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Articles > The Ultimate 25 Under 25: Mochi's List of Young Asian American Influencers

 
May 6, 2011
by Stephanie Wu - Mochi Magazine

When we set out to create a list of the most prominent young Asian Americans, it started, like most of our stories do, with a staff chat. The final list, which was heavily debated (is he/she still relevant? is his/her work role-model worthy?), is a product I’m extremely proud of. We always knew we wouldn’t have a problem coming up with a great group of names, but what I’m most happy with is the sheer amount of diversity we came across—age, ethnicity, profession and more. I won’t even get into the amazing people we couldn’t include because they were—gasp—26 or older. We hope that the potential people to add to this list just keeps growing, growing, and growing—tell us in the comments who you’d like to see the next time we do this!

—Stephanie Wu

Written and reported by Jasmine Ako, Susan Hirai, Nicole Tai, Christine Wei and Stephanie Wu

Photo by The Agency Sports

JR Celeski, 21: At just 18, JR Celski won five medals at the 2009 World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, but it took another year for the world to recognize his true passion and perseverance. Five months before the 2010 Olympics, JR suffered a devastating thigh injury. Though it was uncertain how quickly he might heal, he pushed himself to perform well on the ice, nabbing not one but two bronze medals at the Olympics. After rising to victory from his struggles, JR is currently taking a break from skating to work on a documentary on Seattle's hip-hop scene. And if he tackles film with the same passion he's taken to the ice, you’ll see us in line at the premiere.

Photo by The Agency Sports

Photo by Forever 21

Esther Chang, 23: The younger daughter of Forever 21’s founders and the company’s Chief Merchandising Officer, Esther Chang, is one of the growing numbers of Asian American women at the forefront in fashion. After studying fashion and merchandising at Cornell University, and taking on internships at CosmoGirl magazine and Nordstorm, she took a full-time position at her family’s company. Esther now channels her passion for style and retail into graphics and display designs to make each store’s interiors a vibrant and standout experience.

Photo by Forever 21

Photo By Adam Fedderly

Yin Chang, 22: Formerly known as Nelly Yuki (the smart girl you loved to hate) on “Gossip Girl,” Yin has since moved on to movie roles, such as the upcoming “Prom”, where she stars with Aimee Teegarden as an artsy senior who is one-half of the school’s “it” couple. Yin also keeps busy with extracurriculars. Aside from being an exceptional piano player, she also has her own jewelry line, LeliMelo, named after her two younger sisters and is now working on a script for a short film. We can’t wait to see what’s next.

Photo By Adam Fedderly

Photo by Garrick Fuji

David Choi, 24: This Korean American musician, whose songs have been featured on prominent networks such as NBC, FOX and Disney, rose to fame through his raw and soulful covers of popular songs on YouTube. Currently the sixth most subscribed-to musician on YouTube, he’s a great example that practice really makes perfect. After catching the music-making fever, he spent at least six hours on music every day in 11th grade. His two original albums, “Only You” and “By My Side” focus on the subject of what we all want—love—and easily tugs at the heartstrings of his hundreds and thousands of fans. Wong Fu Productions has produced beautiful music videos for David’s moving songs, which have helped him gain further attention and popularity.

Photo by Garrick Fuji

Photo by Dove Shore Photography

Kelsey Chow, 19: The star of Disney’s “Pair of Kings” and Mochi’s current cover girl, Kelsey, juggles her TV filming schedule with her studies at Columbia, where she is currently studying global health. Her first big job, as nerd-turned-bombshell Gigi Silveri, put her on the map. Since then, she’s taken on a range of small and big-screen roles. The stylish actress (fashion blog Refinery29 noticed her style at an event) hopes that her public persona, coupled with her academic and personal interests in humanitarian efforts, can collide someday to make a real difference in the world of health care.

Photo by Dove Shore Photography

Photo by Daniel Chae

Clara Chung, 23: This effervescent, cheerful Korean American singer-songwriter burst onto the scene with her quirky and incredibly creative YouTube covers showcasing her amazing voice and multi-instrument chops. A late-bloomer who was once told she wouldn’t make it in music, Clara pushed past those who doubted her and instinctively followed her passions. The college undergrad went on to win the 2009 J.C. Penney Artist Search, Kollaboration 10, ISA 09: Los Angeles and the KAC Media Creative Juice Night, all while attracting an exponentially growing base of YouTube followers and loyal fans. She recently released her debut album, “The Art in My Heart,” a unique blend of original folk/pop/rock songs that showcases her down-to-earth personality and penchant for writing catchy, whimsical tunes. With her music career blossoming, there’s no stopping Clara as she currently tours to promote her album.

Photo by Daniel Chae

Photo HigaTV.com

Ryan Higa, 20: Known to the YouTube world as “Nigahiga,” Ryan started making videos with his friends in 2006. In five short years, his channel has become the most followed YouTube channel of all time with a whopping 3.4 million subscriptions that grows by the day. He’s collaborated with other YouTube phenomena like Wong Fu Productions and KevJumba, and though he recently moved to Las Vegas to study filmmaking, he continues to dedicate his time to film and posting videos for his followers. Having created three short films, Ryan has been known to have a hankering for watching Mulan after a hard day’s work. As generous as he is talented, he recently began fundraising for Japan through his channel.

Photo HigaTV.com

Photo by Lily's Twitter account

Ella and Jaden Hiller, 2: Yes, technically, the twins should count as two on our list, but since they come together to play one amazingly adorable baby Lily on “Modern Family” (and because we wanted the nice number of 25), we’re figuring them in as one person. The half-Filipino twins may have only spoken a few words as an adopted Vietnamese baby on national television, but they are perhaps the most recognized two-year-olds in America. Not only were they named Entertainment Weekly’s 2010 Entertainer of the Year (as part of the “Modern Family” ensemble), they also have a Twitter account (set up by TV dad Eric Stonestreet) with more than 10,000 followers. If that’s not influential, we don’t know what is.

Photo by Lily's Twitter account

Photo PMK-BNC

Vanessa Hudgens, 22: The Chinese-Spanish-Filipino singer, actress and California native is one of the most recognized young Asian American faces in entertainment. Best known for her role as Gabriella in the “High School Musical” series (and her on-and-off relationship with co-star Zac Efron), as well as a successful foray into music, Vanessa remains incredibly grounded. She often cites close relationships with her family and friends whose worlds don’t “revolve around Hollywood” as her support system. Now mainly focused on her acting career, she most recently starred in the film “Beastly” and is next set to appear in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” the sequel to “Journey to the Center of the Earth” coming out later this year.

Photo PMK-BNC

Photo by Craig Arend

Chanel Iman, 20: With a name that honors not one but two fashion icons, Chanel Iman (of African and Korean American ancestry) was pretty much destined to find a place in the industry. She rose to prominence in 2006 when she won third place in Ford Models’ Supermodel of the World contest, and is now a runway regular and Victoria’s Secret angel who graces the covers of top international fashion magazines like Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. In an interview with BellaSugar, she advocated increasing diversity in the modeling business: “I think it would be more interesting on the runway to see different faces from all over the world. People would really want to come to these shows, to see the models and the clothes.” When she’s got a spare moment, Chanel also helps her mom out at her new store, the Red Bag Boutique in Los Angeles.

Photo by Craig Arend

Photo By Garance Dore

Lily Kwong, 22: A rising presence on the fashion scene, this Columbia University student and San Francisco native is turning heads, and not just with her poise and exquisite beauty. Exhibiting a keen knowledge of the industry, this Vogue-anointed “it” girl astutely helped her cousin, designer Joseph Altuzarra, launch his debut collection, all the while catching the attention of the fashion world with her unique, androgynous style. With an impressive model resume that already boasts gigs with T: The New York Times, Style magazine, Zac Posen, Tory Burch, Dior and more, Lily is a smart, savvy young woman carving the path for Asian Americans in fashion.

Photo By Garance Dore

Photo by NBA

Jeremy Lin, 22: This Taiwanese American basketball player for the Golden State Warriors started making headlines during college at Harvard University, where he was the only NCAA Division I men’s player to rank in the top 10 in his conference for a whopping nine different categories (such as shooting, rebounding, assists, and more). Jeremy is an athletic hero not just because he’s one of the few Asian Americans to make it big in basketball or the first Ivy Leaguer in 15 years to join the NBA. Having endured years of racial slurs from spectators as well as players, he’s always kept his cool on court and has now come out living many a young boy’s dreams, with hopes of opening up doors for many more Asian Americans to come.

Photo by NBA

Photo by Paul Harvath

Mirai Nagasu, 17: One of the youngest superstars on this list, Mirai, a Japanese American figure skater from Arcadia, CA, first started skating at age 5. Now famous for her stunning spins and graceful movements, her breakthrough came in 2008 when she won the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at just 14, landing her first triple lutz-triple toe loop combination in competition. Her dedication to her sport is inspiring; halfway through one routine in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Mirai felt her nose start to bleed but pushed through anyway, receiving a standing ovation for her performance. She gained worldwide fame when she placed a respectable fourth place overall and will undoubtedly be a serious contender in the upcoming Winter Olympics in 2014.

Photo by Paul Harvath

Photo by Jasmin Doma

Justin Nozuka, 22: This half-Japanese singer-songwriter from Canada is best known for his unique and soulful voice, wistfully romantic lyrics and acoustic guitar-tinged songs. Growing up in a family of singers and actors, Justin wrote his first songs at the age of 12. Since then, he’s focused on rich narratives and unexpected perspectives, like a story of domestic abuse or the experience of watching one’s life flash before his eyes while stuck in a well. This eye-opening passion is one of the reasons Justin is widely admired not only by his fans, but also by many up-and-coming musicians who reference him as their main source of inspiration and play covers of his songs on YouTube

Photo by Jasmin Doma

Photo By Mark Hussman

Janel Parrish, 22: Best known for her recurring role as Mona on the popular TV show Pretty Little Liars, Janel Parrish is a quadruple entertainment threat: singer, songwriter, pianist and dancer. The half-Chinese, Hawaii-born-and-raised actress actually started her career in music and won a local talent competition at just 6 years old. Later, she starred in Les Miserables on Broadway. Eventually she worked her way through Hollywood and earned coveted roles in “Heroes and Bratz: The Movie.” With an album due later this year, Janel is a multifaceted up-and-comer to watch out for.

Photo By Mark Hussman

Photo By Lancome

Michelle Phan, 24: Known as “RiceBunny” on the internet, Michelle Phan is a pioneer in more ways than one. The first to upload makeup tutorials to YouTube, she was also the first female to gain one million subscribers to her channel—and the first to sign a major makeup gig thanks to YouTube. In early 2010, Lancome hired her as their official video makeup artist, enlisting her creativity in video production as well as her informative use of voice and text in instruction for their brand. This contract is an inspiring example that you can make it big simply by doing what you love—thank goodness Michelle found ways to sneak into her mom’s cosmetics stash even though she wasn’t allowed to wear makeup!

Photo By Lancome

Photo By Debbie Patton

Brenda Song, 23: Ask anyone who the most famous young Asian American actress is, and chances are, the answer is Brenda Song. From a starring role in Disney’s “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” to a memorable supporting character in the movie, “The Social Network”, Brenda is the face of young Asian America. The part Hmong and Thai actress made headlines when she discovered that her photo was illegally used to promote an escort agency, sued for libel and eventually won. In an interview with E Online, she recognized that she was “a role model to millions of young people,” and wanted to set the record straight and prevent further exploitation of women. Now that’s a cause we can get behind

Photo By Debbie Patton

SONY DSC

Photo by Rodney Ray

Nikki SooHoo, 22: Nikki SooHoo, a Chinese American actress and dancer, is best known for her roles as the gymnast Wei Wei Yong in “Stick It” (2006) and Holly in “The Lovely Bones” (2009). While she began her TV career at Disney and Nickelodeon, like many actors, her filmography expands into a fascinating range of thought-provoking roles, tackling issues like child trafficking and religious upbringings. Refreshingly, Nikki maintains an active life outside of acting. She’s worked at Yogurtland and American Apparel to increase her awareness of different experiences. Clocking in at less than 5 feet 3 inches tall, she also provides comfort to aspiring Asian Americans that mile-long legs aren’t prerequisites for success in the acting industry.

Photo by Rodney Ray

Photo From Wikipedia

Taecyeon, 22: Taec Yeon, also known as Taecyeon, is a wildly popular pop star and TV actor. He is considered the main rapper of 2 PM, a South Korean boy band managed by Wonder Girls’ label, although he originally auditioned to be a model. Taecyeon, who was born in Seoul and grew up in Massachusetts for seven years, has a growing international following. Along with 2 PM’s four extended plays and one album (1:59 PM), he has been featured in K-pop singer Bada’s “Yes I’m in Love” and singer Baek Ji-Young’s “My Ear’s Candy.” He debuted as an actor in the drama series “Cinderella’s Sister” (2010) and currently plays a role in the romance-drama “Dream High” (2011). The Korean star, who immigrated to America at a young age, recently made news for giving up his green card in order to enroll in mandatory military duty back home.

Photo From Wikipedia

Photo by  Chris Ripley

Sam Tsui, 21: Already making waves as a Duke’s Men of Yale a cappella member, Sam shot to fame on YouTube where his stunning vocals add a rich, innovative twist to covers and mash-ups of popular songs. In particular, Sam’s bright voice and boyish charms have captured the hearts of many fans and have gained him attention on shows like “Oprah” and “Ellen,” while his cover of “Hold It Against Me” was highlighted on Britney Spears’ website. He often collaborates with producer Kurt Schneider (who he grew up down the street from), and together their “KurtHugoSchneider” channel has garnered over 170 million views. We can’t wait to see Sam in the College Musical series on YouTube, a parody of Disney’s “High School Musical”—did we mention he’s totally adorable?

Photo by Chris Ripley

PictureGroup for FOX

Jenna Ushkowitz, 24: This Korean American actress rose to fame as Tina Cohen-Chang on Fox’s musical TV show Glee. Unapologetically anything but a girly girl, Jenna’s gothic, streaky-haired character adds depth to Asian American roles in today’s media. Fans might have been very pleasantly surprised when she belted out a touching rendition of “True Colors” in season one, but she’s quite the seasoned singer, first performing on Broadway in “The King and I“ at the age of nine before starring in other musicals like “Spring Awakening” (with Glee co-star Lea Michele and recurring actor Jonathan Groff). Despite beginning her career when she was three, Jenna manages to pursue her other passions—having always loved animals with a particular interest in marine life, she’s become a certified scuba diver.

Photo by Gregg DeGuire:PictureGroup for FOX

GLEE: Jenna Ushkowitz attends an evening of music and cocktails at The Music Box & Fonda Theater in Los Angeles, CA on Tuesday, July 27. Cr: Gregg DeGuire/PictureGroup for FOX

Dilshad Vadsaria, 25: This gorgeous Pakistani American actress starred on ABC Family cult-favorite show “Greek,” playing Rebecca Logan, a badass senator’s daughter. Dilshad had a nomadic childhood, moving from Pakistan to Chicago to Richmond, VA, which she says allowed for her to acclimate to various environments quickly—something she had to do when she shipped out to Los Angeles to become an actress and almost immediately landed the role on “Greek.” To prepare for her big role, she buckled down and did her homework, researching the famous daughters of other political figures, such as Bush’s children. The show has since ended (sadly!), but we are anxiously awaiting what Dilshad does nex

GR··K - ABC Family's "GR··K" stars Dilshad Vadsaria as "Rebecca." (ABC FAMILY/CRAIG SJODIN)

Photo by Getty Images

Michelle Wie, 21: One of the best-known Asian American athletes in any sport, Michelle has been in the spotlight since she became the youngest player ever to qualify for an amateur golf championship tournament when she was 10 years old. Since then, her career has gone through some ups and downs (like most professional athletes), and she’s taken some time off to attend Stanford University and become a prolific blogger, showcasing her vegan baked goods. But there’s no way Michelle is letting her god-given talent go to waste, as she’s currently back on the scene competing in the 2011 LPGA Tour.

Photo by Getty Images

Golf: Bell Micro LPGA Classic: Michelle Wie in action, drive from tee on No 4 during Thursday play at Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove. Mobile, AL 5/13/2010 CREDIT: Mike Ehrmann (Photo by Mike Ehrmann /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X84196 TK1 R1 F59 )

Photo by 2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr Mathieu Young-FOX

Alex Wong, 24: A former principal for the Miami City Ballet, Alex Wong burned up the dance floor on season 7 of “So You Think You Can Dance.” He made hearts dance worldwide not only with his superior skills and beautiful display of emotion, but also with his lovable personality and unrelenting drive to succeed. Trained in ballet, he wowed everyone with his range in technique while performing a fire-hot hip-hop number on the show. Although a lacerated achilles tendon forced him to withdraw eventually, Alex’s raw ambition shined through when he voiced his intention to return again the next season, where an ever-growing fan base anxiously awaits his return.

Photo by 2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr Mathieu Young-FOX

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE: Top 11 finalist Alex Wong, 23, is a Ballet dancer from Vancouver, Canada. Currently Resides: Miami, FL. ©2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Mathieu Young/FOX

Photo by KevJumba.com

Kevin Wu, 20: Having always been a fan of stand-ups like Dave Chappelle, Kevin “Kevjumba” Wu became the most-subscribed comedian on YouTube in 2007, just a few short months after he began posting his videos. Now, with almost 1.5 million subscribers, his self-deprecating humor on everyday subjects like dating and racial stereotypes easily wins over his fans. In 2010, his success won him a spot in season 17 of “The Amazing Race.” But perhaps the most endearing of yet another example that young Asian Americans can shine outside of Hollywood stereotypes is that his dad, who competed with him on the CBS show, sometimes co-stars in his videos.

Photo by KevJumba.com

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