The Re-Birth of Gerry Woo
by Nelson Wong
Anybody remember an Asian American artist named Gerry Woo from the mid-80's? He was a short (5'6" tall) Filipino American from Detroit who was trying to break into the music industry where very few faces like his could be seen in R&B/Soul music of the 80's.
Woo managed to become a winner on the television talent show "Star Search" and subsequently got a album deal with Polygram Records under their Polydor label. The album, "Listen to My Heart Beat," was released in 1987 and had a couple of hit singles with "Help Yourself," "How Long," and a remake of Ruby and the Romantics' classic "Hey There Lonely Girl" (rose to #27 on Billboard's R&B Chart in 1987).
Woo's music video for "How Long," completed on October 15, 1987, was aired on the likes of MTV, BET, and Friday Night Videos and showed him him singing on a street corner, in the rain, waiting for a young African American woman to meet up with him. At the time, it became obvious that Polydor was trying to find a market fit for Gerry Woo so they attempted to reach the more urban contemporary audience this way.
He was a performer on "Soul Train" and "Showtime at the Apollo." The audience at the Apollo, notoriously tough on performers, could not believe this Asian American young man could sing and dance. When he walked out on to the stage you could hear the buzz of people stirring with the sort of thinking, "oh no, this Asian kid comes into here and thinks he's gonna sing here at the Apollo?" He turned it all around though when he started singing and then the audience started cheering crazily when he started dancing. He finished performing "How Long" to a standing ovation, quite a feat for the Apollo theatre audience.
Then he faded...to be replaced by young artists like Tevin Campbell who had a similar vocal styling but had much more successful label marketing push behind him (of course, where is Tevin now?).
Flash forward to 2003. Gerry Woo has made a comeback. You may not recognize him right away since he's now going under a stage name but still wowing audiences like he did at the Apollo. He is none other than Harlemm Lee, the winner of NBC's talent show "Fame."
He's shaved his head and has been working hard on his dancing and singing; trying to make a comeback in a new identity (likely to be more difficult to pigeonhole him as an "Asian" artist). Given his past experience from Polydor Records, the name change makes sense because "Harlemm Lee" doesn't instantly conjure up images of an Asian vocalist. The years of experience could pay off in this respect, and he may just make it!
His eyes show he's gone through a lot in the nearly 20 years that have passed since that minor blip on the screen back in the 80's. He's been through it all now and it shows. He no longer has the innocence in his eyes from the 80's. It would have been interesting if he got up on "Fame" and actually sang "How Long" or "Hey There Lonely Girl" again. It would be a decade and a half return for the guy but I think he deserves it. I, for one, will always remember his standing "O" at the Apollo.
For those Asian Americans who have always said "what ever happened to Gerry Woo?" or have been waiting for his comeback (like I always have), he has arrived!
Harlemm Lee's album "Introducing Harlemm Lee..." is now available. The CD features songs that he performed on "Fame" plus new songs, including the final performance song "Love You Love Me." Additionally, Harlemm co-writes "Jasmine Rain" and has a duet with fellow "Fame" finalist Shannon Bex on "Destiny."
Sources for interesting Gerry Woo/Harlemm Lee content on the Internet:
If you would like to write to Harlemm, direct your letters and requests to: