So Glenn, where are you from? Tell us about what do you do.
I was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. My parents are from the Philippines. I grew up in a
small rural Louisiana town called Olla. It was so small it only had one stop light, and it
was a blinking red light. We didn’t have a McDonald’s. We had a Burger Barn instead.
Our only grocery store in the town was the Piggly Wiggly. I lived in Louisiana for
elementary school, high school, college, medical school, and for my emergency
medicine training. I did travel to California and Italy to study singing and acting. I have
travelled around the world for performances and for fun. Now, I am based in Los
Angeles where I work simultaneously as a singer, actor and ER doctor.
What made you decide to pursue two careers in different fields?
During the first part of my life, I was really following the path of being a doctor and the
path of being a performer pretty haphazardly. I was being pulled toward the medical
side initially because my mom is a wonderful doctor. I was being pulled toward singing
and acting, because I always felt a sense of magic when watching TV and movies. Now,
I like being a doctor because I feel a deep sense of fulfillment when I can use my talents
to help other people. And I love singing and acting to provide a sense of escape for my
myself and my audiences from the ugliness of every day life.
What has your experience been in the ER versus on the stage and at auditions?
They are complete opposites. I remember once a nurse asking me before a trauma
case was about to arrive in the ER bay, “Do you get nervous before a trauma comes
in?” I realized that I get more nervous before auditions than before I see a trauma case
— I feel that’s a sign of a good ER doctor. I’ve found that the best ER doctors are the
ones that stay calm and function well no matter what is coming through the door. I’ve
learned that the nervousness that comes before auditions or performances is natural.
Part of it is that I am so excited to perform.
Do you feel you are judged based on your ethnicity? If so, how do those
judgements differ between your two fields?
I’m sure I am judged to some degree on my ethnicity. From a scientific and biologic
perspective, our bodies are primed to gather information based on someone’s looks, but
the important fact that separates us from un-evolved animals is that we have the power
to not cast illogical judgements based on that information. My ethnicity and looks matter
so much less in the hospital setting. That’s one great bonus of working as a doctor. It’s
such relief to not have to have my hair, clothes, and skin perfect looking after an intense
day of filming or singing on stage. I can just walk into the ER with my scrubs on without
having to worry about bad camera angles or if my singing voice is in prime condition.
When I am in the ER, I do sometimes create some ethnicity confusion. My last name is
Fernandez, I speak Spanish to some of my patients, and I apparently can pass for
several different ethnic groups - but in the ER, that all really doesn’t matter as long as
I’m saving lives.
My ethnicity as a singer and actor, however, is a whole other story. I feel that my
presence in the entertainment industry as a Filipino-American is my own form of
activism. Every time I just show up to a performance or an industry event, I feel like I am
sending a social message that Asians do exist in the entertainment industry and we
have stories that need to be told. I am sending a message to audiences, producers and
directors that if you want to tell stories about the people of the world, you need to look
around and see all the different colors that actually populate this world. For example,
when I was discussing the design of my new album cover with one of my other actor/
singer friends Miki Yamashita, she made sure to strongly express that the artwork must
include my face. After some thought, I realized that was very appropriate — not only
because it is appropriate for that genre of album, but also I feel a responsibility to show
people that operatic music sometimes comes from people that look like me.
How would you describe your experience as a Filipino man - in general, and in
regards to your fields? How do you feel this affects your career?
Since I grew up in Louisiana - not around very many Asians, not around very many
doctors, not around very many singers, not around very many actors - basically, I just
feel like an odd-man-out most of the time. I’ve had many experiences large and small
throughout my life where I felt that I was different in some way. Sometimes these
experiences are bad; sometimes these experiences were good. But I think these all
added up in my mind to the idea, that I don’t really fit into a clean category. I’m sure that
there are some casting directors and producers that would love to pin me into certain
roles because of my look, behavior and race - and that’s frustrating if it doesn’t match
with my own sense of identity. BUT, I’ve met some directors and producers who love
that I’m so different. They find my combination of traits cool, interesting, and new. So I
try to interact with the people who see my characteristics as assets and not limitations.
On the flip side, are there any perks or privileges you think you’ve experienced
being male/Filipino/etc. in your career fields?
I’ve noticed all of the best roles and opportunities I’ve gotten in Los Angeles are BECAUSE I didn’t try to hide aspects of
my identity - not because I was trying to hide it.
You mentioned you didn't grow up around many Asians in Louisiana. What was it like moving to southern California, a place where there are many different kinds of people and a higher percentage of Asians?
When I moved to Los Angeles the last time, I was surprised by how diverse the community is. From film and TV, you get the impression that LA is not very diverse at all. Realizing the truth was surprising and inspiring. It was also confusing. I wondered how Hollywood could be a center for story telling for the entire nation and yet it does not reflect the people that actually live the in the area as well as it could.
When you say you feel like an "odd-man-out" - do you feel that way in the Asian community as well as more broadly?
Yes, when I say that I feel like an odd duck that does encompass some instances when I don't feel like completely fit in to the Asian community at times. Sometimes that's because of cultural elements like my food preferences. I'm not that big into Filipino food. Sometimes it's because I don't speak the language completely. At first I thought that being an actor and musician was unusual in the Asian community.
But after living and working in LA, I realize that there are tons of us.
And that's a cool thing.
Glenn Fernandez is an LA based singer, actor, and ER doctor (in that order).
His new album "Ave Maria" is available now at THEGlennFernandez.com and on iTunes.
Twitter, Instagram @TenorGlenn