ve seen of you when you were in Korea auditioning. Well, so you know, did they help you out? Or, were they just like “show up!”
Jason Ray: In my actual flight there, like getting there, and all that? Yeah, it was, you know, an inclusive package that I flew in: travel, accommodations, everything. So they really did a good job about, you know, taking care of the contestants that were selected in America. ‘Cause it wasn’t that many of us. There was maybe like three people. And it’s not because they didn’t like, they went to all of these cities, but out of all those, out of the process, they only selected, you know, three persons there.
GMM: I’m programed… we’re programed to touch on this later on, but I’m curious to, you know, from your interaction with the organizers, reaching out to you, and you in particular. You being who you are, like, what do you think the goal was? This had to be a deliberate thing on their part? What was the overall goal? Like, do you think they kind of achieved it?
Jason Ray: Yeah, absolutely. I think I know sort of, what you’re getting at and how, how to answer that question. What I think they were trying to do was basically… create, you know, just more diversity in the show, and give it more of a sense of a crossover success. And so by including, you know, all these various contestants from different markets, different genres, different backgrounds, different styles, I think they really captured that.
GMM: I definitely agree with you on that. Because your audition video created a lot of buzz in the States. The video went viral.
So what was your first impression of Korea? I assume that was your first time in South Korea.
Jason Ray: Wow, my first impression of Korea. Well, I definitely thought it was like, very beautiful, very. I had a sense of that family-oriented atmosphere, definitely a lot of, just, sort of acceptance, compassion, just a warm welcome in Korea. So, yeah, I love that. You know, it was, it was really like tech-savvy, lots of like good food, like, tons of like, food destinations, like the over-abundance of different Korean, you know, delicacies and what not. So, yeah, it was awesome.
GMM: So, let me ask you, the obvious. You’re an African-American male from Texas. What’s the attraction for you, to Korea, to K-pop?
Jason Ray: Well, it’s a process, I think, that’s kind of grown, like, over the years. I mean, initially I just started posting videos that could go anywhere but. It was the South Korean market that kind of responded and kind of gave me that first push. You know, so basically, I just took notice of that, you know, you wanna be where people are sort of excited and energized to, to, you know, to see what, see what you’re gonna upload next. So, just basically, you know, logic, you know, two plus two is four. Do what is working.
GMM: What do you think you can achieve in your career in K-pop? And how far will you, like, take that dream, into K-pop, Korean music?
Jason Ray: Of course, I’d like to go all the way, all the way to the top. And be amongst, you know, the great Korean musicians that have paved the way. As well as, to be amongst, you know, the legacy that America always had pioneered. So I want, to kind of merge, you know, some way to merge, to merge it all together – to kind of be a mouthpiece for, kind of, an international form of music.
GMM: So, you know, a lot of K-pop, Korean artists, are kind of doing the reverse, trying to make the reverse journey – from Korea into America. For me, I always wanted to ask them, you know, what does that picture look like to you? You know, success means different things to different people. So, that is the question I’m waiting to ask CL (laughs). But, I’m going to ask you that question.
I mean, yes, you want to be successful in K-pop, in Korea, internationally and all that. What does that look like? Is that being on some of the TV shows? Is that being on a Korean commercial? Like, paint us a picture of what success looks like. From Korean perspective, K-pop perspective.
Jason Ray: Well, definitely all of the publicity, you know, programming that’s out there, I mean, that’s obviously a part of a healthy career in the Korean market. Because they want, they not only want to just listen to, you know, their favorite artist or music. They want to be able to, kind of, experience them in more ways than one. You know, so, to have that kind of multi-dimensional appeal, you have to be willing to kind of step outside your comfort zone. You know, do things that you were uncomfortable doing. That’s definitely going to include, you know, the Korean drama shows, you know, various other things. But ultimately, I’m just excited about me being able to, you know, share with people that, you know, live their music and just, you know, to inspire them. And hopefully use my platform to, kind of, for positive things.
GMM: JYP, Park Jin-young, founder of JYP Entertainment, recently gave an interview to CNBC, regarding integrating non-Koreans into into K-pop groups. So what are your thoughts on this? And what would you say to those who think that would be a bad idea?
Jason Ray: Well…
GMM: How do you convince…what are your thoughts on it,and how would you convince somebody who’s like, It should not happen?
Jason Ray: Well, my thoughts on it, I definitely think it’s a great thing. And pretty much, I think all the fans are ready for it. And, people are waiting for it, for a while, you know. The Korean sort of industry has been talking about it and being very supportive, you know, for a while. So, I think people are, you know, ready for it to actually happen. As for those people that might not want to embrace it, I just think, with a lot of these – it’s just going to be a matter of them kind of having time to get to that point. You know, if you look at the history of any great sort of revolutionary change that’s happened in our, in the history of humanity, there’s always been early adopters, and like there’s always been the people that kind of follow a bit behind, but eventually they get there too. So, that’s what I would say.
GMM: Awesome. So, we at GoodMoMusic, want to thank you for coming out here, sharing your views and talking about it with us. Definitely looking forward to the next part of this event.
Jason Ray: Awesome. Thank you John, for bringing me out. And yeah, I’m ready to get into some music.
Click to watch the video performances from the event.
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