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Does this K-Pop star go to the ESC for Germany?

Bleached Mecki hairstyle, a well-trained six-pack, which he usually presents under a crop top, cool dance moves and a friendly smile - this is how the singer and dancer Trong Hieu Nguyen, who as an artist simply goes under TRONG, presents himself in his videos on Social Media.

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Does this K-Pop star go to the ESC for Germany?

Bleached Mecki hairstyle, a well-trained six-pack, which he usually presents under a crop top, cool dance moves and a friendly smile - this is how the singer and dancer Trong Hieu Nguyen, who as an artist simply goes under TRONG, presents himself in his videos on Social Media. The 30-year-old has 244,000 followers on Instagram and 1.7 million on TikTok. Despite this, hardly anyone in Germany knows him. Most of his fans come from Vietnam, his parents' homeland. There, the native Bavarian won the Vietnamese equivalent of “Deutschland sucht den Superstar” in 2015 and has been a teen heartthrob as the “German Hot Boy” ever since.

Now Trong also wants to stir up the German pop industry and it's not that easy. "It's hard for Asian-looking artists like me to get a foothold here," reveals Trong. On March 3rd, a childhood dream finally comes true for him, he is the first German with Asian roots to compete in the preliminary round of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC for short) and opens with his song “Dare to be different” (Trust yourself differently to be) the program. It took eight years and six applications to finally get the chance to fight for the German candidacy at the ESC. Extremely stubborn.

The artist, who was born in 1992 as the son of Vietnamese immigrants in the Münnerstadt asylum camp in Bavaria, knows rejection all too well. "I grew up with rejection," he says. "But I've always been lucky to have people around me who believed in me." First of all, it's his parents and his older sister, with whom he lived in a very small space in the asylum camp until he was seven. The family of four had to share a room, his parents had not had a work permit for a long time and he played with toys that his father got for him at the flea market.

Despite this, he remembers his childhood as a happy time. “My parents gave me a lot of love. That was enough for me,” says Trong. He didn't know at the time that other people lived in their own apartments and even houses. "I was a loner at school." Because of his background, he was teased by the other children. "Three Chinese with the double bass" they sang after him on the way to school. And even after his family was finally allowed to leave the asylum camp and moved to Bad Kissingen, where his parents ran an Asian snack bar, the situation for Trong didn't get any easier.

"I never really knew where I belonged and often adapted to fit in," he reveals. However, most of them only ever saw him as an Asian. Trong then found a home in music. He joined the town's children's choir and danced to DJ Bobo and Britney Spears' videos at home in front of the TV. A discipline for which there is a competition in Germany. At the age of ten, Trong won the German championships in video clip dancing and was then invited to the Sat.1 show "Kleine, very big", where he met his idol Britney Spears.

"My appearance on Sat.1 ultimately saved us from deportation," says Trong, who was supposed to return to Vietnam with his family. Even though he was born in Germany and German is his mother tongue, he only speaks a few words of Vietnamese. He is still rooted in his Bavarian homeland. "Of course, pork knuckles and sauerbraten are my favorite dishes," he laughs. What other characteristics are typically German about him? "I'm very direct and always say what's on my mind."

But when his family was about to be deported, he was not only met with rejection. At the time, he was met with a wave of solidarity. Together with his friends, he was able to collect a total of 6,000 signatures in his home town and thus prevent deportation.

After that, besides dancing and singing, he concentrated on school and did his Abitur. "I wanted to have a solid basis in case my career as a singer didn't work out," says Trong. After graduating from high school, singing and dancing followed. But the breakthrough in the German pop landscape was a long time coming. Trong managed to do this without actually trying to do so in Vietnam, where he visited his family there as a tourist. At the time, his cousin registered him with the “Vietnam Idol”, where he started as an absolute outsider and the jury initially didn't think he had a chance because of his poor language skills.

The viewers liked Bayern's slightly naive manner and Trong won the talent show in 2015 with a majority of over 70 percent and became a superstar almost overnight. He quickly adapted to the country's customs and successfully worked on his music career. But he didn't want to promote it at any price and above all not at the price of self-abandonment. "I was supposed to fit a very specific male role model there, which I found toxic," says Trong.

The German-Vietnamese likes to be emotional, cries in public and he doesn't want to clearly define his sexual orientation. He wanted to wear cropped shirts – still unthinkable on Vietnamese television today – and above all he didn't want to be told who to love. An attitude that he owes to his tolerant and open home country, as he says.

As a couple, he and his then girlfriend, who was transgender, triggered a small revolution in the Vietnamese pop scene and thus demanded tolerance for love beyond heteronormative norms. An experience that Trong has long since made part of his mission. With his music and his stage performances, he likes to shake up gender boundaries and campaigns for inclusion. A message that has long since resonated with the LGBTQ community. But he didn't have it easy with this positioning. Only a year after winning the Vietnamese talent show, Trong parted ways with his management at the time due to creative differences. The offers and the concerts suddenly stopped and his career seemed over.

Giving up was out of the question for the singer. And what really spurred him on was Britney Spears' words about perseverance and believing in his talent. He produced his next music video on his own, borrowing the money from friends. In 2018 he made a comeback on the Vietnamese TV show Celebrity Battle. In the meantime, he has established himself in the Vietnamese pop industry with his message for more openness and diversity.

Expanding his career to Germany remains a dream that could now come true. After the sixth attempt, he can hope to be sent to Liverpool for Germany in the ESC race. The format has fascinated him since childhood. "I love the combination of dance and singing, paired with flashy stage outfits," he says. "I'll bring a bit of K-Pop flair to the stage with my performance." He wants to encourage the German-Vietnamese community and show everyone who is different that you can do it with perseverance and hard work. But he also wants to say thank you with his appearance and a possible victory: "For what Germany made possible for me."

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