Mochi’s 15 Most Influential Undergrads: Clara Chung, Singer-Songwriter

Name: Clara Chung Age: 22 College: University of California-Irvine (UCI)

Clara Chung is a bubbly, down-to-earth Korean American college student that comes across as a girl anyone could easily strike up a conversation with. A soon-to-be graduate of UCI come mid-June, with a major in psychology and minor in education, Clara has also had a passion for music from an early age.

“There was a video of me when I was five doing karaoke, and I was trying to steal the microphone from my mom,” she says. “So music was kind of innate for me!”

Despite her musical talents, which include singing and playing the guitar, piano and glockenspiel, among many other quirky instruments, Clara actually didn’t initially consider pursuing music as a career. Like many of us, she had her moments of self-doubt.

“Music was never in the front seat for me,” Clara explains. “I kind of tell this story a lot, but I never really believed in myself, because people kept telling me I couldn't do it. That left a sour taste in my mouth, so music was just a hobby. I was actually going to go to UCLA instead of Irvine, and then stuff happened and I chose to go to Irvine. If it weren't for that, I never would have pursued music, ever.”

Choosing to go to UCI turned out to be a pivotal choice for Clara. Eventually persuaded by her very supportive friends at college, Clara created her own YouTube page and gradually began posting videos of herself covering popular songs, flavoring them with her distinct, improvisational touch. The videos slowly built up a supportive following, but what landed Clara her real breakthrough was her incredibly creative take on Paramore’s “Misery Business,” which won her the 2009 J.C. Penney Artist Search competition.

Fast-forward to the present, and Clara’s music endeavors have exploded with success. To date, her YouTube page has garnered over 1,100,000 views with more than 27,000 subscribers and growing. She also beat out over 80 auditioners and 10 extremely talented finalists to win Kollaboration LA 2010, the premier Asian American talent competition judged by prominent Asian American professionals, including journalist Lisa Ling and beauty guru Michelle Phan, and watched by a live audience of 5,000. Now, Clara has decided to pursue music full-time after college and work on a debut album coming out later this summer.

All of this success is pretty amazing for a girl who once doubted her own talent. What’s truly inspiring about Clara, however, and what actually separates her from other rising young artists was her ability to dig deep and push past her naysayers, surround herself with people who supported her, and ultimately embrace her own talents. As a result, it was only a matter of time before she would win such large-scale competitions and achieve great success—and not to mention, her beautiful voice, crazy-cool artistic talents, and goofy, infectious personality certainly don’t hurt either.

Newfound opportunities aren’t slowing down for Clara, who recently had the privilege of performing at a White House event honoring Asian American and Pacific Islands Heritage month in Washington, D.C.

With all of these achievements, has day-to-day life changed for Clara?

“People recognize me now, and I have weird luck. I get recognized at really weird places, right when I don't want to be recognized, when I'm a wreck and in PJs, like coming out of a bathroom stall,” Clara says with a laugh.

Photo courtesy of Clara Chung