LOS ANGELES, April 1 (UPI) -- American K-pop star AleXa, who's promoting her latest single as a soloist on South Korean music shows, drops her first mini-album, Do or Die, on Wednesday.
The 23-year-old Korean-American singer is still in disbelief over her journey from Tulsa, Okla., to Seoul, where she has signed with a major music video production company.
"How do I make sense of it all?" AleXa, whose real name is Alex Christine Schneiderman, told UPI in a recent phone interview. "Honestly, I still have not made sense of it all yet.
"Every now and then, I'll just wake up and be like, 'How did I get here? What am I doing?' in a positive, reflective way. Cause it's very surreal to me that this is my life now cause this is something I've always wanted and strived for in my youth."
Before she became AleXa, starring in videos as an AI warrior, she was a fan of the K-pop group SHINee -- and fantasized about becoming an idol. Being a show choir singer and dancer, watching K-pop stars' performances, motivated her to pursue her dreams seriously while in high school.
Her first step was participating in "Rising Legends," a fan-voted online audition contest for international K-pop star hopefuls by the English-language Korean entertainment news site Soompi and the Korean company JYP Entertainment in 2016. She won first place in the dance category.
The following year, Soompi teamed up with Cube Entertainment, and at age 20, she tried once more. She ultimately won the grand prize: a trip to South Korea for a private audition with Cube.
Before the audition, AleXa flew to Seoul early after agreeing to shoot a reality TV show with Viki, an American streaming site for Asian shows and movies, that would follow her journey leading up to the big event.
Though she ultimately didn't make it into the company, Zanybros, a South Korean video production company that has worked with those in the industry like Pentagon, KARD, CLC and BTS, offered to sign her as its first trainee under subsidiary company ZB Label.
'This is your time'
Then a college student, AleXa faced a difficult decision about her future -- and she also had to convince her parents.
"It took a long while to discuss things with them, but I think at this point my parents were fully supportive of my dream. They were more or less like, 'This is your time to do what you want. You don't want to look back on this and regret not taking this opportunity,'" she said.
Soon thereafter, AleXa signed with ZB Label, which sent her to compete on the reality competition show Produce 48.
"It was a scary decision because I was on that path to proper adulthood. But I think I definitely would have regretted it had I not taken this opportunity," she said.
She didn't make it far in the show, but following her exit, the label rapidly began her training to become AleXa.
"It's definitely very, very exciting to be the first-born artist from Zanybros, of all companies," she said. "It's really wild because they're one of the biggest, if not the absolute biggest, video production company here in South Korea.
"So the fact that they had interest in signing me and have now developed me as an artist is both very exciting but also quite scary, because there are expectations you have to live up to, and I don't want to disappoint anybody in this company."
'Do or Die'
AleXa made her big debut in October with "Bomb," characterized by an emphasis on strong choreography for the Afrobeats-tinged song and a "warrior-style girl crush" concept, as she described it.
The follow-up, "Do Or Die," picks up where its predecessor left off plot wise in the dystopian fictional universe. It's a Brazilian funk-lite and EDM hybrid that also features her signature powerful choreography.
Since the concept is that she's an AI that exists within a multiverse, AleXa discussed whether she would carry on the same narrative throughout her career.
"Right now in 'Bomb,' 'Do Or Die,' and soon the third chapter in the trilogy, she's this hard-hitting cyberwarrior character. It's very cyberpunk. But the thing is, in a different universe, she could be a soft high school girl or something," she said. "This trilogy alone will be this hard-hitting thing. It's not gonna keep repeating itself."
Creatively, though being backed up by a production powerhouse that handles most aspects of her music and career, AleXa said she's grateful she's able to be a part of the process.
"Because of my actual love for horror movies and sci-fi, I get a big say in the concepts and what the music videos might be," she said. "I also get to approve the styling. We'll look at things together and be like, 'Do you think this will work for the concept? Do you think this will look good on you?'"
As different K-pop artists continue to make inroads in the U.S. music market, that gives AleXa hope.
"It's so cool [that] nowadays K-pop is mainstream news. Cause back when I was a K-pop fan, people would look at me weird for watching these music videos, being a fan of 'Asian music,'" she said.
"But, did we not just have 'Despacito' blow up in America? I'm pretty sure not everyone speaks Spanish. Music is something that transcends language. So the fact that [K-pop] has become something that people are more open-minded about and is comfortably publicly spoken about is amazing to me."
In March, AleXa signed with ICM Partners to focus on the U.S. market as a singer, actor and performer. On Wednesday, she'll be releasing her first EP, Do Or Die. The mini album will include eight tracks, including "Bomb" and "Do Or Die."