“I don’t even know what to tell you,” says Lauren Tsai. She’s just been asked about the online reactions to her time on “Terrace House: Aloha State,” Netflix’s Hawaii spinoff of “Terrace House,” a Japanese reality series that follows a group of young men and women who share a house.
The concept might sound similar to MTV’s “Real World” franchise, but the execution is totally different. In “Terrace House,” drama (and the inebriation that generally causes it) is kept to a minimum, and a group of comedians who analyze the roommates’ behaviors takes the place of the infamous confessional room. Cast members are focused on finding either a job or a partner, and the plot of any given episode is as mundane as watching two people cook a meal together. Sound boring? It’s actually quite addictive.
Tsai, 19, had already been living in Hawaii for more than a decade when she found out about the Netflix version. She was signed to a small talent agency that shared the casting flyer on its Facebook page. “[The flyer] basically said, ‘New reality TV show looking for young, cool, single people ages 18 to 30.’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m single,’ [and] I was on a gap year at that time, so I felt like I might as well make the most of it,” she recalls.
At first, she didn’t know the show was Japanese, since casting was done in English. “They started to ask me do I speak Japanese and [about] my ability [she’s self-taught], and that’s when they told me it was a Japanese reality TV show,” she says. “I was telling a couple of my friends and someone’s like, ‘That sounds a lot like Terrace House.’ I was like, ‘No it can’t be.’” Turns out, it was.
Tsai stayed on the show for four months, which was long enough to bond with her housemates while also feel the stress of production. Her modeling background had prepared her to be in front of the camera, but she wasn’t ready for all that comes with starring on an international reality show.
“I thought a couple people in Japan were gonna watch it, maybe some kids here were gonna tune into ‘Terrace House,’ but it was crazy,” she says. “Fader covered it, The New York Times covered it, everyone was writing something about it and I was like, oh my God.”
She quickly realized that a platform that large did, in fact, have a silver lining. Sure, she got her fair share of online hate, but as her social media following grew, people started to take note of her illustrations.
In late November, Tsai unveiled a Christmas-themed installation she created for Starbucks Japan’s Harajuku B-Side location. Now, she’s working on publishing her sketchbook and showing a solo exhibit in Tokyo.
“I always felt embarrassed to say I’m an artist because there’s a lot of negative connotation to saying that nowadays as a Millennial,” she says. “People thought it was weird growing up that I liked video games, fantasy, anime. Now everyone’s giving me a good response.”
She says sketching helps her stay calm throughout her hectic modeling schedule. Even if she has to be on set for half the day, she finds time — when she’s getting her makeup done, on the airplane — to draw. “That was how I stayed sane this year, was with my sketchbook,” she says.
She hints that there are a few prospects in the fashion realm for this year, though she can’t go into detail yet. In the meantime, she’s starting to experiment with her own style, venturing away from the all-black dress code she once swore by.
“I never thought that looking a certain way visually was that important because I was always into drawing and wearing black clothes and that was it,” she says. “Now I’m realizing that when someone feels good about what they’re wearing and they feel excited about their makeup or their hair, it just changes your attitude. I love that there’s no definition of what it is that’s gonna make someone feel empowered.”
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