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Singer Eric Nam talks touring, representation, and what he loves about Atlanta

The Atlanta native says performing in his hometown is always an "emotional rollercoaster."

ATLANTA — K-Pop, or Korean Pop, has become an international music genre and one of the brightest stars was born and raised in Georgia.

11Alive's Karys Belger was able to catch up with Eric Nam, an American singer and songwriter of Korean descent who found fame in South Korea's music scene. Nam has been honored by Forbes "30 Under 30 Asia" list and YouTube Music's Global Trending Artist on the Rise.

Before the honorifics and success, he said growing up in metro Atlanta with his parents and two brothers was pretty typical. 

"I grew up playing soccer and my mom forced me to play instruments and I didn't necessarily love. And the focus was to study hard," he said.

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One thing Nam did love was singing, but he took a small detour before getting his big break.

"I went to Boston College. I graduated with honors and I had a job at Deloitte doing consulting. And so that was kind of my outlook on life. But at a certain point, I was like, 'You know what? I've done everything that you're supposed to do'," he said.

His opportunity came when he was scouted by a talent show in South Korea. It turned out to be the opportunity he had hoped for -- and one that would change the trajectory of his career forever.

 "I was like, 'You know what? Let's just try it. The worst thing is like, I go and I get dropped. But hey, I got a free trip to Korea,'" he said. "And when I got there, I placed in the top five."

He was initially reluctant to move forward, but his friends and mentors convinced him to take the chance. That was in 2012. Over the years, Nam got into hosting as well as singing and expanded his brand beyond the music industry.

Along with his younger brothers Eddie and Brian, he started a podcast platform called DIVE Studios giving K-Pop stars and musicians somewhere to host their own shows or speak about their experience. Most recently, he launched a wellness app with his siblings called Mindset. 

In December 2021, Nam announced he was taking a break from his podcast to focus on his music. The 33-year-old singer recently released an album, "There and Back Again." He's currently in the middle of a world tour, with a sold-out show scheduled for his hometown.

It's something Nam says he didn't always realize was a possibility, especially because his role models in the realm of music were extremely limited. 

"I never saw an Asian person doing music growing up and to be able to be on stage in Atlanta, at Music Midtown or at the Tabernacle or in this case, we're playing The Eastern for the first time. It's really exciting," he said.

The tour and the album are Nam's first as an independent artist. He says the project came with a lot of responsibility, but also a great deal of creative freedom. 

"It's kind of all over the place lyrically, also sometimes sonically," he said. "The songs can be -- they're somehow cohesive, but also very different for in many ways."

Despite traveling and performing for audiences across the globe, Nam tells 11Alive, performing in Atlanta is a special experience.

"Atlanta show is always a very emotional rollercoaster for me, but always I have friends and family there and obviously my fans to support me," he said.

It's not all work when Nam is in town. He says he has to make time for family and fun whenever possible. 

"I have to get some of mom's homemade Korean food. I have to hit up Waffle House," he said. "I feel like Atlanta has become such a cool city. So every time I go, I think I make it a point to check out somewhere new, and that's always been really fun."

And for the singer, it's not a trip to Atlanta without a little Southern cuisine. 

"When I think of Southern food, like, I didn't realize how much I miss it until I get there and I'm like -- give me all the butter, give me all the carbs. I'll take it. And that's what I end up doing," he said chuckling.

Nam's new album, There and Back Again, is out now. He will also be performing at the Eastern on March 5. The show will also be streamed.