I am Kevin Yee, 1/6th of the now defunct band Youth Asylum. We were signed to Qwest/Warner Brother’s records from 1998-2000. Our unreleased album featured Quincy Jones and David Foster as producers. Our single “Jasmin” was mildly successful in some markets (Miami, Boston) and the music video was top five on the Disney Channel and the Box. We toured the states three times in mall and middle school tours. We were eventually dropped from our label and our album was never released. I went on to perform in Musical Theater (MARY POPPINS on Broadway, tours of MAMMA MIA and WICKED) and am now a Comedian who performs in clubs and colleges.
PROOF: My twitter: @kevinyeedotcom Our Music Video: http://youtu.be/qUyIbvUY7rg
EDIT: ESSENTIAL FRONT PAGE OF REDDIT EDIT! Thank you for pushing my AMA to the front page! I visit reddit every night for the r/funny and r/aww (only for the dogs… I skip the cats because I’m allergic). I wanted to stop silently snooping and participate in the fun! For those who are asking about my standup, feel free to follow me. I do have a new album coming out next year and perform live all over! MY LINKS: TWEET: @kevinyeedotcom WEB: www.kevinyee.com YOUTUBE: www.youtube.com/kevinyeedotcom FBOOK: www.facebook.com/kevinyeedotcom INSTAGRAM: kevinyeedotcom
What are boy band / groupie interactions like? Is it at all like the decadent backstage legends of 80s hair metal? Or are boy band fans all too young to hang out backstage?
Haha! 80’s HAIR METAL!!! We had a lot of really die hard groupies that would travel far to see us (did their parents drive them? I’m not sure…) and bring us random presents, make us signs, make us take millions of pictures and sign millions of things. I do think their parents enabled their behavior. Most were very respectful but screamed a lot. They were SO loud. Never underestimate the vocal chords of a teenaged girl. I did witness some of my cohorts take advantage of the situation, but personally I never did. I also think “the people taking care of us” were letting the fans get close to us, bringing them backstage and such, enabling the situation. I think they figured the happier the fans, the more money will come in. It does seem a little strange in retrospect….
Did you make the band yourself?
Nope! We all auditioned into the group. The group was already signed to a label before any of the group members were chosen. Our manager pitched to the label a “multi-ethnic boy band”. Then we all auditioned and were chosen from there. We ended up being from all over North America and we were never really friends before, during, or after.
Have you ever thought of getting the band back together and starting a man band?
Haha definitely not! I’m too old for all that now! But if we did we could probably tour with BSB and NKOTB….
How much money did you personally make from being in this band?
About $4000 over three years. I came out in debt.
4k over THREE YEARS?! There has to be something wrong here. What???
It’s pretty usual for the recording industry. It’s not like other industries where you’re paid. It’s more like the label is a bank and gives you a loan and you eventually have to pay it back. So I probably wouldn’t have made any money until we sold a couple million albums and paid back our advance money and paid all the songwriters and producers and paid for all of our tours etc….
Was the debt due to you being in the group or unrelated matters?
The debt was from being in the group for three years and making no money. Although housing was provided, it was from other things like day to day life. We weren’t always provided with food or non-performance clothing especially when were weren’t on tour. My mom ended up paying for a lot of my living expenses.
Did you get to keep a copy of your unreleased album?
Yes! It occasionally plays on my iPod randomly and I wistfully remember when…. And then skip to the next song.
Because of the circumstances that your group came together – everyone auditioning separately, you didn’t know each other – did you and the other band members get along well? Did you interact at all outside of work, so to speak? And do you still keep in touch with any of them?
We didn’t really fight but I wouldn’t say we really got along as a group. I think some of us were forced to become friends since we were living in such close quarters and there was no one else around. Very few of us were from Los Angeles (where we were based) so they rented us a two bedroom apartment where six of us and a chaperone lived. So we had to get very uncomfortably close very fast. There wasn’t really any “outside of work” since we were all in our teens and couldn’t really go anywhere unescorted. Basically, we spent three years in that apartment unless we were touring or recording. None of us have kept in touch except through Facebook… and even then I have most of them hidden from my feed ;P
Did y’all attend school in L.A.? You must’ve been educated, right?
Well, that area was a bit of an issue. I have to be a little vague on this one, but people who were supposed to be taking care of our well being were keeping the money that the label was giving us for education (for their own lavish lifestyle), and giving us occasional subpar tutoring not up to Los Angeles child performer standards. Halfway through our three years with the group “someone” (probably the union) found out and the label got in trouble (even though technically they were providing the funding). Only then were we provided with an education (the best tutor money could afford… he ended up traveling with us), but by then many of us were too far behind. I was the oldest and needed to graduate so my education was very very rushed. My diploma was basically bought for me. The others were still young enough to go back to school once the band ended and I’m sure they were very far behind….
What went wrong?
A lot! We weren’t great live because we had never worked together before we were signed… but there are a lot of boy bands who lip-sync or aren’t good live so…. There were some shady music business dealings behind the scenes. Ultimately what ended us was a change at the record label. Our label was an offshoot of a larger label and they decided to shut it down. They gave our management the option to keep us, but our managers thought we could shop the album to another label. We were all sent home after a very unfair settlement and told that we’d hear from our managers when they found us a new label. It’s been 14 years and I’m still waiting for that call….
What was it like to be involved in that at such a young age?
It was weird. The hardest part was afterwards because I felt like a wash-up at the age of 18. I came out of the group with a little bit of debt so I had to work at a clothing store to stay a float afterwards. I remember a few times there would be customers that would come in and recognize me. Once I was recognized when I was mopping the floor. But I have continued in the entertainment industry (first as a musical theater performer, now as a comedian) and have done bigger things since. My relationship with the entertainment industry is a life long journey….
Did you get to meet anyone famous in the industry other than Jones and Foster?
Oh lots… lets see if I remember. We did a Diane Warren song so she was around a bit. And while we were on tour we did meet some N’sync-ers. We lived in this apartment complex where a lot of teen stars lived so we ran around with Christina Milian and Raven Symone back in the day. We did the Miami Jingle ball too and I think there were a bunch of people there. I seem to be drawing a blank. I don’t really get starstruck ever so celebrities don’t stick in my mind.
How much control did y’all have over your personas, clothes, lyrics, etc?
Absolutely none. We were told how to talk, dress, act. I was pretty geeky when I started, but they bleached my hair, pierced my ears, and tanned me. Most of our clothes were forced on us by whatever designer was sponsoring us. Music wise we were never encouraged to write our own music since our manager did and made all of his money that way. We were also coached what to say on certain subjects if we were coming off too “(not sexy enough…etc)”.
Did you enjoy being basically told how to live? Or did you grow to resent it?
REALLY resented it for the entire time. Really wanted my freedom! I wanted to get out of it but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. There was a pretty big carrot being dangled in front of us, or at least I thought there was back then…
Was there a formula to the songrwriting to create a hit? Anything special that went on in that regard, or is it just marketing?
What surprised me the most about the majority of the songs we did was that it often started with a music track that a producer would create. It would have a beat, some guitar chords perhaps. Then a TEAM of songwriters would sit around and create melodies around that pre existing track. It seemed so mathematical and unnatural, but that’s how it’s done a lot of the time. I went on to be a songwriter myself and I often come up with chord progressions first, but I have never taken a completed song track and written a song over it. And I have also never really collaborated with a team because I feel songwriting is more personal when it’s a singular vision or voice. But that’s just me, and I haven’t had a number one hit yet so….
I know that there’s always one guy in the group that all the girls love above the others (I’d say Justin Timberlake in N’Sync for example), which one was that in your group?
Definitely Flashlight. He actually looked a little like Justin Timberlake and was the “rapper” of the group. The girls LOVED him!
What was your nickname?
Someone tried to call me “Special K” (like the cereal, not the drug… I think) but it never stuck!
What did you want to buy back then, if you had hit it big?
My mom always joked that I would have to buy her a “Grammy” dress. And a house. Mostly things for my mom I guess. Other than that I don’t think I ever thought about it!
Was your mom disappointed you didn’t make it?
Was she disappointed you didn’t make it?
At the time, were you expecting to make it big? Like did you think you were a sure thing? Or were you aware that you were a long shot in a super crowded market?
Yes, i was always told that we were going to be the next big thing. I was young so I had no idea what was happening behind the scenes, just what was on the surface. Our management talked the big talk. We were fed a lot of false dreams that just didn’t come true. I’m much smarter about the industry now and making it big isn’t the goal for me. I just want to make a living creating my own work and connecting with people!
Did you fail because your songs were a little boastful?
I’d like to pretend that boastfulness would lead to failure, but if Justin Bieber and Chris Brown has taught us anything…. We didn’t write any of our own songs, but even so I don’t think any boastfulness in the lyrics lead to our downfall.
What was it like growing up in an environment like that? Do you think that you guys missed out on doing any “normal teen stuff”?
It was very strange growing up in that environment. It was a very “cool kid” environment. Everyone in the music industry is trying to be cooler than each other. It’s all image based… and I am totally awkward and super smiley so I was always a bit out of place. But I learned patience and discipline and also have a really good grasp on the things that are important to me and unimportant both in the industry and in my personal life. The biggest things I missed out on because of my age were prom and graduation. I also never dated as a teen. But the other guys were always out there “macking” on girls and getting into all sorts of teenaged trouble!
How was being gay part of your experience? Did you know back then, and did your management have anything to say about it?
My management guessed that I was gay pretty early on even though I wasn’t out. One day they had a closed door meeting with the record execs and told me that I was coming off gay and that I had to change how I acted. They didn’t care if I actually WAS gay, it was more how I was being perceived. We were marketed towards teenaged girls so there couldn’t be a gay member. That’s when they started to style me and control what I said and did. They used to teach me how to walk “straight” up and down the aisles of a grocery store. It was a very homophobic environment including the members of the group. When the group was over I came out of the closet to my family and now I am very open about my sexuality because I want to prove to people that it isn’t a hindrance. You don’t have to hide in the closet to be successful no matter what your job is! If you’re interested, I tell a more in-depth version of this story in the official IT GETS BETTER book in stores now (and I’m sure as an ebook).
Can you describe the difference between gay and straight walking?
Haha! Well, I was taught to limp a little, walk slowly, grab my crotch. That sort of thing.
Where can we listen to that unreleased album?
I have it! I should find a way to release it shouldn’t I! Two songs that did make it out into the world is the song “Jasmin” (Music video in the description), and the song “Color Everywhere” has a ton of cheesy fan videos after a filipino artist covered it years later. But I think if you youtube Youth Asylum you’ll find a bunch of clips.
Do people still recognize you?
Not anymore! I’ve had a pretty long career since so I do get recognized for my comedy or theater work. I’ll occasionally get a fan email asking whatever happened to us and where they can find our album.
What genres of music are your favourite? And did this effect how much you enjoyed being in the group?
I love pop music, and when we started the group was going in a very R&B direction. But we recorded an entire R&B album that ultimately the “higher ups” didn’t like and threw away. When we started over we worked with producers who had done Britney Spears’ album so it was more in my vocal styling and I ended up enjoying it a lot. Our album was really great for the time… would have been nice if more people heard it!
How would you say your experience affected you emotionally/psychologically and socially? Did you have to work to undo all the “training” you had?
Emotionally/Psychologically there are a few things… because I didn’t go to high school and never had prom or graduation or dated during that time I do think I’m a bit of an introvert (but a happy introvert!). Not sure if you read yet, but I am gay and the boy band was a very homophobic environment so I left the group thinking that I couldn’t be successful in the music industry because I was gay. I believed that for a long time even though I continued to write music. I found other ways to perform (Musical Theater, Film/TV) but have always wanted to get back into it. With my standup I perform original comedy songs so it’s kind of my way of getting back into creating music, but in my own way. Because I was told how to dress, act, perform for so long I lost my own unique voice and am just now finding it through comedy. Even something like this Reddit AMA I wouldn’t have been able to do five years ago. I’m finally finding my voice again years later!
Do you have any positive memories from that time period?
Yes! I will always remember the time I recorded with David Foster. I am a huge Celine Dion fan (and Canadian) so it was an honor to be in the same room as him. We were also recording a Diane Warren song so it was extra special. I remember all the other guys sitting in the waiting room playing video games or napping, but I was so excited that I just sat in the recording studio behind David as he recorded. I think he got how excited I was and started to teach me what he was doing. I ended up recording most of the background vocals that day!
How old were you when you really got into music and trying out? Did your parent/s push to get into this, or was this more of your own desire to get into the industry?
I started performing when I was five, mostly as a dancer and a musical theater performer. I really did fall into this group. The music industry was never my aim, but through some random connections they found me and asked me to audition. I had never sung pop music professionally before, but they were looking for an Asian who could sing and dance and there I was! My parents never pushed me to do this. My mother was very encouraging, my dad was pretty mad about it. I am estranged from my dad largely because I am a performer and he disagrees with my choices. But the truth is, for all the successes and failures, I am made to be a performer and can’t imagine (nor am capable of) doing anything else!
Have any vids of your standup you’d like to share?
Sure! I perform original comedy songs and standup at clubs and colleges. I cover a wide array of subjects, but I do have a lot of LGBT/Anti-bullying material. I talk about my struggle with coming out while in the boy band in the official IT GETS BETTER book.
Who are your favorite current and past comedians? Where do you see yourself in ten years? How you planning on getting there?
Definitely Margaret Cho since ALWAYS! And I love Louis CK and how he has been a steady worker for so many years now and creates his own show. I would love to start creating projects for film and TV, and I think I’ll always want to perform my comedy live. There is no greater feeling than making a room full of people laugh! For now I am starting to get into the college market and my plan is to take a grass roots approach and win them over show by show! I’m in it for life so I don’t mind taking the long road. Especially since overnight success (the boy band) proved to not always be the answer.