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AI: Japan's R&B princess

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Talk Asia: AI
  • AI is an American-Japanese urban music signer and huge star in Japan
  • Signed to Def Jam Japan in 2005 and had a breakthrough hit with "Story"
  • The single was downloaded over three million times
  • She hopes to give Japanese music more cred on international scene

(CNN) -- Is Ai Carina Uemura a Japanese Beyoncé or more an Asian Missy Elliott?

Caught between J-pop and American urban music, the multi-million record selling artist, known simply as "AI", has been working hard to create her own sound and unique identity.

Though flattered by being compared to U.S. female R&B and hip hop superstars, while growing up the 28-year-old was more inspired by Michael Jackson.

"In my lyrics and how I perform, I always look up to him, respect him, so I really want to be like him. I want to be original, but it's good to have a role model," she told CNN.

Born in Los Angeles to a Japanese father and Italian mother, AI moved to Japan when she was four years old, returning as a teenager to California to study at L.A. County High School for Arts.

Two years after being recruited to four-piece Asian girl group SX4 she was given a record deal in Japan by label BMG .

But her first release didn't go well. The fan of American urban music was singing J-pop and admits that her own attitude didn't help endear her to her audience.

Show times
Wednesday, Jan 13: 13.30 GMT (21.30 Hong Kong)
Thursday, Jan 14: 04.30 GMT (12.30 Hong Kong)
Saturday, Jan 16: 12.00, 20.30 GMT (20.00, 04.30 Hong Kong)
Sunday, Jan 17: 09.30, 23.30 GMT (17.30, 07.30 Hong Kong)

"I had this confidence when I went back to Japan. I thought Japanese people would be an easier crowd than American crowds.

"If people weren't watching me I would throw the microphone and leave the stage... I used to have a bad attitude. I thought I have to change otherwise people aren't going to like me anymore," she told CNN.

She left BMG for Def Jam Japan and in 2005 had her biggest hit, "Story", a tune that was downloaded more than three million times.

Overcoming other people's expectations and prejudices has been a part of AI's life and she's still aiming high.

"My dream is to get a Grammy. One day I want that Grammy Award! People laugh at me when I say that, but they laughed at me when I said I wanted to be singer, and I'm a singer now. Anything is possible," she said.

She also wants Japanese music to gain more respect from an international audience and believes the music scene there is evolving.

"The beat is changing. It used to sound like karaoke, not like a real instrument. Now the sound is very thick, it's getting stronger. I think its going into a more real sound. When I first started, people weren't into R&B. I want people from other countries come to Japan to say 'Wow, Japan has great music'."