Last summer, singer May J. was watching an animated film in a Walt Disney preview room. Playing on the screen was "Frozen," which later became a mega hit across the globe.
As she listened to the song "Let It Go" performed by Idina Menzel, who voiced the main character Elsa, a Disney official told her something unexpected-"You're the one who's going to sing this song [in the Japanese version]."
Her inadvertent response? "You've got to be kidding."
"I made it a rule with my management that I'd be informed of offers only after official decisions were made, so I wouldn't get my hopes up," she said. "I never imagined that talks were going on with Disney. It was truly a big surprise."
In the Japanese-dubbed version of "Frozen," Takako Matsu plays the voice of Elsa and sings "Let It Go" in the film. May J. sings the same song for the film's ending credits.
"I've loved Disney films since I was little. I watched 'Aladdin' and 'Beauty and the Beast' so many times that I knew the lines by heart," she said.
"The song ['Let It Go'] is wonderful, and singing such a major closing theme has always been my dream. But as time went on, I started to feel a combination of delight and pressure."
Though she made her official debut in 2006, her rise in popularity came from a popular karaoke contest segment on a TV programme that she decided to appear on after spending years in obscurity. She continued winning karaoke competitions for about two years until May this year, beating out such strong rivals as Lin Yu-chun, a child prodigy from Taiwan, and former Takarazuka Revue company star Asato Shizuki.
Her performance on the programme caught the eye of Walt Disney Japan's staff, whose recommendation led to the US headquarters' decision to give her the job.
Last year she released "Summer Ballad Covers," her first album of covers. It gave May J. her first No. 1 album and sold 300,000 copies.
May J. was born in 1988 in Yokohama to a Japanese father and an Iranian-born mother with Russian, British, Spanish and Turkish roots. She is fluent in both English and Persian.
By the time she was 3, she already aspired to become a singer, thanks to a nurturing environment. Her father played the piano and violin as a hobby, and her mother was an English-language teacher. As a child, she enjoyed watching Disney videos, and took piano and opera lessons.
In a national singing competition in 2003, she won a special prize in the solo vocalist category. In 2006, she made her major-label debut with an EP titled "All My Girls."
"All I thought about was becoming a singer. My parents also encouraged me. When I wasn't doing well, they sometimes asked why I couldn't appear on music programs on TV," she said. "Now that many people recognise my name and face and I began to appear in music programs, I feel like I can finally put their worries to rest."
Though her popularity seems to owe a great deal to the smash success of "Frozen," her latest album, "Heartful Song Covers," released in March, has sold 300,000 copies.
But she is aware that she still hasn't had a hit with her own songs.
"I know I became popular through cover versions. My next goal is to have an original song that will become known as my signature song. It's my biggest mission," she said.
May J. tour to kick off today
May J's nationwide tour starts at Zepp Sapporo in Sapporo on July 5. Other major concert venues include Zepp Nagoya in Nagoya on July 16; Zepp Namba in Osaka on July 17; Zepp Fukuoka in Fukuoka on July 19; Zepp Tokyo in Tokyo on July 30; and Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Tokyo on Sept. 19. For more information, visit www.may-j.com.
May J. also will sing at the RockCorps show at Azuma Sogo Taiikukan hall in Fukushima on Sept. 6. Those who take part in at least four hours of volunteer work in activities organised for those affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake by the US-based social production company RockCorps will be eligible to receive tickets to the concert. For more information, please visit rockcorps.yahoo.co.jp.