The Vietnamese 19-year-old’s audition brought judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan to their feet, but the young singer is no stranger to the pressures of talent competitions.
Myra Tran was just 16 years old when she became a household name in Vietnam for her voice. Now three years later and thousands of miles away from her home country, she has her sights set on the world’s biggest singing competition: American Idol.
The 19-year-old, who moved to Seattle in October 2017, brought American Idol judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan to their feet on March 3 with her rendition of former competition finalist Jennifer Hudson’s song One Night Only.
“After giving it a lot of thought, I felt ‘One Night Only’ was the only song that could help me express all my emotions, which is why I chose it for the audition,” Tran told This Week in Asia.
“There’s nothing to compare you to … you have stepped into a zone that’s yours,” said judge Richie during the premiere of the singing competition’s 17th season.
But Tran, whose real name is Tran Minh Nhu, is no stranger to the limelight or the brunt of judges’ comments.
Originally from An Giang, in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam, Tran performed in local cafes from as young as 14. In 2016, she quickly shot to fame when she won the X Factor Vietnam talent competition with her mash-up of American pop star Ariana Grande’s hits Focus and Problem.
But that first major win was not all smooth sailing. Two of the four X Factor Vietnam judges criticised her for lacking originality and playing it safe. Tran was then slammed by judge and renowned singer Tung Duong for performing a song called Who cares, which is about being yourself and not worrying about what others say.
I thought I was too young and I couldn’t picture clearly the path I wanted to take – Myra Tran
“If you sing ‘who cares’ then what’s the point of having four judges here,” Duong told the then 16-year-old budding pop star, calling the song’s message dangerous for young people.
When asked if that exchange caused Tran to go quiet after her X Factor win, Tran says there was more to it.
“The most difficult thing has been overcoming my own self,” she said. “At the time I thought I was too young and I couldn’t picture clearly the path I wanted to take.”
Moving to the US, however, helped to galvanise her dreams of pop stardom.
“I think school has helped my singing career a lot,” she said.
“Going to school allows me to practice English, which has boosted my confidence so I can sing more English songs and express more emotions.”
Her father Tran Cao Thinh works for Uber and has lived in America for over 14 years, while her mother Kim Thao, a hospital worker, came with Tran’s younger brother Quoc Huy seven years ago.
Neither of Tran’s parents wanted her to audition for X Factor Vietnam, fearing it would detract from her studies. But they have been supportive of her singing ambitions ever sine she won the competition. And although her time in the US has so far been a tremendous success – videos of her Idol audition reached more than 5 million views on social media platforms in a matter of days – Tran said she still misses life in her home country.
“I miss my grandmother the most. I miss her sour soup and braised fish,” she said. “I also miss the stage back home, I miss my colleagues too.”
With a Vietnamese community in the US of more than 1.3 million, Tran and her family have also been able to find the taste, or rather sound, of home by joining in on Vietnamese music groups and gigs.
Looking back on her winning Idol audition, Tran said one of the stand-out moments was when Katy Perry said: “music transcends barriers.”
“My best memory is the surprise in Katy Perry’s eyes when she heard I was just a high school student and a Vietnamese who’d just been in the US for a year,” Tran said, naming the late American singer Whitney Houston as her biggest inspiration.
“I feel that these comments are the best encouragement and the most meaningful way for me to improve both my English and singing.”
“I’ll soon graduate from high school. After that, I will launch my music career in both Vietnam and the US,” she said. “I hope the audience will like me.”