Just As The Sky Is Blue…I Am Who I Am
Profile of Ameriie by Julie Young
I have said this many times and I am here to say it on record. Ameriie is one of the most under-appreciated singers – ever. Full stop. Girlfriend can truly sing. She is blessed with a voice that, for the life of me, I can not grasp why it has not brought her the same notoriety as those other less.
Here’s a little personal tale about Ameriie – the then Miss Rogers, now newly Mrs. Nicholson. Years ago back when I first saw a picture of Ameriie and around the time her smash hit “1 Thing” was pumpin’ in the clubs, I recognized her to be half-Korean. I excitedly told my husband about her and showed him a picture. “You think everyone is half Asian!” he said and it’s true. I did surmise that many people of color were half Asian – so often that it became a joke between my husband and I. But sure enough when I asked Master Google what Ameriie’s background was, Master Google told me she was, in fact, half Korean and half Black. Who would’ve thought that years later I would be able to relay this story to the talented songstress herself.
On a sizzling hot afternoon, shortly before her June 25th wedding which would take place in Anguilla, Ameriie was kind enough to step out of her hectic schedule to sit down with me. Although based in L. A., she was working in New York and I met with her in a recording studio in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village. Talking with her was like talking to an old friend. When she walked in, the first thing I noticed was that, yes, she is just as beautiful and tiny in person as she is in pictures. The other thing I noticed right away, was her energy. She has a genuine, kind, compassionate energy and it seems to fill the room when she is there. She had barely a trace of make-up on and yet, still, she was gorgeous! (Please God, can I look like her in my next life?) And ladies, huddle up…before we got started, Ameriie was gracious enough to let me gawk, in awe and admiration, at her stunningly beautiful and blinding engagement ring. Wow. I had to give serious props to Lenny Nicholson, her now hubby, for the ring. Really, just Wow.
Born Amerie Mi Rogers, she recently added an “i” and legally changed the spelling of her name to Ameriie. Explaining the change she said, “I was given guidance on that. I did not do it for marketing purposes …it was purely a personal thing having to do with positive vibration.” Even her parents were accommodating with the change in spelling. Initially, her father would forget to add the extra “i” but after a few gentle reminders, he was fully on board with the change.
Ameriie’s parents met and fell in love while her father, a Black American serviceman, was stationed in Korea. Soon after, her parents married and moved together to the United States. Ameriie was born in Massachusetts. When she was about eight months old, her parents returned to Korea. Her younger sister, Angela, was born in Seoul. As a military family, Ameriie lived in many different places while growing up. From Massachusetts, Korea, Texas, Germany, Alaska and other places in Asia and Europe, Ameriie developed a global perspective.
One of the reasons I was so excited to discover Ameriie was because of my (at the time) future children. Personally, having grown up feeling like an anomaly, as an adopted Korean girl living in a white world (white family, white school, white suburb, white church etc.) I was and am, for better or for worse, hyper-aware of the difficulties my children may experience as Black Korean-Americans. As an adult trans-racially adopted person, I am often asked what the best thing is that adoptive white parents can do for their adopted children of color. In the Letterman-style top ten list of “Things White Adoptive Parents Can Do To Help Their Children of Color” the number one answer would be, to move to a diverse neighborhood. That is, to expose your children on a daily basis to other people of color, especially those similar to their own children. This is not usually the answer that adoptive parents want to hear because it seems too radical. They want to know about books or groups they can join. But the fact remains that the less their child feels like an anomaly, the better they will be. Ameriie is the perfect example of this. Having grown up all over the world, and having been exposed to many different types of people, Ameriie did not feel like an anomaly. When I mentioned to her how rare it was to meet a Black Korean-American, she disagreed. Having grown up in so many different places, she was exposed to many mixed race children. “I had very diverse friends and was around a lot of different people, depending on where we were.” This is one reason why it was easy for Ameriie to adjust to each new setting whenever her family would move . She learned early on that, “Ultimately, although culturally we may have differences…no matter where I was, what school I was in, really, we are all the same. We all have the same goals in life, we all want the same things.”
When I asked how Ameriie identifies herself, her response was filled with conviction (and I loved it!) Placing the emphasis on “really”, she explained, “I really identify as half Black and half Korean.” While growing up, she was asked often whether she identified more with being Black or more with being Korean. She was even asked, at times, to choose. But her answer was (and is) always, “I am half Black and I am half Korean, it is technically what it is. I am just as Black as I am Korean and I am just as Korean as I am Black. And if I had to choose, I wouldn’t choose because I wouldn’t be who I am. I am who I am.” Though she was asked the identity question by others, her parents never made her feel like she had to choose.
Although she was, and is, strong in her identity, she experienced some resistance along the way. Sometimes her friends would insist that she was Black because that’s the way the world would see her. Ameriie’s response to such resistance was, again, global. She explained how in different parts of the world some cultures see and acknowledge her multi-cultural background. When she arrived at Georgetown for college, reactions to her were varied. Interestingly, most of the white students just thought she was Black. “It was the students who were more “worldly” that were able to easily figure out my background.” She acknowledges that she, “… does not like it when people do not know what I am.” Especially when she is around a lot of older Korean people, she does not like the initial discomfort when the older Korean people do not know she is also Korean. It isn’t until she speaks Korean that the older generation warms up to her.
Korean is her first language. She can read and write fluent Korean but, she says, her vocabulary is limited. Her mother spoke to her in Korean as a child but her parents were actually encouraged by different schools to speak English to Ameriie so that she would not get “confused.” Her sister, Angela, often teases Ameriie because she doesn’t speak Korean that often. However, once she starts speaking Korean with someone, for example at the jjim-jil-bang, or Korean spas, which she loves, then she can usually hold her own. When she signs autographs, she signs her name in English and Korean. (How cool is that?) And when she and her new hubby have children, she wants them to know her first language too.
Would it surprise you if I told you that Ameriie is an intellectual? Or that she is a deep thinker, a seeker, a philosopher – with distinct and clearly articulated views on metaphysics and quantum physics? Perhaps attending Georgetown gives you a clue to the intellectual part but when I tell you that there is so much more to her that one would not be able to gauge just by listening to her astounding voice – I ain’t lying! While growing up her parents were very strict. They placed an enormous emphasis on academics and she and her sister were not allowed to go outside, nor talk on the phone nor watch much television during the school week. Her sister is now a successful attorney (and represents Ameriie) practicing in New York. Her parents get a tickle out of the fact that Ameriie is the singer and that her sister is the lawyer. They would have guessed the other way around when the Rogers sisters were younger. Initially, Ameriie thought she would be an archaeologist or some other type of scientist. (She would still love to be a geneticist.) Her mother thought Ameriie would be a writer. And perhaps, one day she may be because writing happens to be one of her other passions.
When she was younger, Ameriie would sing often and she entered talent contests. It was not until high school, though, that she decided to follow her passion for singing professionally. She felt that out of all of the things she loved, singing was what she loved the most. Creative genes run in her family. Her mother is an accomplished pianist and artist. Mrs. Rogers has had exhibits of her art on display in Canada. Ameriie hopes to use some of her mother’s art work as cover art for a CD. Initially her goal as a singer was to “just have one song on the radio.” Clearly, she has surpassed this goal!
Fame has been an interesting factor in Ameriie’s life. Although she is an extrovert, she is also an intensely private person who needs time to herself to, “…ponder the questions like why are we here? What is race? What is ethnicity?” She also believes that as a recognizable figure, “Whether you like it or not, people are looking at you…so you do have to be cognizant that people are looking to you for guidance. You want to balance it out with your artistry but you have to also know that your place in this world is also to help other people and if you have power over influencing someone, even if it’s just three girls who want to be just like you, I feel like there has to be some kind of sense of responsibility to them.” With this in mind, when Ameriie interacts with her fans, she emphasizes being in control of their decisions, of their bodies, of their lives. She encourages self-respect and self-actualization. She believes that “you create your own life. Everything that happens to us is somehow planned with us and with God. I believe that negativity attracts negativity. Positivity attracts positivity and not just on a fluffy note but even…with the dream that you want to live. Just as the sky is blue, is how much you have to believe in something for it to happen. You have to believe in yourself even when no one else does.”
Ameriie’s anxiously awaited album, Cymatika Vol. I is still in the creation process and is set for a Spring 2012 release. “Firestarter,” the first single from the forthcoming album, will be released later this year. Follow Ameriie on twitter @ItsAmeriie or find her official facebook page, also under ItsAmeriie