I always wondered what happened to Harlemm Lee - he was the winner of a national television reality TV show, was getting national press - but it seemed like he came and he went in less than a blink of an eye. I wondered if I just wasn't tuned in to the right frequencies, or if there wasn't anything to be heard.
So I did some searching. I found the domain harlemmlee.com and expected to find information on a tour, news from Asia maybe - something - but all I found was a parked domain.
When I searched for links or news on Harlemm Lee I found his album Introducing Harlemm Lee on Amazon, some entries on the Fame show from 2003, but other than that it seemed like he had vanished into thin air.
Where was he? What was he doing? Did he take his winner's prize money and decide to live a life outside of the limelight?
I really wanted to know how someone could go from what would seem to be a golden ticket to everything they could dream of, to barely being a blip on the radar.
I ran into a blog post at Viet Accent called The "Real" Fame for Harlemm Lee and it had clues to what had happened to Harlemm - why you never really heard much about him. With articles pointing me to Aarising.com and Reality Blurred I found out about Lee's winning prizes and the promotion of him as a Reality TV star:
So not only did they not give him all of the prizes, but they also didn't allow him to capitalize on his own success at the time.
NBC’s talent search show was won by Harlem Lee, and the show’s web site still congratulates him. The About page is oddly missing, but Reality TV World runs down the prizes: “a one-year representation deal” with Johnny Wright, “a guarantee that the winner record a single under Wright’s record label Wire Records,” “one year of training” with The Debbie Allen Dance Academy, a suite in a W Hotel for a year, and, finally, “[o]ne of the top Hollywood agencies will guide their careers and living expenses will also be provided.”
Yet winner Harlem Lee has only received the W Hotel prize so far.
Without it, he says he “would be completely penniless and homeless” because “I have yet to receive the bulk of the career-enhancing prizes promised to the winner.”
He says, “The justification given to me for all this has been that my story was not ‘compelling enough’ (their own words) to warrant the high-profile TV appearances and marketing resources that would have given me a decent shot at capitalizing on my national ‘FAME’ exposure.” Better, “the contractual nature of the FAME Prize Package has immobilized me from regaining control of my career,” he says.
If they didn't think his story was compelling enough for American audiences - why didn't they try and cross promote his talents abroad in Asia where he could have possibly made an impact with his U.S. TV fame - it's worked for other Asian American artists.
The only conclusion that I can come too is that the people in charge didn't know how to market an Asian American here in the U.S. or to crossover fame in another country (a missed opportunity on both fronts).
But those articles were from a few years ago. What happened since then? Did he gain control of his career back - was his name up in lights somewhere else?
I managed to stumble onto an older 2007 article from the NY Times called Trying to Crack the Hot 100 where they did a piece on Asian American artists and musicians trying to break into the music industry - and there he was, starring at me from the top of the page's text.
I finally found him.
So where is he - what is he up too (at least from the time of the article)?
Right now Harlemm is working as a secretary, but still has plans to make another comeback dreaming of what he's always wanted to do.
Make it as a singer.