Music to His Ears: Competitive Karaoke Helps Gay Man Find the Confidence to Come Out & Help Others

by Vu Doan

My name is Vu Doan. I am from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 

Grew up in a very conservative Vietnamese, Buddhist household. So I had girlfriends and was very much focused on school as a kid. And in 2006, I moved to Austin, which was exciting because moving from a place where I was very active in the youth group and building this very, again, conservative Buddhist Youth Association to a city where I didn’t know anybody, I can reset and start my new life.

But what I realized when I moved here to Austin, I fell into the same constructs of being really active at the youth group, being really engaged with my coworkers – who were all straight – and dating girls again. So even though I was in a new city, it ended up being the same. It was like second verse, same song.

One day at work, a coworker came up to me and mentioned this concept of a competitive national karaoke league. At first, I was like, I don’t know if I’m going to go to that. It feels out there. So I said no for several times she asked me to come and join. And then finally we were having lunch at work and for some reason I just said, “Yeah, I’ll come.” 

She offered up the invite. So she’s like, “Okay, meet me at Ego’s at 6:30.” So Ego’s is this dive bar on South Congress here in Austin, and it’s notorious for karaoke, good karaoke. People who sing really well in the music capital here at Austin, they go there to practice.

So I get to Ego’s and I’m about to walk in – and keep in mind, I work with this coworker in a very conservative tech company. And so when I open that door at Egos, the cacophony of sounds and excitement of everyone preparing for their numbers, putting on costumes, making props, having drinks, laughing, warming up singing, was such a contrast from the world I knew her from, in the world that I was comfortable here in Austin. 

And right away, they were so nice, opening their arms and welcoming me in and introducing me to their friends. The first night was amazing, seeing them pour their hearts out and singing on stage. I loved it. Even though I didn’t know anybody here, everyone was really quick to come up and say hi, greet me, introduce me to their friends, and fold me into this community.

And so my coworker was like, “Do you want to join? We have an open spot because someone quit.” And I was like, Oh, well I didn’t think about join… I thought I was just going to be a spectator for this show. 

And I said, “Okay, well maybe. When do you need me?” 

And she said, “In a week.” So then fast-forward to next Thursday, and I’m getting ready to sing a song and it was a big jump from being a spectator to actually singing a solo for the first time in public, in front of people who were all the good singers. 

The way it works is every team does two solos and a group number. And I was the first solo for my team. When it was my turn, the KJ calls up, “Now black team represented by Vu, singing ‘Take on Me’ by A-ha.” 

So I go on stage, the music starts and I am completely nervous. My hands are sweaty. I’m holding onto the microphone. I feel it slipping out on my hand, and I just start, I close my eyes. I can’t look at the audience. As I’m singing, I don’t hear any boo’s. So I start opening my eyes a little more and all I see are all these faces just smiling and rooting for me. The song keeps building. And in the chorus, we hit this very high note and I remember I was nervous about the note, but then I hit it and the crowd erupted in cheers and clapping.

I don’t remember the rest of the song, but I do remember some of my team members came up and we did a little dance break in the middle. And then we ended the song and again, the whole bar was thunderous. Coming off the stage, my team obviously was there to hug me and congratulate me because they knew how nervous I was for it. But then even other team members, our competitors, also came up to me and hugged me and they were like, “Oh my God, you’re amazing. Who are you? We’ve never seen you before. You must be new here.”

I didn't go into karaoke thinking I was going to find a community or find the courage I needed. I'm so thankful I did.

And as the night ended, and I think everyone celebrated the highlight of the night, but I don’t think anyone there knew how much it meant to me because it really sparked internal discovery of what I needed to start my own journey of self-love and the confidence to live my authentic life as well. Even though it wasn’t necessarily a gay intramural activity, it really was the catalyst for me and my coming out. Within the year, I had the courage, I found the courage to come out to my friends. And then within the next year after that, I came out at work and then three years, I finally came out to my family.

We all deal with coming out differently, but what we all need anchored in is both confidence and self-love for that to go to well. And so now fast-forward, I’ve been in Austin for 17 years and I look for opportunities to help others build community and find the connections I had. And so now I’m really active in the Austin Gay Men’s Chorus, which our mission is to help change minds, build community. And so in doing so, I’ve been part of that community for three years and the stories I’ve heard from my fellow singers and what the chorus means to them, it reflects so much on what I went through early on in my own career.

I didn’t go into karaoke thinking I was going to find a community or find the courage I needed. I’m so thankful I did. Because when you find that right fit, the community becomes more than just a group of common interests or a group of friends, they really become a chosen family.

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