By Midori Matsuzawa / Japan News Staff WriterEven if you might not recognize her name, you may remember her when you hear she is the woman who shows her language abilities in speaking Japanese in a series of TV commercials for a hotel comparison website.
Natalie Emmons achieved a breakthrough with her role in promoting trivago, which enables users to find attractive offers for accommodations by comparing various booking websites. Her appearance for the site’s TV commercials helped her rank fourth among the top 20 female celebrities in Japan in terms of the number of commercials featuring them on regular channels in the Tokyo area during the first half of the year, according to M Data Co., a company that monitors TV programs and commercials.
Emmons, of course, does not just do work for trivago. Later this month, she will perform as a singer in “Broadway Christmas Wonderland” at the Tokyu Theatre Orb in Shibuya, Tokyo. Premiered in Japan last year, the show from the United States will feature Christmas songs, from gospel to pop, in addition to dancing and skating performances.
“Now, I think people see trivago, but they don’t really know all [of my] background,” Emmons said during a recent interview with The Japan News. “It’s a chance for me to show some of the other things I can do.”
Emmons, who is from San Diego, has loved singing and dancing since she was very young — as a girl, she became interested in Japan thanks to a Japanese friend at high school who showed her “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” (Spirited Away), a 2001 animated film by Studio Ghibli.
“It’s so beautiful and mysterious,” she said. “I wanted to go there and see all these magical things.”
Emmons, who started her career as a dancer during her high school days, made this dream come true after graduation. She successfully passed an audition for Universal Studios Japan in Osaka and lived in the city for three years from 2010, developing her Japanese language skills on her own through everyday life there.
Performing in shows at the theme park gave her “a lot of confidence,” Emmons said.
She said that at the start “I was thinking I’m a dancer, I’m a singer, but I’m not a lead solo artist or anything. I didn’t think that I could ever do that.”
But the performer found she was receiving generous support and encouragement from many Japanese fans, and eventually won a chance to do some solo performances at USJ.
“I started to feel more like, if you have people who support you, you can do a lot of things with your life,” she said. “That was something that really changed in me.”
Emmons’ performances at USJ also helped her receive an offer to appear in the trivago commercial series, which started in 2014.
Emmons is now based in Los Angeles, where she works as a singer-songwriter under the name Strae. She said Japan has also given her inspiration for writing songs.
“Living in Japan was bringing up a lot of emotions and new feelings,” she said. “So I had so much to say. Then I realized I could combine writing with music, and that became a big passion for me in songwriting.”
Emmons, who loves watching Japanese dramas and the Takarazuka Revue all-female musical troupe, has a goal after playing a part in the Broadway show. “In Japan, my focus right now is to really do acting and dramas,” she said. “I want to do a spy movie [some day].”