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Campus Profile -- Christopher D. Vu

American Idol finalist discusses long road from singing in the shower to becoming a Log

By Eun J. Lee

Features editor

Christopher D. Vu ’04 showed his talent as a singer at MIT long before the Fox television show American Idol came along. The Course VI-2 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) major sings the part of tenor in the MIT Logarhythms and also choreographs their performances. Vu is a member of Phi Kappa Theta fraternity and is originally from San Jose, California.

The Tech: When did you first start singing?

Chris Vu: My mom and dad had a karaoke machine when I was in fourth grade. Vietnamese people love to sing even if they’re really bad. I lost a lot of sleep as a little kid because my mom’s friends would sing ’til four in morning. That’s probably why I’m so short. (Editor’s note: Vu is 5-foot-4.) One day I went out in the kitchen and tried to sing on the machine, and when my mom saw me, she pointed and laughed at me.

I was so embarrassed. I tossed the mic down on the floor and ran and vowed never to sing in front of anyone again. It was my first attempt to sing, and she laughed at me ... I was so intrigued by black vocalists that I spent my whole life in the shower basically trying to emulate that.

I started slowly coming out of my shell senior year. I decided to try out to sing the national anthem for my high school graduation. That was my dream, but I never thought it would happen.

I went up against this 5-person female a capella group -- one girl brought her personal voice instructor to the audition, another had sung the national anthem since she was a freshman, and then there was me --the guy who sang in the shower since the fourth grade. When I opened my mouth and sang, the music director loved it. So, I sang the national anthem at my graduation. Ninety-five percent of the people there had never heard me sing before and they were just shocked I could sing at all. Someone even told me I made them cry -- that meant a lot to me.

With that in my bag -- that’s what I put on my audition sheet when I tried out for the Logs -- I came here and wanted to be in a singing group. I auditioned for the Chorallaries, Toons, and the Logs, and I almost didn’t make it into any of them. I couldn’t read music when I came to MIT, but I could sing. The Chorallaries and Toons butchered me on the sight reading parts of their auditions. Afterwards, I felt like I’d failed 3.5 tests. The Logs almost didn’t take me, too, because I couldn’t pick up the music very quickly since I’d never done it before. But [Collins P. Ward ’03] and [Karl A. Erdmann ’02] fought for me, saying “He’s got a voice. Let’s put our money on him,” and I’m glad they did.

TT: So who is your idol?

Vu: Stevie Wonder. He made 40 years of music. He has been blind from birth, and he’s a lot of people’s idol. He first album came out when he was 12 -- it was called “12-year-old Genius.” He has a distinct and legendary voice. I can only hope to do him justice when I sing his songs.

TT: Do you ever find that audiences that aren’t familiar with your singing are skeptical when you first walk on a stage?

Vu: Oh yeah, and you know what? I love that. I like being the underdog. [Randy Jackson’s] comment to me -- “I never thought a voice like that could come out of a body like yours” -- that’s exactly what I want to hear because it gives me an advantage. They can make any assumptions they want -- if they make bad ones, all the more reason for me to prove them wrong.

TT: Do you find that the ability to sing well helps you pick up chicks?

Vu: No, because it would be a little odd if I were just to come up to a girl and start singing. I think that having a reputation as a singer helps me meet people. I’m not interested in getting girls because I’m very happy with my short little lovely lady at home.

TT: What is your vocal range?

Vu: About four octaves. More specifically, on the low end, an E flat or F, and on the high register, it would be the C [an octave] above the high C that I sing in “Man in the Mirror.” I can hit it every now and then.

TT: What is it like to go on tour with the Logs?

Vu: You feel like a rock star, plain and simple. Everywhere we go, we sing, and the crowd goes crazy. I think even if I didn’t get this opportunity to be on American Idol, I still think that I’ve already gotten a taste of what it is like to be a rock star from being a Log, and I treasure that.

TT: What’s a typical day like for you?

Vu: I wake up, I go to school, I try to find every spare moment I can to go to the piano because I really, really want to learn. I want to be able to sing and play and write my own music, which I started doing only this term. I go to Logs rehearsal and do my thing. Then I come home to my house and do homework. This term is lab, lab, lab. I hate 6.111 [Introductory Digital Systems Laboratory]. It makes my life suck, but it teaches me a lot. I’m very grateful for that -- my brain is definitely bigger.

TT: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Vu: I don’t have one, but I’m open to new things.