Anime convention regulars are probably readily familiar with Stephanie Yanez. Since winning the AX Idol contest at Anime Expo in 2004, the singer has traveled across the country performing cover songs of anime themes as well as her own material at conventions. Last August, Yanez had the chance to do what few Americans can, she performed as a cosplay idol in Japan's famed otaku (anime fanatic) district, Akihabara, singing the closing theme from the current hit series K-On, "Don't Say Lazy." We chatted with Yanez about the experience. You can see her play live tonight at the first anniversary of LA Jpop party Tune in Tokyo.
When you say idol in the US, people might think American Idol. Can you explain what an idol is in Japan?
A Japanese idol is usually a girl or a guy who is very cute or handsome. They are usually very young, but they can be older too. Usually, they have dancey songs and usually dance. They're usually not even the best of singers. That was something I looked up, in Japan people like idols because they have a raw voice. They like that it's not polished because they feel that no one can sing that song except that girl or guy.
The Akiba idols, a lot of them aren't known. They're only known in Akihabara, but the fans are really passionate. Some Akiba idols have become successful and some have grown out of it. You know Perfume, the group? They used to do Akihabara events. They used to perform with Momoi Haruko. Momoi is a total Akiba idol. Sometimes they'll graduate and become more famous, but a lot of times, they're doing it just for the love of anime and because they love to sing.
Pop idols, they're huge and they're in everything, magazines, dramas, commercials. They're all over the place. Sometimes you might not like their music, but you might fall in love with them because of a drama or a movie they do. Idols do everything, they are actors, singers and dancers. They have clothing labels.
How did you end up playing in Akihabara last summer?
This is the second time I performed at the venue. It's called Dear Stage. It's a cosplay bar and cafe, so all of the waitresses dress up. They usually have cat ears on or something like that. They serve food and drinks at the venue and they have this stage set up at the front of the store.
It's kind of hard to explain the set-up. On the first floor, the stage is set up and they have windows where you can look in and see the show, even if you don't pay. If you really want to join in the fun, you can just run in there and pay. The waitresses and the people who work there, they're Akiba idols and they perform pretty much every night.
The first time I went there was last year and I went on behalf of Akibanana, they're an anime site, and they give a whole lot of information on what's going on in Akihabara, what's going on in anime. Anything anime goes down in Akihabara. First she did an interview with me on the site in '07. Then I told her I was going out there and she said, "I can set up a show for you." She set up the show. She had some of the Akibanana staff host it and ask me questions in Japanese.
The first time was kind of scary. They're very energetic and excited, which is really neat, but the first time I went there, I was really nervous. People will love you if you sing their favorite anime song. It was a different feeling.
In the States, I get comments every day, sometimes from the same person, but over there, it was different, maybe a little fanboy-ish, you could say. There were girls this time too. The first time, it was only guys. The second time, I knew what to look for and I knew what the club was about.
I asked them all to dance otagei, which is the otaku dance for idols, so they're showing their love for singers. When I asked them that, they were surprised that I knew the dance. They were laughing and all excited and got into it. They took pictures of me afterwards, we had a photo session.