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Posted by: Keith Chow on December 14, 2010 at 11:57 am

Yeah, I know I’ve taken a six-month hiatus from posting here, but I couldn’t let the year end without joining the throngs of year-end Top Ten lists that are about to clog the interwebs. I mean, if there was ever a year more suited for annoying “Top Ten” lists, 2010 would be that year.

For my list, I’m looking back on the year that was and listing the 10 Asian American entertainers who, I feel, had the biggest impact on the pop culture zeitgeist. So, without further ado:

10. Team Jumba
2010 is definitely the year YouTube crossed over into the mainstream. Nevermind the Justin Bieber phenomenon, the Fall 2010 television season featured two YT stars making the jump to network television. While (my 757 homeboy and former Indian River High School student) Jay Pharaoh made waves on Saturday Night Live, Kevin Wu (better known on the interwebz as kevjumba) and his dad quickly became fan favorites on CBS’ reality competition franchise The Amazing Race.

And though TeamJumba only finished in 7th place, Kevin and his dad, Michael, were definitely the most likable team in the race. Too bad they got eliminated before they had the chance to visit Hong Kong (where the statue of Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars in Tsimtsatsui was one of the destinations.) Still, Kevin and Michael also did something only Yul Kwon had done before: get me hooked on a CBS reality show that I’d never watched before.

PS: Honorable mention goes to Kat Chang, one-half of Team Doctors, who won season 17 of The Amazing Race, making them the first all-female team to win the American version of the show. Congrats Kat!

9. Alex Wong
Speaking of reality shows… One show I’m not ashamed to say I watch is FOX’s summer hit So You Think You Can Dance. Every year, there always seems to be a standout Asian American dancer — heck, half of the members of Quest Crew have already been on the show! Unfortunately, none of them had ever taken the crown (though Season 4′s Katee Shean came the closest, finishing in 3rd place).

This past season, however, the ballet phenom known as Alex Freakin’ Wong was a shoo-in to at least reach the finals. Especially after capturing the public’s hearts with this hip-hop routine. Sadly, those same hearts were broken a few weeks later when Alex suffered a season-ending injury. Boo!

8. Harry Shum Jr. & Jenna Ushkowitz
It seems like FOX was the place to find hot Asian guys dancing on TV in 2010. I’m pretty sure the search term “Mike Chang’s Abs” broke Google shortly after the cultural behemoth that is Glee debuted its second season this past September. Moreover, the Asian American blogosphere was atwitter (literally) over the fact that Harry Shum’s Mike and Jenna Ushkowitz’s Tina were going to be romantically linked in the new season.

While the two’s romance has been a one-note joke so far this season (uh, they’re both Asian. Get it?), the relationship has led to a bigger role for the uber-talented Shum. So much so that Mike Chang has been bumped up to series regular for the show’s next season. Here’s hoping that means more development of the only Asian American couple on primetime television. But I’m not holding my breath.

7. Olivia Munn
In 2010, mainstream audiences learned what fanboys have known for years, Olivia Munn is hot and funny. After scoring small parts in the films Date Night and a little known indie called Iron Man 2, the Comic-Con crush and longtime host of G4′s Attack of the Show brought her comedic talents to Comedy Central, debuting as The Daily Show‘s “Asian correspondent” in June.

A month later, Munn published her memoir, Suck It, Wonder Woman and a few hundred of her closest friends stopped by New York’s Midtown Comics to say hello. In the meantime, Olivia’s been shooting a leading role in the NBC mid-season sitcom Perfect Couples, set to premiere on the Peacock in January.

So, there’s a good chance Olivia will be back on this list next year.

6. Dileep Rao
Why is Dileep Rao on this list? Simple. The man is box office gold. In 2010, his films grossed over $3.65 billion worldwide! That’s billion. With a b. And he was only in two movies! Granted, those films happened to be James Cameron’s Avatar ($2.8b) and Christopher Nolan’s Inception ($825m). And if you throw in 2009′s Drag Me to Hell, dude averages $363 million per movie. The man sure knows how to pick his projects. He’s also scored the fanboy trifecta having appeared in movies by nerd-favorite directors Sam Raimi, James Cameron and Chris Nolan, respectively.

In any case, not only did Rao star in two of the highest grossing films of the year (or ever, frankly), in both cases, he was able to portray significant and heroic characters without resorting to cultural stereotypes. Seriously. Am I dreaming?

5. Ken Jeong
It’s pretty safe to say that Ken Jeong is one of the most instantly recognizable Asian American actors working today. Not only has he been part of Judd Apatow’s comedy troupe for years, he’s also a series regular on NBC’s Community and recently as “Slim Chin,” became the face of Adidas basketball alongside NBA All-Stars Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose. Basically, Jeong is on this list because he’s freaky like a lady pyramid.

Jeong also kicked off the year winning an MTV Movie Award for “Best WTF Moment” for his role in The Hangover. Shockingly, Jeong gave a pretty emotional and heartfelt acceptance speech. Perhaps forgetting he was at the MTV awards. Here’s to Slim Chin, the Mars Blackmon of the 21st Century. After all, Fast Don’t Lie.

4. Maggie Q
When I first heard the CW was doing yet another remake of the La Femme Nikita franchise, I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical. Having been a big fan of the original film by Luc Besson — and conversely, not a fan of the Bridget Fonda remake or the early 90s USA series with Peta Wilson — the idea of another retread of the character originally brought to life by Anne Parillaud was less than exciting. Then I found out who was playing Nikita. Needless to say, having Maggie Q portray the badass Nikita was definitely an intriguing twist. The pre-release promotional campaign — featuring a scantily clad Q brandishing all sorts of firepower — didn’t hurt either. In fact, those ads were too hot for some local communities.

But the main reason Maggie Q is on the list is because she is the only Asian American lead on a major* network’s primetime schedule. That’s a pretty big deal. Moreover, Q’s Nikita is just as cool and complex a hero as her white, male counterparts on other shows. Plus, being one of Jackie Chan’s protegees means that Q can kick copious amounts of ass. Which she does week to week. In essence, she’s Jack Bauer in a catsuit. Also, Nikita has proved to be one of the most compelling new shows of the Fall 2010 season. So despite my initial reservations, Nikita has quickly shot to the top of my DVR.

*Granted, the CW doesn’t have the reach of the Big Four — ABC, CBS, NBC & FOX — but it’s still a network. Mostly.

3. Daniel Dae Kim
The next person on the list actually is on a real television network. Two of them actually. At the beginning of 2010, Kim and the other survivors of Oceanic 815 began their final journey off the Island (and wouldn’t ya know, straight into purgatory). And while Lost‘s final season was a polarizing one for fans, one thing is clear: Jin and Sun had the most shocking and heartbreaking death on the show. Poor Ji Yeon :(

Not content with being on only one blockbuster television drama filmed in Hawaii, Kim went straight from Lost into a prominent role on the #1 new show on TV: CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 remake. As Chin-Ho Kelly, Kim spends most of the time with Kono (Grace Kim) backing up the main leads McGarret (Alex O’Laughlin) and Danno (Scott Caan). It’s a fun show. Just wish the writers gave the APAs (other than being gangsters and terrorists) more to do on the show. CBS’s pre-season marketing assault definitely led one to believe that both Kims (Daniel and Grace) would be big parts of the show. To be fair, their prominence in the network’s marketing campaign has a lot to do with catering to each actor’s fanboy constituency (thanks to Lost and Battlestar Galactica) as well.

Either way you slice it, if you combine the millions of people that watched Lost and the millions more who are currently watching Five-0, that’s a lot of eyeballs on a positive portrayal of an Asian American on television. And at least this time, Kim gets to speak English!

2. Far East Movement
In 2010, Kev Nish, Prohgress, J-Splif and DJ Virman were able to accomplish a feat that no other Asian American hip hop act (including FM’s fore bearers such as Jin and the Mountain Brothers) had ever done before: score a #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. But on October 30, Far East Movement did just that when the ubiquitous club-banger “Like a G6″ hit the top of the charts and stayed there for two more weeks.

Having signed a major record deal with Cherrytree/Interscope records in February, it was pretty clear early on that 2010 would be FM’s breakout year. Over the last couple years, FM’s music was sneaking its way into film soundtracks and popular television episodes, paving the way for “Like a G6″ to achieve world domination (in addition to the US, the single was a top ten hit in ten countries and hit #1 in New Zealand, South Korea and the UK’s R&B chart).

To me, though, the two signs that Far East Movement had officially joined the pop culture zeitgeist were 1) type “what is” into Google and the second auto-complete phrase that pops up is “what is a g6?” and 2) at my local grocery store recently, I overheard two white sorority girls in line talking about getting “slizzard” while belting out the song’s hook.

Oh, and speaking of catchy hooks…

1. Bruno Mars
If you were anywhere near the vicinity of a radio in 2010, chances are you heard a song that Bruno Mars had a hand in creating. From B.o.B.’s #1 single “Nothin’ on You” to Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” and his own #1 hit “Just the Way You Are,” Bruno Mars dominated the charts this year. And those are just the singles that featured Mars as a vocalist. His other massive hit, Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” (which Mars co-wrote), was nominated for four Grammys. Mars will be up for a total of seven Grammy Awards–as a performer, writer and producer–next February.

Ironically, Mars’ first outing as a vocalist was on the Far East Movement’s “3D” off the album Animal. In fact, FM’s latest single, “Rocketeer,” was written by Mars, though strangely, he isn’t the featured vocalist on the track. Speaking of FM, when their “Like a G6″ hit #1 in October, guess who they knocked off the perch to get there? Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” was the number one song in the country for four weeks prior to FM’s ascension. That means for seven weeks in October and November, Asian American artists were dominating the pop charts.

Oh yeah, and in September, Mars was busted for cocaine possession in Las Vegas. So, he was dominating the tabloids too. I’m pretty sure that means Bruno’s place in the pop star pantheon is pretty secure.

——-

Keith is the Editor-at-Large of the groundbreaking graphic novel anthology SECRET IDENTITIES and Outreach Director for SIUniverse Media. Visit the official Secret Identities blog to keep up with Keith and the rest of the SI team
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4 Responses to "2010′s Top 10 Asian Americans in Pop Culture"

1 | Ren Hsieh

December 14th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

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There should be a way to get all those facebook comments in here… fill this comment area out a little bit–what happened to Jim Lee at no. 7 man… WTF?

2 | hanni

December 20th, 2010 at 7:17 pm

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Where the hell is Brenda Song on this list? she’s the female lead of this year’s most critically acclaimed film and blockbuster and the most critically acclaimed film of the century, THE SOCIAL NETWORK!

I can’t believe even the Asian Americans are ignoring her. She’s 100 percent Asian American. She recently got nominated for a SAG award for the Social Network, ‘the best performance by a cast in a motion picture’, and her movie got nominated for SIX GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS!

Her movie has also been sweeping the critics awards in every state and has been sweeping every single major award show.

Brenda is even predicted to get nominated for an OSCAR by hollywood.com:
http://www.hollywood.com/news/Movie_Musings_Scarlett_Johansson_127_Hours_and_Brenda_Song/7726089

A lot of popular film critics praised Brenda’s performance in the film and even THE Aaron Sorkin praised Brenda’s performance in the film.

No one said The Social Network isn’t bias, it’s from the point of view of Eduardo Saverin. The book, which the movie is based on, is from Eduardo’s POV, Eduardo’s opinion, it’s definitely bias and sexist only because it’s from his point of view.

Brenda did a wonderful performance as the mentally ill, PYROMANIAC. Every respectable critic praised her and she is getting nominated for so many awards.

I do not understand why you are not including her in your list, she is more notable than everyone in your list combined, especially Alex Wong.

3 | hanni

December 20th, 2010 at 7:20 pm

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Brenda Song was able to portray a mentally damaged character, she was able to convey the emotions of the undiagnosed pyromaniac character so well, as a result even THE Aaron Sorkin (the most respected and high profiled screenwriter in Hollywood among A-listers) praised her performance in the hugely critically acclaimed film.

4 | Asian American Top 10 Lists for 2010 | Entertainment | 8Asians.com

December 29th, 2010 at 10:01 am

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[...] repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Bruno Mars is at the top of the list of the top 10 Asian Americans in popular culture. He has written or performed many hits, and as the list states, his arrest on cocaine possession [...]

2010′s Top 10 Asian Americans in Pop Culture