As a kid growing up in Texas — from Amarillo to San Antonio to Dallas — Arden Cho remembers going to sleep and praying she’d wake up with blond hair and blue eyes. “That’s just all I saw on TV 20 years ago,” remembers Cho. “I didn’t know that there were Zhang Ziyis, Kim Yunjins and all these sexy, hot Asian women out there!”
Nowadays, young Asian American girls look up to Cho as a role model, ever since she broke out in the YouTube world in 2010, acting opposite Ryan Higa in the online movie Agents of Secret Stuff, directed by Wong Fu Productions. Her co-star encouraged her to upload her own content to YouTube, and her two channels combined — one for her film/TV work and the other for her personal videos and music — now boast almost 200,000 subscribers and 18.5 million views.
For as long as Cho can remember, before she even dreamed of being an actress or singer, she has always wanted to work with youth. Her YouTube channels reflect this, with her series titled “Follow Your Heart,” where she interviews creative types about how they found the courage to pursue their dreams, and her vlogs “Ask Arden,” where she shares her thoughts on everything from dating to fashion to being comfortable with who you are.
Connecting with her young Asian American fans is especially important to Cho because, she says, she grew up shy and insecure and would have loved to have had an older sister to tell her that everything was going to be OK. Though she has more confidence today, the entertainment industry is notoriously superficial (she has been told that she’d have to get plastic surgery if she wanted to work in Korea), and the constant auditioning can wear any hard worker down. And despite booking a high-profile Clinique Asia campaign and many close calls, her only official “Hollywood” acting credits for a long time were one- episode roles in CSI:NY, Pretty Little Liars and Rizzoli & Isles. Even everyday YouTube fans weren’t always supportive (“YouTube is seriously tough,” she says. “People are brutal — they either love you or hate you”).
In 2013, Cho realized she may not have control over the acting opportunities she was given, but she had written a lot of her own original songs that she could record and release on her own, if she could only get the courage to do it. “I realized, ‘Man, I’m such a hypocrite,’ because I tell fans to follow their hearts, but here I was, terrified to put my music out there,” she says. “I was scared of being vulnerable.”
Releasing her first EP, My True Happy, was an act of freedom. “These are the stories of my life, my heartaches and my experiences,” says Cho. “It was like I put out my secret stories that I had never really shared with anybody.”
She was this close to giving up acting and instead touring around Asia with her music for a few months, when suddenly, she landed the role of Kira in the third season of MTV’s cult hit series Teen Wolf. Kira is not only the lead character Scott’s new love interest but, in the context of the show’s dark, supernatural realm, she’s the mysterious new girl at school who has some tricks up her sleeve.
“I got to do a lot of action and work with amazing stunt choreographers,” says Cho. “I had bruises over my whole body, and there were days that I was so sore that I couldn’t even walk, but it’s all totally worth it because the footage is so beautiful.”
Though she loves her current gig (there are rumors that show creator Jeff Davis is developing a Kira spin-off show specifically for her), Cho doesn’t take her success for granted. “Being an Asian actress, roles that are on the table often aren’t our first picks,” she says. “But when Teen Wolf came along, I really couldn’t have written a better part that I’d want to play. Sometimes it takes all these disappointments to make you appreciate something when it finally works out.”
Teen Wolf airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on MTV.
IN HER OWN WORDS
1. She’s a little bit country.
“I used to have a really hard Southern drawl. You can still kind of hear it sometimes, especially when I sing. I really love that country music tells stories; I hope that one day, I can record a full country album.”
2. She’s been on both sides of love.
“The song ‘Memory’ is about someone who walked out and left me with so much pain. [Whereas] ‘I’m the One to Blame’ is about how I screwed it up. Sometimes when you’re insecure in a relationship, you push people away because you’re scared, so that’s about me saying sorry. I’m not sure if [that guy] knows the song’s about him.”
3. She wants young girls to know that nobody is perfect.
“It took 20 years for me to feel good about myself. I didn’t wear shorts until a year and a half ago, and now I’m wearing miniskirts on Teen Wolf. Every girl looks in the mirror and wants to change things — I still do — but imperfection is what makes people beautiful.”
4. She has faith.
“As a believer, I want to live my life with purpose. People think if you’re Christian, you have to be a teacher, doctor or pastor, but I think I can be an actor and still be someone who lives out what God intended me to do.”