2013 America's Got Talent Winner

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2013 America's Got Talent Winner: Kenichi Ebina

On September 18th, 2013, dancer Kenichi Ebina became the first Japanese performer to win NBC's hit TV show America's Got Talent! He won $1,000,000 and will get his own show in Las Vegas. The following is an excerpt of Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie's exclusive Interview with Kenichi. For the full-length interview see Tokyo Journal's Autumn Issue.

TJ: When did you first start to dance?
EBINA: I was attending an English Language Institute for international students who don't speak English. It was connected to the college I graduated from and since it was on a college campus, students in the English school were invited to college activities. I went to a dance party for welcoming freshman. At the time I wasn't big into dancing at all but I knew the steps for the "Running Man" that I had learned from some friends. At the party they made a circle and people started showing off. I had to go in and I did the Running Man. People started getting loud. At the time I thought they were loud because I wasn't good, but it was the opposite - they were cheering for me! After that, I started thinking dancing was fun. I started watching videos and copied their moves and steps.

TJ: So that was when you were in college. How old were you then?
EBINA: 20 or 21.

TJ: So you've been doing this for close to 20 years! You're a veteran! Do you teach?
EBINA: I used to teach at dance schools in the U.S. but I'm not good at it. My passion is performing and I was teaching because I couldn't make a living. I'm probably not a good teacher because I'm self-taught. For example, there's the down rhythm and the up rhythm but some people aren't good at picking up the up rhythm. At some point they start going to the down rhythm, and I didn't know the methodology for teaching this. My goal is directing and producing shows. I think my strength is putting the show together.

TJ: So when you were in New York, were you teaching the whole time?
EBINA: Actually the last couple of years, I didn't teach. I performed.

TJ: And you could make a living by performing? Where were you performing?
EBINA: I worked freelance. I travelled all over - the United States, Europe, Asia. For over half the year I was in New York and for the other half of the year I was somewhere else. In New York there was a night club called "The BOX". They produce high-class variety shows with many different kinds of performers. I performed there for over 5 years. Basically, whenever I'm in New York I like to perform there. A lot of celebrities came there for parties or to watch the shows and sometimes I got private bookings from the celebrities and guests. I did private parties and corporate events. Because of my style of performance, it was easy for me to fit in at many kinds of occasions. Some people are only good at a club, or a theater, or at festivals, but fortunately I can perform almost anywhere.

TJ: So you don’t need much space?
EBINA: It depends on how long I have to perform and what kind of piece they want me to do; I usually don’t need a gigantic stage and can adjust my performance to fit the request. I don’t consider myself a dancer but more of a performer who uses dance, mime, illusions and special effects with lights and audio.

TJ: Was being on “America’s Got Talent” stressful for you?
EBINA: Yes. After the first episode aired the exposure was huge. I got a lot of compliments, messages and enquiries after that, which was a good thing. However, everyone’s expectations were very high. After my first performance, I thought the response was too much and they overvalued my ability.

TJ:What was the most difficult part of the process for you?
EBINA: Coming up with the moves, because I did my best moves in the first episode! I tried to keep my signature move so people would recognize it so that if they see another dancer do it, they’ll think of me - like Michael Jackson when he did the moonwalk.

TJ:You have already won “America’s Got Talent”, do you have any other dreams you would like to fulf ill?
EBINA: I’d like to take my one-man show around the world. I want to build a market for my business in Japan too and travel back and forth. I’d like to have a show touring the world; In places like Las Vegas and New York I’d like to perform for extended periods of time. Not permanent residential shows, but shows for one or two months. I’d also like to produce or direct shows with other performers who can do what I cannot. I’m not a great dancer and not capable of doing outrageous physical things.

TJ:But I’ve seen you dance, and you do some outrageous physical stuff!
EBINA: The one move you’re probably talking about is where I go all the way down to the floor and then get back up without using my arms. That’s the only outrageous physical move that I created.

TJ:Can you teach that?
EBINA: As I mentioned before, I’m not a good teacher, but I suppose there are some tips I could share. For example, try not to lift your heels off the floor. Try to keep your heels in the same spot and move your upper body towards that spot. Actually, it’s not as hard as it looks. I think I’m good at making things look harder than they are.

TJ:How did you feel when you won “America’s Got Talent”?
EBINA:I felt surprised, happy, guilty and wonderful!

TJ:What will you do with the $1 million prize money?
EBINA:I don’t know yet. Basically it’s an annuity and it’ll be paid over 40 years. There is lump sum option, but in that case, a third party provider would take more than half and then I would have to pay tax after that, so I’d probably end up with $250,000. It’s up to my wife.

TJ:English has obviously helped your career. How important is it for Japanese to learn English?
EBINA:English is not only important for Japanese but also very helpful for anyone if they want to work globally! tj



Full exclusive interview with Kenichi Ebina coming soon in the Autumn Issue of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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