Vietnam Internet idol

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 Truong Quynh Anh (L) and Elly Tran (R) in the first Vietnamese 3D film Bong ma hoc duong (Ghost in school). Both Internet stars have switched from Internet stardom to the world of showbiz.

The Internet limelight has become Vietnam's fastest route to fame. No one here is making a Justin Bieber-sized living off of their online stardom, but people are developing careers.

This new celebrity niche is filled with two kinds of stars.

There are the sexy teen singers who have been sucked into a growing online media machine, and freelance talents, who are winning fans with their own home-grown talent.

Fame fatale

Local teen singers usually launch their careers by whipping up a fan base on social networking sites (everything from YouTube to Zing). The savvier among them leverage the attention into promotional contracts and even careers.

Indeed, Vietnam is now home to those who exclusively publish and manage online artists.

Despite the emergence of middlemen, Khanh Hung, a reporter from Yeah1! entertainment magazine says that Internet fame here is still easy-come, easy-go. He cited Elly Tran as a leading example of the new trend.

"A few photos emerged showing [Elly's] sensual curves and she shot into instant limelight," says Hung.

"Despite her superficial appeal, she is well-known not only in Vietnam but also in China and Korea. Now she has become an actress, model and expects to be considered a real "˜artist'," he said

For Hung, Tran's "career" has not been particularly praiseworthy.

"But it is obviously effective," he said.

Hung argues that the current army of teen stars actually prefer Internet fame to developing skills or talent.

These so-called stars woo teenagers with their good figures and puppy love songs. They usually start by being rated as "hot" by online gawkers.

Before long, they land contracts with websites who produce their music.

They also get managers who help handle their images and make sure their sites provide new constant content - pictures, daily news and new songs.

What goes up, must come down These stars are also easy prey for scandals.

Truong Quynh Anh, 21, started releasing online songs last year.

Before long, she had entered into contract with pop-star turned manager Thanh Thao. Anh was Thao's first find.

Thao, 33, has made a career of plucking tender flowers off the internet and promoting them. Her company now manages five exclusive singers.

When Anh broke up with Thao to pursue her own singing career, rumor spread that Thao hounded the girl and her family in an effort to prevent her career from taking off.

Thao denied the rumors and alleged that Anh's new manager had instigated the scandal to grab headlines.

In any case, it's clear from the kerfuffle that Quynh Anh had crossed from the semi-anonymous innocence of internet stardom to the sordid world of television and music.

Making the jump

There are those who don't merely rely on looks to draw the attention of internet fans.

Don Nguyen, whose real name is Nguyen Duc Chung, has studied business in the US for six years. During his time abroad, he never tired of following the misadventures of the country's colorful pop icons.

Before long, he was dressing in wigs, and mimicking the stars on a webcam in his room. Nguyen spent his free time mimicking his favorite performers, thousands of miles from home. His YouTube posts attracted hundreds of thousand page-views and he has since become a popular Internet comic.

At first, Nguyen claimed the clips were just something he did in his spare time. But, when he returned home, last year, his pastime became a career.

Thanh Loc, a celebrated Vietnamese theatrical performer, had been parroted by Nguyen in a bawdy 30-minute imitation.

The actor sought out his mimic and the two released an online comedy clip together that went viral. Nguyen found himself fielding major media offers. He took a role in a TV series and his career took off.

Henry Hieu, a friend of Loc's, says Don Nguyen has a gift, but he still needs more time to be challenged and trained.

"Making people laugh by imitating others cannot be called art, it is just a skill," Hieu says. "Don Nguyen has to create his own work. Otherwise, he will just be considered a copycat and may quickly fade away."

Despite the criticism, Nguyen says the internet provided him with a chance to pursue his passion.

Young, gifted and hot

17-year-old Thai Trinh has made netizens go wild with her voice and cute looks

After posting homemade cover-song clips on YouTube early this year, seventeen year-old Thai Trinh has become the toast of Ho Chi Minh City.

Netizens went wild for the cute girl's voice and guitar skills.

Now, she can be seen playing at coffee lounges and bars all over town. The self-taught guitar player is a regular performer at Coocku Nest Cafe on Ho Xuan Huong Street.

Trinh, says she's still shocked with by her sudden fame. Singing is her passion, but she's trying to balance all the attention with her studies.

Doan Trang, a Vietnamese student studying in Australia became a big fan of Trinh by watching her online. While visiting home, she's managed to catch a few of her shows.

For Trang, the girl is proof that "the gap between the online world and reality could be bridged by real talented people," she said. "Fame can be anyone's."

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