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In the wake of his stint on FOX’s “American Idol,” pop-vocalist Nate Tao, 24, is hoping his exposure on the talent-search show will help launch the next phase of his career dreams.

“Even though I didn’t make it all the way, it’s given me so much attention ... It’s a foot in the door,” said Nate, a 2007 Herndon High School graduate who made it through to the third round of Hollywood auditions before being cut by the show’s celebrity judges. Nate had previously auditioned for talent-search shows “The X Factor,” also by FOX, and NBC’s “The Voice.” However, he said American Idol was where he saw the most success.

“‘Idol’ is a great platform to put yourself on to get noticed... Winning ‘Idol’ is not everything for sure,” he said. “Just look at the track record of who didn’t win and what they are doing now and who did win and what they aren’t doing. There’s some disparity.”

Nate, whose favorite Idol is season one winner Kelly Clarkson, says he hopes this track record favors him and the release of his first, self-titled album next month.

And while millions of viewers got the chance to follow Nate’s and other American Idol auditions on national television, the singer says he struggles with sharing his gift with his parents who are deaf.

“Music has always been a big part of my life. There are times that I just kind of forgot my parents are deaf,” Nate said. “Sometimes it’s bittersweet because with deaf people like my parents you can’t bond over music, you can only show them the lyrics... It’s just not complete for them...”

“When I really wanted to pursue singing, my parents weren’t so sure. They looked at me like, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t know if you can even sing.’”

Nate’s parents, who emigrated from Taiwan in the 1980’s and live in Reston, attended most of his high school and major college performances in an effort to show support.

“That is what a parent should do,” Anni Tao wrote in an email. “I must admit that we always showed up at the beginning. During the break, we met him, gave him flowers and then we sneaked out and went home. It was hard for us to sit for two hours and not understand the performance. Nate understood...”

Mark Tao, Nate’s father, said, “I remember one night watching Nate perform during his senior year. He was singing ‘It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye’ by Boyz II Men. There was a girl also by his side. He started to sing and suddenly we noticed the girl signing [American Sign Language] for us. We were shocked... We were deeply touched by this surprise and my wife broke into tears. That was a special moment that we would never forget.”

Mark and Anni said they look to the crowd’s reaction and Nate’s smile to see how well the performance went.

“The only way I can tell is to look at other people to see if they stand up and clap,” Anni said. “Then I know he had a good performance. But I clap every time after he performs.”

Nate lives in Los Angeles, works as a host at a restaurant, gives private vocal lessons and performs in random music gigs to support himself.

“My goal is to definitely get management because I think, at this point, things are getting to a point where it’s hard for me to manage stuff by myself,” he said. “Right now I’m running around like crazy... I’d like to start touring and really playing my music, specifically in Asia.”

Nate recorded his first album during a recent trip to Singapore to visit friend and producer Tat Tong, who he met in Los Angeles.

“I think his powerful pipes and unique tone will help him stand out in the crowded market,” said Tong, a signed songwriter with Universal Music Publishing Group. Tong also owns a production company, T2 Productions based in Singapore, which hosts mostly Asian recording artists.

“The industry people I’ve brought him to meet in Singapore have never failed to be impressed when he starts singing. I think he definitely has a special gift there,” Tong said. “He’s clean cut and Asian, which as a singer may be something new to many Americans, but I think in the wake of PSY and the K-pop invasion, audiences are probably primed for more diversity in their singers. At least, we can hope.”

At Herndon High School, former teachers were following Nate’s progress on “American Idol” closely, excitedly cheering on one of their own.

“Everyone felt proud that he was from Herndon [High School],” Herndon choral director Dana Van Slyke said. “I showed my current students some videos of him singing back in high school... Nate always gave a special performance. He is a very versatile singer... He was often a featured soloist. I was reminded too that he won our version of ‘Herndon Idol.’”

Dana Van Slyke’s husband, Jim, was Nate’s private vocal lessons instructor.

“Nate is my ‘baby’ and I could not be more proud of him,” Jim said. “We talked about his singing career, well, for countless hours I’m sure... He is already making such great connections for himself and obviously his successes are adding up.”

Career success in a highly competitive industry like pop-music, Jim said, can mean being in the right place at the right time.

“I think this American Idol experience could be just the thing he needs to get him instant national exposure,” he said. “But truly [he is] one of the most gifted singers and musicians I have ever worked with. I agree with [American Idol celebrity judge] Keith Urban when he said Nate’s singing looked and sounded so easy. That’s hard technical work.”

Nate’s first single “Sooner” off his new album is available for free download on his website NateTao.com.

hhobbs@fairfaxtimes.com