Novelty factor drives success of ‘Phantom Singer’

By Yoon Min-sik

JTBC audition show for vocal quartet introduces lesser known genres

  • Published : Jan 22, 2017 - 14:34
  • Updated : Jan 22, 2017 - 14:34

With the final episode of its inaugural season just around the corner, “Phantom Singer” is enjoying greater popularity than expected.

Segment one of the finale, which aired last Friday, notched up a 5.3 percent viewership according to ratings agency Nielsen Korea. While not eye-popping, the figure is high for a cable TV program.

The feat is even more impressive when compared to abysmal final episode of Mnet’s singing competition show “Superstar K,” which was watched by only 1.2 percent of viewers.

Unlike other singing audition programs, “Phantom Singer” aims to pick a male vocal quartet to perform classical music or songs from musicals. Rival shows deal mostly with K-pop.

“Personally, I think novelty factor is one word that can explain our popularity. There have been many music programs but I don’t think many have focused on vocal harmony, which is why our method can be refreshing,” said baritone Park Sang-don, one of the 12 finalists.

Park’s team is competing with two others for 100 million ($85,000) in prize money, an album release and chance to perform with the JTBC channel’s support. Their performances last Friday and in the finale’s second segment -- to be aired Friday -- will decide the winner.

Participants of JTBC’s “Phantom Singer” pose during a press meeting at the JTBC headquarters in Seoul on Thursday. (JTBC)

Audition programs have often been criticized for their focus on the entertainment factor -- including personal sob stories and romantic involvements between contestants -- and not enough on the music.

The show’s producer Kim Hyeong-joong said the increased focus on the music and training of the contestants, most of whom are classically trained singers or musical actors, and on teamwork and musical harmony, helped “Phantom Singer” make its mark.

“Contestants don’t try to stand out or look good (on TV). They are training through the night for the sole purpose of presenting the best music possible to viewers,” he said.

With many shows depending on contestants flirting and “bromance” storylines to keep viewers’ interest, Kim said the confidence in the show derives from the quality of music.,

“It may sound cocky, but I was certain that once (the viewers) opened their hearts to it and listened, they would fall in love,” he said.

Singers themselves said the show presented a chance to introduce the music they love to an audience neck-deep in K-pop.

“You can’t love music that you’ve never experienced. There aren’t a lot of chances for the public to experience this kind of music,” said another finalist Ko Eun-seong.

Having sparked initial interest in some of the lesser known genres, the producers’ goal now is to keep it going.

“For those who have trained in classical music or any genre that is deemed unpopular, I urge you to try and step up,” said producer Kim.

Park said he hoped one day that the definition of “popular music” itself will change.

“Pop music by definition is something that a lot of people love. Classical numbers or songs from musicals can become ‘pop music’ in the future,” he said.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)