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American drop-out becomes a singing sensation in China

American Jonny Long is a popular online star in China.

American Jonny Long is a popular online star in China.

BORN and raised in Detroit, the United States, Jonny Long would not have imagined in his wildest dreams that the path he was about to take as a college drop-out would lead to such success. 

With a strong presence on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, and over 80,000 subscribers on YY Live, a popular live-streaming website in China, Long has slowly but surely made his mark on the Chinese entertainment industry.

Long is now based in Guangzhou, southern China’s Guangdong Province. By his own account, his life back at home was fairly normal. One thing he remembers is growing up around music.

“My dad always had tons of different instruments around the house and I just figured it was normal that he could play all of them,” he says. 

Long picked up his musical talents from his dad, becoming a self-taught musician at a very early age. He studied at Central Michigan University, where he majored in computer science. 

But after studying for two years, he quickly became disillusioned by the idea of office life, and began looking for something different. Then a life-changing moment came when he met a group of people going to China. He decided to join them.

“I knew absolutely nothing about China,” Long admits. 

It was only supposed to be a year out, but soon after arriving in Guangzhou, he developed a quick connection with the city and its people. And then, what was originally supposed to be a year off turned into two. After that he decided to make China his new home.

“I was pretty unsatisfied in school,” Long says, reflecting on the decision of dropping his undergraduate studies and leaving behind life in America. But he never looked back.

Dropping out of college is a big deal, especially in the US, where most people believe an undergraduate degree is required for a successful career. Asked about how his friends and family reacted to the decision, he says: “It wasn’t as big a deal as it sounds.” 

He didn’t seem to be concerned with other peoples’ reactions or opinions, then or even now. “I guess I didn’t really tell people about the decision, it just kind of happened,” he says.

When talking about what his life could have looked like if he had stayed in the US and finished his studies, Long says there was no option, especially after experiencing life in China. He couldn’t see himself living and working in an office.

After deciding to make the move permanent, Long then began pursuing his acting and singing career. “I didn’t start down this road in earnest until I was here for about a year,” he says. 

His first job was in a hotel bar, singing and playing guitar for the resident band. “I was singing around 50 songs every night, six nights a week. After about two months I was totally burned out.” 

After a trip home to the US to get his tonsils out, he finally realized it was time to seriously pursue a career as an independent artist. And he started on the bottom rung of the ladder — busking on the streets. But, despite the early toil at the beginning of his career, it has finally taken off, thanks to his social media presence.

“The Internet plays a huge role in what I do now,” he admits. “When I was busking on the streets, instead of asking for money I would give my name card to people, which also had my Weibo account on it.” 

This strategy paid in off in the long run, and it was through his Weibo account that he started to gain popularity. Gigs and other performing opportunities soon fell in his lap. 

Long has been able to find success in his acting career as well. Appearances have been made on shows like “Come Sing with Me,” “Guangzhou Running Man” and many others. 

Although he sees himself moving to Beijing or Shanghai in the future, the singer-songwriter is very happy staying in Guangzhou. “I have so many friends here, it’s like home to me.”

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