Lydia Lee sat eating her lunch in the courtyard of her high school, just as she did on any other day. Except this wasn’t any other day.
As the youngster was taking a midday break from her studies, she was oblivious to the fact that millions of people were watching a video of her singing Adele’s chart-topping song Hello and that she was becoming a YouTube sensation.
The phenomenal response to her video only hit home for the Korean teen when her music teacher approached her a few days later to say talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres had called and wanted Lydia to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. By the time she stood in the TV studio and performed live for the first time, her cover video had amassed more than 16 million views.
“It was strange because I was really calm. I don’t think it had sunk in what was happening. When I went home from school and told my parents, ‘Ellen DeGeneres wants me on her show,’ they just looked at me, stunned. I think my calmness made them think it might be a joke,” she laughs.
Lydia’s overnight fame was the result of her beautiful version of Adele’s hit song, which she filmed and uploaded to a popular Korean music website, from where it was then uploaded to YouTube and quickly gained popularity and appreciation across the world. Even Adele may have seen it.
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“There was a rumour going on through YouTube that said during one of her concerts Adele mentioned my cover video,” says Lydia. “Even though those rumours were unconfirmed, it was so exciting to think I might be on Adele’s radar.”
The avid fan admits she has never actually been to an Adele concert, despite her admiration for the singer.
“People ask me that a lot, but I don’t think she has actually ever come to Korea. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be a dream come true one day to see her perform live.”
Being part of a musical family from Seoul in South Korea, Lydia has been singing for as long as she can remember. Her parents have always encouraged her to pursue musical endeavours, and she attended the competitive Seoul Music High School.
She credits her outstanding English to the seven years she spent in New Zealand as a child, when she says she had the honour of being part of the Auckland Girls Choir.
The teenage vocalist says she has always hoped to have a career in music, but at the age of 18, when she did the Adele cover, fame was not foremost in her mind.
“It was just part of a school project,” she admits. “I was actually totally unaware of the attention the video was getting because I assumed it would only be passed around family and friends.”
Two weeks after the call from The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Lydia arrived in Los Angeles and sang Hello live on TV, with her mum proudly sitting in the audience. Within a few hours of being posted on the Ellen Facebook page it had received four million views and comments.
“I never thought of performing on TV as a realistic dream. To be perfectly honest, I had never thought this far ahead in my music career. The recognition I got from that one cover video was not something I could ever have imagined.”
Now, however, Lydia has learnt to dream big. She is determined that this experience will amount to more than just 15 minutes of fame and has set up a YouTube channel to show her fans that she is still singing and will continue to do so.
The now 19-year-old singer-songwriter says the Adele cover was a huge turning point in her music career. She released her debut single Blue in February. The song was written in Atlanta with a team of songwriters and producers, one of whom has worked with the likes of One Direction and Ed Sheeran.
“We spent the whole week together, from day to night, and wrote songs,” Lydia recalls.
“We all sat down in the studio and shared our stories. I told them my stories and what I would like to say through my music. Then the magic happened. And every one of those five writers helped me take my story to the next level.”
Blue is about a large blue birthmark Lydia was born with on the left side of her face. She had the birthmark removed after suffering from hurtful bullying because of it.
“Back then I couldn’t see how special that could have been, and that it is totally okay to be different. I know now that I could have embraced myself a little more. So [in the song] I wanted to say, accept yourself for who you are, embrace your sorrow and find the true beauty in it.”
Lydia is now preparing for the release of her second single, which she wrote with the help of producers and songwriters in London, and hopes to one day do an entire album.
“Before, I was just an ordinary student from an ordinary high school who majors in music. Then all of a sudden I was the girl that everyone was listening to,” she says.
The experience has changed her approach to songwriting and performing.
“I have always admired Adele. I love her songs, her voice, and how genuine she sounds. It’s really inspired me and it’s wonderful to think that I might be able to succeed in this industry like she has.”
She also jokes about pursuing a musical project with her brother, who she says is a brilliant singer.
At 19, Lydia is the same age Adele was when she was working on her debut album, which catapulted her to worldwide success. Little did the singing superstar know that nine years later her music would pave the way for another young aspiring artist to follow in her footsteps.
But Lydia says it is not just her own success she is dreaming of.
“I know now that I too can inspire others through my music and send positive messages that influence people in the right way.”
WATCH: Lydia Lee performs Adele's Hello