Pop-vocalist Nate Tao, 24, is hoping his exposure on Fox’s “American Idol” will help launch the next phase of his dreams.
“Even though I didn’t make it all the way, it’s given me so much attention. . . . It’s a foot in the door,” said Tao, a 2007 Herndon High School graduate who made it to the third round of Hollywood auditions before the show’s judges cut him.
Tao previously auditioned for talent-search shows “The X Factor” and NBC’s “The Voice.” He said he advanced the furthest on “American Idol.”
“I tried out for a couple of those reality shows in the past, and I got kind of far, but nothing like what I did on this,” Tao said.
“ ‘Idol’ is a great platform to put yourself on to get noticed. . . . Winning ‘Idol’ is not everything for sure,” he said. “Just look at the track record of who didn’t win and what they are doing now and who did win and what they aren’t doing. There’s some disparity.”
Tao said he hopes this track record favors him and the release of his first, self-titled album next month.
“You can think of — and this might be a stretch — Adele, mixed with Bruno Mars and a bit of Maroon 5 in there,” Tao said of his style.
His favorite Idol is season one winner Kelly Clarkson.
Although millions of viewers could follow Tao’s and other “American Idol” auditions on national television, the singer said he struggles with sharing his gift with his parents, who are deaf.
“Music has always been a big part of my life. There are times that I just kind of forgot my parents are deaf,” Tao said. “Sometimes it’s bittersweet because with deaf people like my parents, you can’t bond over music. You can only show them the lyrics. . . . It’s just not complete for them.
“When I really wanted to pursue singing, my parents weren’t so sure. They looked at me like, ‘Wait a minute. We don’t know if you can even sing.’ ”
Tao’s parents, who emigrated from Taiwan in the 1980s and live in Reston, attended most of his high school and major college performances at Ithaca College in New York, where Tao studied music, to show support. Tao graduated from the college in 2010 with a music degree.
“That is what a parent should do,” his mother, Anni Tao, wrote in an e-mail. “I must admit that we always showed up at the beginning. During the break, we met him, gave him flowers and then we sneaked out and went home. It was hard for us to sit for two hours and not understand the performance. Nate understood.”
Mark Tao, his father, said: “I remember one night watching Nate perform during his senior year. He was singing ‘It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye,’ by Boyz II Men. There was a girl also by his side. He started to sing and suddenly we noticed the girl signing [American Sign Language] for us. We were shocked. . . . We were deeply touched by this surprise, and my wife broke into tears. That was a special moment that we would never forget.”
Nate Tao’s parents said they look to the crowd’s reaction and their son’s smile to see how well the performance went.
“The only way I can tell is to look at other people to see if they stand up and clap,” his mother said. “Then I know he had a good performance. But I clap every time after he performs.”
Tao lives in Los Angeles, works as a host at a restaurant, gives private vocal lessons and performs random music gigs to support himself.
“My goal is to definitely get management, . . . things are getting to a point where it’s hard for me to manage stuff by myself,” he said. “Right now I’m running around like crazy. . . . I’d like to start touring and really playing my music, specifically in Asia.”
Tao recorded his first album during a recent trip to Singapore to visit friend and producer Tat Tong, whom he met in Los Angeles.
“I think his powerful pipes and unique tone will help him stand out in the crowded market,” said Tong, a signed songwriter with Universal Music Publishing Group. Tong also owns a production company, T2 Productions, based in Singapore, which hosts mostly Asian recording artists.
“The industry people I’ve brought him to meet in Singapore have never failed to be impressed when he starts singing. I think he definitely has a special gift there,” Tong said. “He’s clean-cut and Asian, which, as a singer, may be something new to many Americans, but I think in the wake of Psy and the K-pop invasion, audiences are probably primed for more diversity in their singers. At least, we can hope.”
At Herndon High, former teachers followed Tao’s progress on “American Idol” closely, cheering on one of their own.
“Everyone felt proud that he was from Herndon [High],” Herndon choral director Dana Van Slyke said. “I showed my current students some videos of him singing back in high school. . . . Nate always gave a special performance. He is a very versatile singer. . . . He was often a featured soloist. I was reminded, too, that he won our version of ‘Herndon Idol.’ ”
Her husband, Jim, was Tao’s private vocal lessons instructor. “Nate is my ‘baby’ and I could not be more proud of him,” he said. “We talked about his singing career, well, for countless hours I’m sure. . . . He is already making such great connections for himself and obviously his successes are adding up.”
Career success in a highly competitive industry like pop music, he said, can mean being in the right place at the right time.
“I think this ‘American Idol’ experience could be just the thing he needs to get him instant national exposure,” he said.
Tao’s first single, “Sooner,” off his new album is available for free download on his Web site, www.natetao.com.