HeeJun made his claim to fame as a popular American Idol finalist for season eleven. He won over the judges and the audience with his frank sense of humor and husky voice. After finishing ninth in the season and touring the United States with other contestants, Heejun signed on with Korean agency Polaris Entertainment. Now HeeJun is gearing up for his official solo debut with “Bring the Love Back,” a catchy electronic dance track featuring rapper Pusha T.
For this exclusive interview with Soompi, Heejun shared his candid thoughts on life after American Idol, his family at Polaris Entertainment, and what he likes to sing at noraebang.
CallMeN00NA: How has the transition been from American Idol contestant to solo artist?
HeeJun: It’s been hard. When you’re in American Idol, you’re like Beyonce. Wherever you go people recognize you, pull a seat for you, reserve a hotel for you, and everything is set to go. But once you’re out of the contest, you’re on your own. It’s really hard to survive because you’ve never been on your own. It’s a wild, wild industry, and you might feel like you’re lost. I think I was lucky enough to find a good company. I hustled my way out and you have to do that to make it through after American Idol.
C: You signed on to a Korean agency, Polaris Entertainment, but what made you decide to debut in the U.S. first?
H: Actually, only in the U.S. for now. It’s an international distribution so Korea might bite too, but for now we’re just focusing on the states.
C: “Bring the Love Back” will be your debut song, and it sounds very different from what we’re used to hearing from you. Can you introduce the song for us?
H: I’m not a stubborn artist who only does what I want, music wise. I think my fans deserve what I want to say to the world. They have been waiting too long and too much so I can’t give them another r&b ballad and expect it to play on the radio. I had to come up with a realistic strategy. I’m going pop, but I have a great message and purpose. This is a gift for my fans.
C: How did you get Pusha-T involved in the project?
H: I’ve been a big fan of him, and when we offered him a deal, I didn’t think he was going to bite. Not only was he actually willing to do it, he’s been supportive. We’re really happy about him.
C: What can we expect from the music video?
H: It’s a party in the U.S.A, like Miley Cyrus on steroids. It’s very energetic and powerful.
C: What are some things you learned about the music industry as you have been preparing for you debut?
H: I realized I should have studied hard and become a lawyer. It would have been so much easier [Laughs]. Breaking out as a new artist is a hard part of the industry, and I’m doing it as an Asian American. I guess I have to pull it through and see what comes out as a result.
C: Have you been able to meet with the other artists at Polaris?
H: We are pretty close and very family oriented. We go on a lot of retreats and dinners together. We also do a lot of activities together. When I was in Korea for three months last October, we had great fun. The boss and chairmen are great people. I had a blast.
C: Did you get to work with Ladies’ Code?
H: They’re my girls! I saw them before they debuted and they were like little kids. When I saw them on TV I was so proud. I knew how hard they worked. I actually knew Ashley [one of the members] from when I was in New York. We were in the same event company. She was a backup dancer when she was sixteen, and I was MCing when I was 18. We shared the stage a couple of times and we happened to come to the same label, six years later. I hope everything works out for them. Even though they are rookies, I believe they have what it takes to be the next big group.
C: You recently participated in “Korea Day” with the LA Dodgers. Girls Generation was there too. Did you get to see them?
H: Yes, but I had no idea at first. Even though I’m Korean, I’m not too familiar with K-Pop. I speak fluent Korean. I speak better Korean than the guy who invented Korean. It’s not that I don’t like K-Pop, I just never had a chance to get attached. I’m an old guy, I listen to music from the 70s and 80s, old stuff. When they came to the stadium they brought twenty to thirty staff members so I couldn’t approach them. I believe three of them came. They sang the national anthem and did great.
C: Do you listen to any Korean music?
H: I used to worship old K-Pop when I was in Korea. I came to the states when I was about twelve years old. Back then, H.O.T was pretty popular, so was g.o.d. I do have a few favorite groups these days. Ladies’ Code is number one, but I also like BTOB. I know Peniel, and he’s a lovely kid. I like the Wonder Girls. I’m good friends with Sun and Lim. They’re all great people so I love them.
C: What is your go-to song at noraebang/karaoke?
H: By the number?
C: Do you have it memorized? How about both the number and the song title?
H: 8817, I think. It’s “I Miss You” by Kim Bum Soo. I love Bum Soo hyung.
C: Kim Bum Soo is in your label. Have you had a chance to hang out with him?
H: Oh yeah. We hung out plenty of times. Not only is he a great singer, he’s a great person. He’s a lot of fun. I also sing “Sonata of Temptation” by Ivy.
C: [Laughs] Ivy is also on your label.
C: Lastly, how familiar are you with Soompi?
H: Soompi is great! I go on it every day. Soompi has been around for a long time, right? You guys were one of the first sites for K-Pop out there. I love Soompi.
The music video for “Bring the Love Back” will be released very soon. Until then, you can check out his YouTube channel and follow him on Twitter and Instagram. Stay tuned for another a video interview with HeeJun!