Those voices you're hearing? They might be West Chicago's Jessica Rau

  • Wheaton Academy alumna Jessica Rau, formerly of West Chicago, has made a career of her voice with narrations, singing, commercials and video games, even movies such as "Sing."

    Wheaton Academy alumna Jessica Rau, formerly of West Chicago, has made a career of her voice with narrations, singing, commercials and video games, even movies such as "Sing." Courtesy of Jessica Rau

  • Jessica Rau has made a career of her voice with narrations, singing, commercials and video games, even movies.

    Jessica Rau has made a career of her voice with narrations, singing, commercials and video games, even movies. Courtesy of Jessica Rau

  • Former West Chicago resident Jessica Rau sings the national anthem for a Kane County Cougars game in 1992.

    Former West Chicago resident Jessica Rau sings the national anthem for a Kane County Cougars game in 1992. Courtesy of Jessica Rau

 
 
Updated 12/20/2016 1:38 PM

Jessica Rau had been paying a softball game in 2014 Los Angeles when she received an urgent call from her vocal contractor.

"I need you as soon as possible to record a song in a shrimp voice!" her contractor said.

 

Rau, a graduate of Wheaton Academy and former West Chicago resident, rushed home and went into her closet, redesigned as a makeshift audio recording booth. There, she knocked out a Beyoncé song, using her best shrimp voice.

She emailed the audio file to her agent. Two days later, she got the job.

"I didn't know what it was," Rau confessed. "All I knew was that it was something animated."

"Something animated" turned out to be the holiday musical comedy "Sing," opening Wednesday, Dec. 21.

In "Sing," Rau provides voices for a shrimp, a bunny (she's one of three funny bunnies), a Spanish spider and a Japanese red panda.

"My first recording session was in May 2015," Rau said. "Little did I know they would bring me back for 17 sessions over a year and a half. You never know what something is going to turn into."

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At 35, Rau is still building her Los Angeles career after several years being one of the highest-paid English voice-over artists in South Korea.

In 2006, she accepted a job at English Village, a government-sponsored theme park outside Seoul, South Korea. The project was designed to stem the number of South Korean students studying aboard, resulting in lots of money leaving the country.

The park gave native students an immersive experience in an all-English environment. Rau's job was to be a performer on the street and in stage shows.

"Part of my job was just walking around," she said. "It was a surreal experience. I would just walk around and have conversations with people."

Rau's networking paid off.

She began recording voice-overs for English educational products. That job dovetailed into performing on children's TV shows, mostly singing and voice-overs, with an occasional on-camera appearance. Then came video games and audio books and commercials and ad jingles.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Whenever you heard any English voices in Korean media, it was me or someone else from this small handful of people," she said.

After six years, Rau opted for a change.

"I was a big fish in a small pond," she said, "every day racing between four to six recording studios. I wanted to try the big leagues."

In 2012, she moved to Los Angeles. A small fish in an ocean.

She arrived in December. She didn't get a performing job until the following July, as an extra on a reality TV show. It took two years before she signed an agent.

Then came a break.

The controversial comedy "The Interview" needed a Korean singer. One of Rau's friends, already in the movie, suggested her to casting directors. They hired Rau.

"My job was to sing two words over and over and over to James Franco's character, Dave Skylark," Rau said. "Roughly translated, it was 'What's up, Skylark?'"

After all that work, editors cut Rau out of the movie and used an instrumental version. "But I'm still on the soundtrack," she said.

She also has a role on an upcoming episode of the ABC series "The Middle."

Rau got her start early and spent six years performing with the Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus (now the Anima Glenn Ellyn Children's Chorus).

Her singing allowed her to tour Europe and sing at Carnegie Hall, Disney World, Orchestra Hall and Ravinia.

Building a voice-over career, however, takes a combination of having a good ear, a quirky voice and resilience, she said.

"In L.A. there are so many talented people," she said. "If I'm lucky, I book one gig for every 100 auditions I do."

-- Dann Gire

• Jamie and Dann are looking for suburbanites in showbiz who would made good stories. Know one? Contact them at jstotonoff@dailyherald.com and dgire@daiiyherald.com.

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