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Aspiring Star Endures Long and Winding Road to Showbiz

Posted February. 28, 2009 04:43,   


Kim Seon-ung found the hall dark when he got on stage.

He saw only the twinkling eyes of four judges who sat behind 500 spectators. After a round of applause, the pop music group Vibe’s hit “Promise U” greeted his ears. Over the past 15 days, he had sung the song around 1,000 times.

Kim auditioned as a member of a four-man group, holding the microphone tightly. For his part, he had to sing the most critical part of the tune.

“You came to me with a beautiful smile. Where are you? Where am I?”

Having practiced for days, he gradually raised his voice. Spectators looked worried, however, and the judges also looked stiff. Kim kept singing until he realized his microphone was out of order only after the other group members poked him in the ribs.

Many in the audience sighed. Kim felt helpless, recalling that the group Little Wonder Girls cried after performing.

Kim was given a new microphone while trying to stay calm. He finished the second verse but could not hold back tears when heading for the waiting room.

The contestant thought he blew his precious chance at the fourth annual audition held by the renowned talent company JYP Entertainment. The competition ratio was nearly 7,000 to one since around 20,000 auditioned for just three trainee spots.

JYP has produced such famous music acts such as Rain and Wonder Girls. The number of finalists was cut to 33 through preliminary auditions conducted at six provincial cities last month.

After being divided into 10 groups for singing, dancing and acting, they had to go through two weeks of Spartan training. Their efforts and growth potential were evaluated in the final audition at Textile Center in southern Seoul Thursday.

When the last group performed around 9 p.m., tension mounted since judges began discussing who would be chosen as the three trainees. After the selections were made, the 33 finalists went up to the stage to embrace their families.

With his head down, Kim stood on the extreme right. When the audition’s host received the results of the audition, Kim looked disappointed and talked with other candidates.

“First of all, I’ll announce the third-place winner. No. 21 Kim Seon-ung.”

Kim immediately raised his head. He had beat out thousands of competitors to realize his dream of entering show business.

○ Trainee dreaming

Contestants hailed from a wide range of regions and ages. Some came from Taebaek, Gangwon Province, while others were from Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province.

Among the candidates were girls fresh out of elementary school and 24-year-old males.

Participants who came from other regions stayed with relatives or cheap inns.

Family members also provided support for their children. The mother of one dancer even designed clothes for her child by herself.

Since Kim is a senior at Kojan High School, a prestigious school in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, he had to maintain his studies while training for the audition. He got approval from his teacher and headed for Seoul.

Clad in a school uniform, Kim went to the subway station early Tuesday morning to attend the final training session. Wearing earphones, he listened to English lessons and struggled to memorize English words in a crowded subway. He was preparing himself for the English exam in the first class Wednesday.

Kim’s father, a math teacher, disapproved of his son’s pursuit of his showbiz dream, but relented after his son promised to get into the music department of a prestigious university.

Whenever the training session ended at 6 p.m., Kim went to a private music institute in Ansan and practiced alone until 11 p.m.

○ Talent and passion wanted

Hundreds of people queue up in front of JYP Entertainment’s office in southern Seoul. Many of them admire established stars such as Rain and 2PM, but others root for trainees.

Becoming a trainee at an entertainment company is the first step to becoming a star. As the competition gets more intense, however, trainees are no longer considered simply trainees. The phrase “preparing for the entertainment entrance exam” has surfaced given that one must beat out thousands of competitors for a trainee spot.

An online café of “star wannabes” set up by those studying for the entertainment exam has 82,000 members, and even holds its own audition. In addition 136 universities and colleges nationwide have departments of broadcasting or entertainment that produce 10,400 graduates every year.

neo@donga.com baron@donga.com