Because I was so sad tears didn’t fall / I just stood there and said I understood / Time stopped and my heart stopped too / Everything felt like a dream / I went back alone, after walking for a long time / Only there I finally realized it / Tears started falling one by one / I couldn’t breathe as they kept endlessly pouring down
This is a part of Lim Jeong Hee’s song “Tears Didn’t Fall”. To be honest, I didn’t know this song until I by chance watched “K-Pop Star” and heard a contestant sing it. I know absolutely nothing about music, but I listened to the song and it was obvious that her stage was different.
The song kept ringing in the ears, the stage made you dwell on each word of the lyrics. Later on, as I watched “K-Pop Star”, I found out that this contestant’s name was Lee Michelle and I got to meet this Lee Michelle that conveyed such a big emotion through “Tears Didn’t Fall”.
Lee Michelle’s life story had many things in common with “Tears Didn’t Fall”. The hardest circumstance was none other but the fact that she was Korean, but her skin color was different. The gazes of people considering her [skin] as a mistake. It seemed that because she was so sad, her tears hadn’t fallen. K-Pop Star was really only like a dream. Let’s hear about the the life and dreams of Lee Michelle.
A lot of things must have changed after “K-Pop Star”. What’s different today?
Some things have changed, but some are the same. First of all, there were two big changes. People recognize me and show me much more interest than before. They support me a lot. Also, I think differently about my dream. Before “K-Pop Star”, my dream about being a singer was just something vague. I went only thinking “I’ll just prepare for the audition. I’ll get accepted because of my hard work.” That’s because I had no concrete plan about how to make my dream come true. However, after “K-Pop Star”, I have now a croncrete vision of this dream of being a singer and I’m in a different mind set. What didn’t change is my friends who still see me as their friend Lee Michelle.
Does your dream of being a singer happen in a specific occasion?
I grew up listening to music a lot ever since I was a kid. When my mum was cleaning or when she was cooking, she used to listen to famous old pop singers. That’s how I got to listen to music a lot. After that, the real beginning for me was when I was 15. From the moment I started going to church, I dreamed of being a singer.
The Lee Michelle we saw in “K-Pop Star” didn’t look scared. You received positive reviews for being a good leader in SuPearls. Are you usually an optimistic person?
I’ve always loved taking the lead. I don’t mean it as in if there’s something to do I’m the first to say “I’ll do it”. It’s just that if someone says “let’s do this”, I’m always up for it. That’s why I’ve often taken the lead in the clubs or the church I attended. I didn’t become SuPearls’ leader because I was somehow qualified for it. It’s just all of them were young. I had some experience of the stage and I had studied a couple of things at school, so I kept helping them with the mindset “let’s help them, let’s share with them what I know” and I found myself being called the leader at some point.
When you got eliminated from “K-Pop Star”, you had actually received a high note from the jury, but you fell behind because of the viewers’ note. Didn’t you feel depressed?
It’s true that I fell behind. I didn’t feel depressed about being eliminated. I think that a judgement isn’t based only on the absolute value of someone. It’s something I had imagined since the preliminary phase, so I didn’t feel depressed that much. Besides, there was the “don’t talk to me” incident that had an impact bigger than anything else. To be honest, something had actually happened. The producers didn’t know about it at that time. So this situation happened and they didn’t broadcast a good image of me. After I had this reaction, I apologized and everything was fine, but there was only this fragmentary image shown on broadcast. I couldn’t give every detail of what had happened at that time and even if I had explained myself, it was an ambiguous situation, so I feel like it couldn’t be helped.
I was so impressed when you sang “Tears Didn’t Fall” for the live competition qualification. It was quite a critical situation for you, how did you feel?
The preparation process for this audition was very hard because I had vocal chords problems. The day of the audition, I heard there would be a set of three persons. The one who’d finish at number 1 would be qualified, the one ranking second would be put on hold and the third one would be eliminated. I had a feeling I’d finish in second place. Just like my instinct told me, I did finish in second place. Since I kind of had imagined this happening, my heart was already ready for it. Then, I prepared for the second stage and I was in a situation that made me really angry. Because of this situation I had no other choice but to be angry about and the background, I was very upset. It can’t be revealed, but what happened was unfair. So as I was preparing the stage, I prayed to God. “If this is the path God wants me to take, if I’m not meant to do the live broadcast, I’ll go home”. My heart was ready to humbly accept the result, regardless of what it would be. I was able to resign myself and get ready for both situations. I sang while going through this situation. Without thinking. “I’m the main character of the song”. This is what I told myself and I sang as if this song was about myself.
I often pray to find God’s will more than to find my own will because whatever I pray sincerely for, if God doesn’t want it, it will never work. More than praying for the things I want according to my own will, I do accordingly to what God wants. It’s like “God, do as you wish”. This is how I pray.
Looking at “K-Pop Star”, it seems that you have a lot of friends going to church.
Most of my girl friends are Christians. I had 6 girl friends. Ji Min, Jung Mi, Ah Yeon and I usually attended church. Na Yoon is Catholic. And there’s Ha Yi who didn’t go to church and had no faith, but we showed her the way to God. We prayed together. I’d ask Jae Hyung to lend us his guitar and we would gather in a room at the dorm and we had a service.
Before the training phase started, I thought going to church would be hard because of the dorm life. That’s why I went with a selection of religious hymns because I thought that we could do something, even if it was just a prayer meeting. While looking at the hymns and leading the song with the guitar, singing the ones they wanted to sing, each one of us shared their prayers and we would pray for each other. There was no word about it, but we held services by praying and singing religious hymns.
Most of us were Christians, so we all know that without praying or without faith, nothing can work. That’s why I think it was easy to say “guys, let’s hold a service” and have everyone gathering around. I feel like we cried every time we held a service. I think Ha Yi opened her heart for the first time while attending a service. I had never seen her cry, but we prayed for each other while crying together. Since it was a program made for a general audience, spiritual things couldn’t be shown a lot.
I think the stage you shared with In Sooni was very special.
I was very moved. In Sooni had told Boa-unnie “take good care of Michelle”. This is something Boa-unnie herself told me, so I was very thankful as we stood together on the same stage for the last broacast. It was really an honor for me because I know In Sooni specifically called me. I think it’s the biggest honor of my music life so far. The one I’m the most thankful for.
It seemed that you have gone through a lot of hard times until now, what memories do you have?
When I was a kid, all of my friends were kids too, so they didn’t care or think too much about these things, but I was hurt a lot because of my skin color during my childhood. There were situations that couldn’t be helped because Korean people with the same skin color get less criticism while Korean people with a different skin color get more criticism for doing the exact same mistake.
There can be prejudices, there can be bad stereotypes, but I was raised taking very seriously good manners because of these things. This is how I was brought up. That’s why I couldn’t even say I’m annoyed because it could have made me look bad. Besides, I can’t say bad words ever since I was a kid. Because of this, I think you can say I couldn’t be honest and that made me dull. Even when I felt something, I couldn’t show it on the outside. It wasn’t intentional, but there was nothing else I could have done.
You said you’ve been attending church since you’re 15. How did you start going to church?
When I was very young, I used to go to church services with my mother. When I was around 8, there were many problems in my family, so my mum also had to work on Sundays. My younger big sister worked part-time to provide help for the family situation, so we stopped going to church. I couldn’t go to church and I stayed at home every day of the week. Then when I was 15, I went to the Christmas Eve event oh my church. At that time, my big sister was a teacher at church school, since I was all alone at home all week, my sister came to me and said “you’re bored because you stay at home all the time, so if it’s not a nuisance, how about going to church with me and see how we prepare the kids Bible play?” She suggested to go together. And I went to church with my sister.
I think it was my first time riding the bus and leave our neighborhood. Except for holidays like Chuseok or the Lunar New Year, it was really my first time taking the bus and go outside. I went to church and I sat down. While watching these 30 kids all dressed in white and sing religious hymns, act too, I thought to myself: “how can they know who God is and have faith? Is that why they’re singing like this?” And so as I wondered “what am I doing?”, I looked at a big cross that was there. “I must believe in God”, it wasn’t that. I thought “I must go to church”. So I nagged my mum about it and she gave me 1,200 won to 1,300 won each Sunday. It was my first time taking the bus on my own and this is how I began going to church.
If it wasn’t for that time, I think I wouldn’t have been here today. I couldn’t go to primary school and middle school because of these family problems we were going through. However, while attending church, I studied thanks to the help of the preacher and the teachers. When I was 16, I passed two subjects [?] of the GED and I went to high school when I was 17. If God didn’t have called me at that time, if I hadn’t been convinced that I should go to church, if not, I wouldn’t have been able to study, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college and the Lee Michelle of today wouldn’t have existed.
What does the word “faith” mean to you?
If there was no God, if I didn’t talk about Jesus, there would be nothing to talk about in my life. There wouldn’t have been one single thing. I live my life by the grace of God. Complicated situations find their resolution like a miracle. From small things like having no money and being hungry and praying to God like “God, I’m very hungry” and a believer passing by buying doughnuts and sharing some of what was left to really big hard problems to deal with, I can’t talk about my life without talking about God.
I think you going to college must have been a big deal considering your family situation.
Usually, when I want to do something, I’d lay out a plan and try to put it in motion and I still try to even if planned things don’t work out sometimes. I’m the kind to be committed. I think it’s the same about me going to college. While looking at my family situation, despite the fact we didn’t have 50 000 won, 100 000 won, I still prepared to enroll in college. Starting around the middle of my high school senior year. I asked around me and I found out more about the college expenses system. So at the right time, I was able to apply for a [financial] aid. I was accepted in two universities, so I got into college after these pleasant worries.
As I was preparing for college, I kept praying to get accepted into the one I’m currently attending. I just kept praying and I was sure things would work out. I think God gave me this conviction. I used to joke with my friends by saying “I’m Lee Michelle, vocal major from the class 2010 of Dong Ah Institute of Media and Arts”. When I took the entrance exam, I did a lot of proclamations. When I went for the test, I told the staff “I’ll see you at the second round”. When I went to the second round, I told them “see you at the orientation session”. I think things turned out this way because I believed in the power of these words.
I’m curious about your plans.
I’m in a graduating year, so I want to study things to help me for any kind of problems I might have later on with an agency. Right now, I have many performances scheduled. I’m thankful that people call me to sing. If I get to have somewhere I can sing, no matter how far it is, I want to go and show my music. If an agency contacts me, my goal is to release an album in a good agency.
Original article: crosslow
Edited by @canoeknits