Stephanie Yanez is living a karaoke singer's dream.
How did you start singing songs from anime shows and appearing at anime conventions?
I've been singing since I was a little girl. Music has always been a really big part of my life. I was also introduced to Japanese animation when I was little, although I didn't know what it was at the time. When I graduated high school, I started pursuing singing as a career. I was trying really hard to find a band, but nothing was ever consistent. There was an anime expo over at the Long Beach Convention Center. I found out they had a karaoke contest at the convention. I thought, "I love Japan animation. I love singing. I might as well go do the contest." I started going to anime conventions and doing the karaoke contests. In 2003, I won first place. The following year, they decided to have a new contest called AX Idol. It was a new contest with an opportunity to perform in front of judges that work within the anime industry. I won that year. There was nothing promised to the winner of the contest, but an anime company contacted me and said they wanted to record a popular song from an anime series, that they liked my version of it. So they featured me on a CD called The Anime Karaoke Collection. Since then, I've been invited to a bunch of anime conventions and Japanese festivals all over the States—New York, San Francisco, Texas. I've also got a band, and we're doing our own original music, too. And I just got back from Japan.
Was that related to singing?
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I had a business meeting out there. If everything goes as planned, I might even move out there, as well. Nothing's set in stone. They said if I really want to pursue it, I would have to move [to Japan]. I basically went there to have fun. I also had a show out there, which was a dream of mine, to perform out on the street. In Japan, you don't have to have a permit. It was really cool. There were a lot of people there.
You sing songs in Japanese. Do you speak it?
No. I just taught myself basically to sing in Japanese. I just started listening to a lot of Japanese music and how people talk on TV shows. In the beginning, I wasn't pronouncing things right, but now as I do it more, it gets easier. I do understand it a bit. It was really cool because when I won the contest, the industry judges said I did really well singing in Japanese. It was really cool hearing that with me teaching myself and never getting professional help.
When you sing at anime conventions and expos, do you appear in costume?
I do. For anime conventions, I have my own original ideas I put together from different shows. Sometimes I will dress up as a certain character. Most of the time, I come up with my own ideas—kimonos, anime-style sailor uniforms, stuff like that.
Is there a separate scene at the conventions that focused on music?
Yeah. There are the kids that are only interested in the anime. Then there are the music kids. They love Japanese music and all of that. They dress differently, too. There's a whole subculture. They call it J Rock. They dress kind of Gothic—black, boots.
Do people respond to you—positively or negatively—because you're not Japanese?
All the time. A lot of people know I'm half-Mexican. So I'll get a lot of Mexican fans, and they totally love me. Then there are the fans that are like, "She's not Japanese. She's not singing the words right." What's funny is that my Japanese fans are like, "You sing Japanese so good." I get--I guess you could call it racism. I don't know what you would call that. But most of the time, I get really positive feedback from people. At the same time, I notice some negativity, but that's how it is for all artists. There are going to be people that are like, "She's horrible. She doesn't sing the song right." Then there are going to be people that really love you. That's what I choose to pay attention to.
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