Before Gang Chen ever dreamed of becoming the political voice for the people of Irvine, his golden pipes were already taking him to the place where all great politicians end up—reality television. In 2013, he came to the stage of Fox’s reality show talent competition The X Factor dressed to impress in a black suit, red tie, round spectacles and a voice that America definitely wasn’t ready for.
Holding the mic to his lips, he tilted his head back to belt out The Righteous Brothers hit “Unchained Melody.” To this day, no melody has ever sounded more unchained. Judges Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio were left in speechless bewilderment. It’s still a mystery how Chen’s mighty warble hasn’t landed him a world tour or at the very least a spot in The X Factor finals. Sadly, he didn’t advance to the next round that day, but his inner fire melted the heart of the typically ice-cold Cowell.
“Simon actually liked me,” Cheng says. “He said ‘I like you. You think about something and you just do it. You like to try.”
In the midst of voting season, you’ve probably seen the plethora of Chen’s signs throughout the city that read “Join Our Gang for a Better Irvine” – even though Gang is actually pronounced “Gong.” On the surface, he may just seem like another dry, uptight running candidate, but he has an undeniably interesting passion outside of politics. I mean, what other politician could say he was on The X-Factor? While it might not go over so well in a town hall meeting, Chen believes his years of singing experience give him a true X factor in the race.
Since he joined the choir as a young child, Chen has always had a passion for singing. As an adult, he primarily uses it to relieve stress and have fun. Three years ago, he founded SCUT Alumni Karaoke Club to give everyday people who aren't afraid to perform in front of others a chance to express their appreciation for music and meet new people. Chen has become such a karaoke celebrity in Irvine that people request that he sing at his first fundraiser as running candidate. As you can imagine, he gave the people what they wanted. Hopefully, the same applies to his politics.
When he’s not belting his heart out in front of a live audience, he’s singing for his family. His wife, whom he describes as being shy about her singing, never sang with him while they dated. He thought “Maybe I’ll have some daughters and I can sing with my daughters.” However, they too will not sing in front of him. Gotta love kids.
“Every time I sing, it actually makes me feel better,” says Chen, who encourages everyone to sing in order to live a long, healthy life.
His brother and sister inspired him to sing and create his eight track debut album released in 2014, Love Songs By Gang Chen Series: Your Eyes Have Told Me Everything – both available in English and Chinese. For you karaoke lovers, there is also an instrumental version so you can serenade your significant other.
Chen wrote all the lyrics as they came to him and each song took between 10-30 minutes to put together and translate, including the lead track “Naughty Girl,” brimming with lyrics that incorporate the wisdom of Dylan and the woes of Drizzy.
“Many years ago I met a naughty girl,” he croons. “She said she wants to try everything in love. She wants to love and be loved. She wants to abandon and be abandoned. She wants to break some hearts and have her heart broken.”
He had someone bring his visions of foot-tapping melodies come to life to accommodate his heartfelt words. He recorded the album in his home studio, and it took him a week to record each song – a total of two months time to put together his masterpiece.
Chen added his album to YouTube for others to take a listen and to be able to relate to what he sings about. One commenter considers him “the Asian Barry Manilow.” He wants to be able to look back on his music 30 years from now and think ‘I did this’ and reflect on previous love experiences that he describes as “beautiful memories.” He takes great pride knowing he did it the way he wanted to and is more than satisfied with the outcome, although he hasn’t been able to promote it much with all the campaigning he’s been doing. He has plans to release more songs that didn't make the cut on his debut album.
Although he never intended on becoming a politician, he shares the same enthusiasm for it as he does being an architect, real estate broker, and singer despite only being involved in politics for a year. The three main issues Chen's platform focuses on are traffic, education and managed growth. He insists his expertise and knowledge will put Irvine on the right path compared to where it’s at now.
“I thought, ‘Wait a minute. The city definitely needs people like me to bring it back on track,'” Chen says, explaining why he got started into politics.
Winning Irvine's mayoral election will be tough for Chen. Five people are running, including former state assemblymember Don Wagner and former Irvine councilmember Mary Ann Gaido. And Chen has turned off Irvine's establishment by opposing a veteran's cemetery at the Great Park. But Chen is a natural performer and takes the stage front and center whether it's for politics or music. He describes his time on The X-Factor as an eye opening experience but also incredibly nerve-racking. “No matter how prepared you are, you still feel very thirsty and you feel nervous,” Chen says in a YouTube video recapping his experience. “Luckily they had some water there.”
Chen's singing career has helped him gain recognition and thus, win over a large number of voters, especially from students at Irvine High School. Students went out of their way to tell him he had their vote. One student also said to keep posting songs on his YouTube account and that he loved the way Chen sang. He was being serious, too…which was an encounter Chen claims to have made him “So happy” and glad to know that people liked his songs.
Chen, like many others on the show, stressed about being unprepared, the possibility of hitting the wrong notes and whether or not his hair looked presentable. Despite the amount of anxiousness he faced, Chen passed four rounds and was selected as one of the top 0.5 percent to perform live. It is by far the most fun he has ever had singing.
“When I hit the high note the audience were clapping, clapping their hands like crazy,” Chen says. “Unfortunately the judges did not like it.”
But if there’s one thing he’s learned from his singing career, it’s that you can’t please everyone. But Chen’s charm and way with people could still be enough to make him the next mayor of Irvine. And if not, he says you should still buy his album anyway.
“I’m a very fun guy. People actually like me,” Chen says. “Every time I go to a party or something, I don’t care what their background is, I always get along with everybody…Everyone should check out my album because I'm real, I have a beautiful voice and I think my songs are good.”