This interview is a little different from what I normally do, but since she’s just as talented as my previous interview subjects. I wanted to speak to someone whose online work I’ve admired for a long time. My newest interview subject, Karen Eng, got her start making videos on YouTube. In the years since she first started singing on YouTube, she has also become a noted Instagram model, and she continues to sing on SingSnap. Like Becky LeBeau, she has great musical talent and doesn’t look her age at all. Like Spice Williams-Crosby, she has a strongly felt set of personal beliefs that guide her work. Karen Eng is her own woman, though, and we discussed her history of online excellence on Tuesday, July 16th. I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.
Say hello to Karen Eng!
Johnny: Hello, Karen.
Karen: Hi! How are you?
Johnny: I’m doing good. Thank you for agreeing to do this.
Karen: Of course.
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go.
Karen: Okay. I’m ready.
Johnny: I’d like to start with this question: You came of age in the 1980s. What are your favorite memories of that decade?
Karen: I used to love to go to the dance clubs. All the great songs, Billy Idol, Loverboy, Duran Duran…All those fantastic songs being played by the DJs. Just getting out there on the dance floor, and just dancing and having a blast…
Johnny: Cool. I’ll be getting into questions about your most recent modeling later, but I’ve seen pictures of you bodybuilding. What were your most memorable experiences in that field?
Karen: To be honest, I was a little bit too curvy for my tastes. I know curvy’s in now, but back in the 90s, it wasn’t. I was really looking for a program that could help me to lose weight, and I just happened to find Body For Life from Bill Phillips. I need to back a bit, though. As a child, I was an athlete. I did all kinds of sports. I did softball. I was a diver. I was on the swim team. I was a gymnast, and I even did ballet and tap. Every sport a kid could be in, my mom got me into. I was good at it, and I was always athletic, but then when I got older, I started gaining a little weight in the 90s. I found out I had a low thyroid, so my weight went up, and I tried to find a program. I tried Body For Life by Bill Phillips, and it worked. It literally worked in three months. I started out with a normal body, and three months later, I had muscles. That program really did work, but anyway, that started my evolution of fitness. When I learned all the principles Bill Phillips taught, it just helped me with staying in shape, even until now. It really helped. A lot of his principles I still follow to this day.
Johnny: That’s fantastic. It really works.
Karen: Oh, yeah. You know what, Johnny? It’s not just the bodybuilding portion of it. It’s the mind portion of it. He believes you have to have a strong mind as well.
Johnny: Alright. To go to my next question: Before you became an online entertainer, did you ever do any work as an extra on movie or TV projects?
Karen: No. I was raised in San Antonio, Texas, so I don’t feel like I had very many opportunities being in San Antonio. I really don’t. I’ll be honest with you. I always had wished and dreamed about being in California, always. I always felt like California was where my heart and body (laughing) should have been. I just feel like that’s where I should have been.
Johnny: Well, I definitely think you’re a wonderful entertainer, and that leads me to how my first exposure to you came via your videos on YouTube. What was the inspiration to start performing on there?
Karen: Oh, gosh. This is funny, Johnny. I lived in a little town in Georgia. I was just bored, and I had just learned about computers. I just went on there one day, grabbed my little computer mic, a tiny, tiny, little computer mic, and on a whim, I just did an acapella version of The Doors’ “Light My Fire”. Lo and behold, I got a couple of comments, and that, like, totally freaked me out. I was like, “What?”. That was cheesy, but they liked it. That’s how I got started. A couple of people commented on my YouTube site. I just got it up on a whim. I got a couple of comments, and then I started posting more videos. I started singing more, and then I learned how to do a stereo mix with my computer. I did this all by myself. Nobody knew how to do it that was around me, so I had to learn, all by myself, how to take a karaoke track and put it with my voice, so that’s how it all started.
Johnny: …And I think you’ve done a fantastic job with your singing.
Karen: Thank you.
Johnny: No problem. In several of your early videos, you used some accents. One St. Patrick’s Day video saw you speaking in an Irish brogue, while you had a more pronounced Southern accent in a video where you answered questions in the style of MySpace surveys. Have you considered returning to accents for future videos?
Karen: Yeah, I think it would be great. I love acting, and I actually like making people laugh. I think people don’t realize I’m actually kind of silly. I’m actually almost kind of nerdy, silly and very funny in real life. That’s just my personality. I like to be smiling and laughing most of the time. That’s just who I am. Most people probably don’t know that about me, but maybe some people can pick up on that.
Johnny: Well, I think that’s a great outlook to have. I’d now like to ask about some of the songs you covered, starting with the video that first introduced me to you and made a tremendous impression on me, your cover of Sheena Easton’s James Bond theme “For Your Eyes Only”. A cover I later posted to my YouTube channel, and one of the most consistently popular videos I’ve posted, what made that song so special to you?
Karen: I am a James Bond fanatic. I have seen every James Bond flick, and I love all of the theme songs. I think they’re all fabulous, but with her, I just thought my voice lent itself to that. I thought her vocals were within my range, so it came natural for me. When something comes natural, I’ll just sing it if I feel like I can do it.
Johnny: Well, you did a magnificent job with it.
Karen: Thank you, Johnny.
Johnny: That was the video that made me think I wanted to get to know more about you, and I actually sent you the Facebook friend request around that time.
Karen: Wow! Fantastic.
Johnny: Yeah, but it’s not about me. It’s about you, so another movie song cover that impressed me was your cover of Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic” from the Xanadu soundtrack. With your athletic ability, if you had the room and space to do so, do you think you could sing “Magic” while roller-skating, or would it be difficult to do?
Karen: It’s funny you ask that, Johnny. I used to go roller-skating as a kid. Every weekend, my mother would drop me off, and back in the 70s…Uh-oh, I’m aging myself (laughing). Back in the 70s, every weekend I would go roller-skating, so I’m actually really good at roller-skating. I’m really good. I took lessons and everything, so yes, it would be something I definitely could do.
Johnny: Fantastic, and I hope you get the opportunity. Staying with your movie song covers, I particularly enjoy your renditions of “Over The Rainbow”. The cover you did in 2010 while dressed as Dorothy was particularly memorable for me, as it was one of the things that helped me through my feelings about my mother’s death around that time. What do you think makes “Over The Rainbow” such a powerful song?
Karen: I just got chills as you asked that. That song is amazing in that it helps you to dream of things that could be better, like a better life, a better existence. When I sing, I’m not devoid of feelings. I feel every lyric. In fact, let me pull up the lyrics. When I sing the parts, “Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. If birds fly over the rainbow, why, then oh, why, can’t I?” and “The dreams that you DARE to dream really do come true”, I really believe that we have to dream. We have to go up to the sky and dream that big. Just go up, and our dreams can be that big. Fly. Go for it. I’m so glad that it did something for you. Thank you.
Johnny: No problem. I mean, you’re a fantastic and versatile singer. That does lead me to my next question: Anybody who has seen your videos on YouTube knows that you’re a huge fan of The Doors and their lead singer, the late Jim Morrison, as you’ve covered quite a few of their songs. What is it about The Doors and Jim Morrison that made you such a fan of their work?
Karen: Well, I’ve got another story there for you. I went to a party when I was, like, 17. In this apartment, somebody put on a Doors album. I think it was the song “Riders On The Storm”, and as soon as I heard the song, I stopped in my tracks in the apartment. It was magical, the sound of the rain coming down when the song first starts. It was just amazing to me, and then I looked at the album cover and I saw Jim on there, and it was instant love. I just fell in love, and it inspired me. Right there, I was hooked. Back then, we had music stores that you could walk into, right?
Karen: I think I picked up a cassette tape because back then, in your car, you had cassette decks. I popped it in, and then I just started singing with Jim all the time. All the time (laughing). That was the evolution of that. I just fell in love with Jim. As soon as I saw Jim on the album cover, I was like, “Oh my gosh. I like his hair. I like his face. I like his voice”. It was incredible. The Doors…Their musicality was just off the charts, really. That’s how it started, and then I started trying to sing like a female version of Jim.
Johnny: You’ve done a magnificent job with his music.
Karen: Well, thank you.
Johnny: In addition to your covers, you’ve written several original songs as well, songs with a spiritual feel top them. One of them is called “There’s One Life”. What was the inspiration behind that song?
Karen: Well, I just feel like we have this life, and if we have the dreams, we really should go for it and not be afraid. Maybe you’ve heard me talk about this, but I was a little bit shy, believe it or not. People will say, “Oh, you’re not shy”, but I was. I think, unfortunately, my shyness kept me from doing things when I was even younger, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve broken out of my shell, and I’m not as shy with people anymore. I’m going for it because I know this is one life, and you’ve got to do it. If you don’t do it now, then it will never happen. That’s what that song is to me.
Johnny: Cool. Another one of your original songs is “Just Like An Eagle”. If you could have anybody cover that song, who would you like to have perform it?
Karen: Olivia Newton-John. Another person I would love to hear possibly sing that song is Barbra Streisand.
Johnny: I could definitely see her singing that. You do have a talent for songwriting. Have you ever pitched your music to other performers?
Karen: I never have done it. I did copyright my original songs with the Library Of Congress, but I’ve never actually become an ASCAP member and pitched a song. No, I haven’t done that.
Johnny: Well, I hope you have the chance to do so someday because you do have a talent.
Karen: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.
Johnny: You wrote lyrics for an instrumental from the SingSnap Band, the musicians for a website where many of your more recent covers have been, creating the song “Woman Of Strength” When you created the lyrics, were you thinking of any specific women you admire, or were the lyrics designed more as a celebration of womanhood in general?
Karen: I just feel that religious propaganda has told people that women are the weaker sex! It is just something that has been passed down through the generations to put a power hold on women! So I wrote this song to empower women to not buy into the religious propaganda passed down to us through the years….
Johnny: To go back to your covers, you’re known for channeling Julie Andrews’ singing voice quite well. How did that pitch-perfect channeling develop?
Karen: As a kid, my mother would buy me lots of little music tapes for Christmas. I would sing with Donny Osmond, for example, and then there was Julie Andrews and all of her movies which had those soundtracks you would pop into your tape recorder. I would sit there with Julie Andrews and just sing Mary Poppins songs and all that. It just happened. I hear vocals, and I can mimic certain voices. Some of my voices come pretty close, and I think Julie Andrews is my best impression. Olivia Newton-John would be my second best, but Julie Andrews is definitely my first.
Johnny: I can definitely agree with that. You do a magnificent job with her stylings, and another voice you channel quite well is Marilyn Monroe, so have you ever sung “Happy Birthday To You” to friends using her voice?
Karen: Yes. I did do that in a YouTube video for somebody’s birthday. I forgot about Marilyn. I think she’s number three (laughing). She would have to be my third-best impression, definitely. Marilyn…There’s just something. I don’t know what it is, but when I look at her, I feel like she’s just a best friend or a sister. I just feel something when I listen to her talk or watch her. I just feel so much commonality when I look at her. It’s just amazing. I don’t look like her very much, but me and her could probably be sisters.
Johnny: I can definitely see that. Have you ever considered switching between your Julie Andrews and Marilyn Monroe voices to cover Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer’s “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”.
Karen: Oh, I never thought about that, but that would be hilarious. Yeah, wow (laughing). I’m going to have to write that down.
Johnny: Yeah, I think that would be pretty interesting.
Karen: I’m writing that down right now. Julie Andrews and Marilyn. That is so cool. Great idea, Johnny (laughing).
Johnny: No problem. As I first came to know you via YouTube, what’s your take on what the site has become since it first launched in the mid-00s?
Karen: Yeah. I kind of think Google made YouTube more impersonal. That’s why we all had a fantastic time initially. It was like a family almost. The way it was originally set up for years…The creators set it up so brilliantly that it was like a family. Once Google took over, it really got so commercial. I have lots of friends who have said they won’t come back. They just didn’t like that commercial feel, and I think it took the personal, family feeling away. I truly believe that. When everybody was thinking more about business and making money instead of just enjoying themselves, and sharing their gifts without having to think of money or anything, that was the difference to me. Too much business now, and not enough heart…
Johnny: Yeah, it is disappointing, but I know you’re still working on SingSnap and doing great work there.
Karen: Yeah, definitely. SingSnap is just a great place for singers to just practice, and there’s a lot of good support over there. SingSnap was started by a guy from Canada. He sings himself, and that’s why he started this site. He knew that people liked to sing and practice, and that’s why he started the site. It’s a community of singers everywhere. Retired singers who used to sing professionally go over there just to keep their chops warmed up. It’s a fun community.
Johnny: Cool. To go to a different facet of your work, a recent development you’ve taken has been a return to modeling after having done so in your younger years. What led you back to modeling?
Karen: Well, I am 5′ 4”, so I never really was a model, but I did take photos, although not professionally. I just did it on a whim. As you’re learning about me, Johnny, I do things on a whim. I just posted my photo on Instagram, and lo and behold, people liked my photos. I was like, “Okay, this is great. What should I post next?”. Now I’m up to almost 90,000 followers. I’m like, “Wow, this is really cool”. It’s just something fun with the actual photography aspect of it. The lighting, the outfits…I think you know me by now. I’m a clotheshorse. I love beautiful things. I love feminine outfits. I just love experimenting with photos now. It’s my newest project. It’s so much fun.
Johnny: Well, I think you’re a fantastic model, and that leads to my next question. Which designers would you most like to work with if you had the chance to?
Karen: I actually do like Calvin Klein, some of his dresses and clothing. Liz Claiborne is nice.
Johnny: Alright. To my next question: If I may be so bold, you can really rock a bikini, as shown in several of your Instagram pictures. What advice would you offer to people who want to get in the same shape you are?
Karen: Body For Life. I always tell people Body For Life, and I recommend it to everybody. What I like about it, Johnny, is the mental aspect of it. The creator says you need to give your mind light as well. It’s a body-mind-spirit connection that you have in order to get fit. It’s all connected, and that’s what I love about Bill Phillips. He doesn’t neglect the mind in his program.
Johnny: It’s good to have it all together, and you certainly do. Speaking of which: Baby Boomers, whether they’re on the hippie end of things and born in the late 1940s, or on the BoomXer side of things like yourself and others born in the early 1960s, really care about their appearance and look years, or even decades, younger than they are. Why do you think that is?
Karen: I just think that we all have learned a lot of useful information. There’s nutritional supplements. We’re discovering ways to make ourselves look better. For instance, I haven’t had any surgery at this time, not even Botox. Nothing. There are products out now that we use that can sustain our looks. I’m also a cosmetologist. I used to cut hair and do skin-care and makeup when I was in my 20s. I do have an expertise in that kind of thing. Going under the knife is very expensive, and it also has risks involved. I’m a chicken (laughing), so I just don’t want to do it. Some of these ladies? Ooh, all these surgeries would scare me so bad (laughing), so I research ways that people can look good naturally, for longer, without having to go under the knife.
Johnny: With your Instagram modeling, what’s been the most surprising, in a positive way, modeling offer that has come your way?
Karen: I really loved being asked to model for the Flat Tummy Tea Company! They usually ask very young women to model for them. So I am honored to be an older ambassador for their company. And yes, I really drink it and love it very much!
Johnny: I now come to my final question: To jump back to music, if you were to record a professional album, which musicians would you most like to work with?
Karen: I would like to work with The Doors’ John Densmore and Robby Krieger. John can be my drummer. Robby can be my guitar player, and we’ll have to find a keyboardist, I guess (laughing). Yeah. That would be really cool.
Johnny: That would be fabulous, and I would have to say this whole interview has been fabulous. I would like to thank you again for taking the time out of your schedule to do this. To me, your talent is the equal of the many talents I’ve been lucky enough to interview over the years. You’re just as talented a singer, just as gorgeous a beauty, and just as great with the acting as the many talents I’ve been lucky enough to speak to, and I’m glad to have added you to the list.
Karen: Thank you, Johnny. Wow, that’s a cool interview. Fantastic. Thank you so much.
Johnny: Oh, you’re very welcome.
Karen: Thank you, Johnny. Have a fabulous day. This has been a blast.
Johnny: I’m honored to speak to you, and I’ll definitely be in touch, whether on Facebook or the phone, and I hope you have a fantastic afternoon.
Karen: You have a blessed day. Thank you so much.
Johnny: You’re very welcome, Karen. You, too.
I would like to thank Karen Eng for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. For more about Karen Eng’s life and work, check out her Facebook fan page, her Instagram page, and her Patreon page.
Stay tuned as I’ll be returning to the Flashback Interviews soon for conversations with, among others, the return of actress and artist Ginger Lynn, actor/writer Larry Hankin, singer Josie Cotton, and actresses Mindi Miller and Ann Jillian. Thanks as always for reading, and have a fantastic day, everybody.