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Chris Vu Tackles Obstacles Along Way to Idol Stardom

By Eun J. Lee

Features Editor

For most MIT students, “chasing after a dream” means drifting to sleep in lecture after pulling an all-nighter. The vast majority of dreams during the term are limited to getting sleep and passing.

Earlier this month, Christopher D. Vu ’04 made the gamble of taking a week off of school and flying to Austin, Texas, in pursuit of his dream to be on the Fox reality television series American Idol 2.

After a whirlwind week of auditions in Austin, Vu advanced to the second round of the competition, which will be held in Los Angeles Dec. 9. If he advances to the top 30 during this second round, he will take next term off and compete on the show this January.

Austin was not Vu’s first choice. He found out about the casting call for the show from its Web site. Of the seven cities and dates listed, the New York audition was the closest.

He and fellow Logarhythms member Collins P. Ward ’03 drove to New York in late October, but they got there too late. Wristbands, indicating the chance to audition, were only given to the first 1,500 people, most of whom had camped out on the street nights in advance.

Ward and Vu drove back to MIT disappointed and empty-handed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen [Vu] that devastated before. He was pretty much speechless for about an hour after we left the line,” Ward said.

“I was so depressed because I left with the whole ‘what if’ question in my mind... As many times as people tell me [I’m talented], I can’t believe them because I grew up believing I was a bad singer,” Vu said.

Determined to get an answer, Vu decided to fly to the next audition he could make, which was being held in Austin, Texas. He tried to finish his work early, which was tough for Introduction to Digital Systems Laboratory (6.111), fondly known as “digital death lab.” “I didn’t finish my lab on time, but I bought the plane ticket. It didn’t matter how much it cost,” Vu said.

Vu arrives in Austin, waits in line for days

Vu booked a flight to Austin leaving on Nov. 4 and returning six days later. “For all I knew, I could have been cut there the first day and stuck there for 6 days,” Vu said.

He was picked up at the airport by members of the Kappa Delta Phi sorority, and he stayed with them during the week. The women are local friends of his sister, who is in the same sorority at the University of California, San Diego.

The auditions began two days later, but Vu was prepared to start waiting in line to beat the crowd. The line was allowed to form outside the Austin DoubleTree Hotel starting at 11 a.m. the day after he arrived. “There was a hoard of people waiting. It was like a race -- people started running to get in line,” Vu said.

Each person in line got a number -- Vu was #187. For the next 36 hours, he sat on the cement in the blazing sun. By that night, over 5,000 people were in line. Of these, only 2,000 got wristbands. In the morning, Vu got a wristband and audition number. He was the 11,581st person to audition for the show.

Vu beats out 2,000 competitors in Austin

During the first round of the auditions, Vu was asked to sing for only a minute in front of Jon Entz, an executive producer of the show.

At the last minute, Vu had to ditch the song he was planning to sing, “At Last” by Etta James. The producers named it among a list of songs that they were sick of hearing. The others included “A Moment Like This” by American Idol 1 winner Kelly Clarkson, “Hero” by Mariah Carey, and anything by Whitney Houston.

Vu opted to sing one of the songs he was learning for the Logs -- “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder. However, he hadn’t fully memorized the lyrics yet. During his audition, he forgot the words. Despite this mistake, Vu was among 250 others to make it past this first test.

In the next round, Vu made sure he had his song memorized and also sang “You Remind Me,” another song he learned with the Logs. “I was so used to singing it, there was no way I could forget the words,” Vu said. He auditioned in front of co-executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and moved on further with only sixty others.

The final audition in Austin was held at the Hyatt Regency. This time, the auditions were taped one by one in front of the three judges on the show: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, and Randy Jackson. “The judges are definitely the way they appear on TV. Simon is a walking asshole,” Vu said.

Vu sang “I Wish” for the judges “the way I would sing for the MIT community.” With a vote of 2 to 1 (the one vote of no coming from Simon), he moved on to Hollywood.

“Randy said, ‘I never imagined a voice like that coming out of a body like yours,’” Vu said. Vu was one in about 15 out of 2,000 that moved on to the final round from Austin.

Son’s imminent fame unknown to parents

Vu’s family had no idea he was in Austin. “My mom doesn’t need another thing to worry about,” he said. “She’s a little woman.”

Three days before he left for Austin, Vu’s family lost their house. His father was also recently in a car accident and currently cannot walk. After he found out he was going to Hollywood, the show’s producers gave him a phone to call his mom.

Vu’s mom didn’t believe him when he first told her about the competition. “I had to hand the phone over to the producer to convince my mom this is for real,” Vu said.

Vu may be absent from Logs fall concert

Only around 200 people will be at the Hollywood callbacks. Everyday, around 30 will be cut until the field is narrowed down to the top 30. If Vu makes it to the end, he will return home on Dec. 14.

This means he might miss the Logs’ home concert, which will be held in Kresge Auditorium on December 13.

“The home concert at MIT is everything to us. The farther I make it, it’s going to tear me apart,” Vu said. The Logs are preparing two different sets for their winter performance -- one with and one without Vu.

“Of course the concert will not be the same without him,” Ward said. “But we wish Vu the best and [hope] he will advance ... He deserves it.”