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How ‘Sing Again’ stays a hit brand in a sea of audition shows

Compelling story of underdogs wins viewers' hearts, but the show, now in third season, seems formulaic

By Lee Jung-youn

Published : Jan. 25, 2024 - 14:03

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From left: Top 7 participants of From left: Top 7 participants of "Sing Again 3" Kang Seung-hui, Leejean, So Soo-bin, Shin Hae-sol, Ejel, Choo Seung-yeop, and Hong Issac (JTBC)

A 27-year-old office worker Choi Ji-yeon recently bought a ticket for a concert of the Top 10 participants of the audition program “Sing Again 3.” Tickets for the concert sold out within 10 minutes of opening, showing the popularity of the program.

“I have been a big fan of the program since its first season. In the recent season, I’m obsessed with the voice of So Soo-bin, the runner-up of the show,” said Choi. “Audition program is one of the most common themes of Korean entertainment shows, but in my opinion ‘Sing Again’ has taken things to the next level.”

JTBC's "Sing Again" which first aired in 2020, is an audition program where forgotten singers, ex-singers and struggling singers alike take up the challenge of making a second debut. The program focuses on the vocal skills and stories of the participants, calling each singer by a number instead of a name.

Many musicians, such as the winner Lee Seung-yoon, and the runner-up Lee Mu-jin of Season 1 and Kim Ki-tae, the winner of Season 2, went on to kick off successful careers as musicians.

According to Nielsen Korea, the ratings for “Sing Again 3,” which ended Jan. 18, never fell below 6 percent, except for the first episode which recorded 4.8 percent. The highest rating was at over 7.5 percent.

"Sing Again" stands apart from many other audition programs that try to attract viewers with intense rivalries among the contestants.

"All participants are more than capable, so viewers are more likely to see good performances on 'Sing Again' than on other audition programs. Also, as participants had been professional singers at one point, they tend to attract fans quickly," said Jung Duk-hyun, a pop culture critic. As Jung commented, the fandom of the third season's winner Hong Isaac, and runner-up So Soo-bin showed their power in the real-time text voting in the final round.

Jung cited "story" as another strength of singers with unsuccessful careers. Viewers can easily feel emotionally connected to the participants as they share stories of failure and difficulties.

The show differed from other audition shows on several points. Park Chan-young, a viewer in his early 30s, cited genre diversity as the program’s foremost strength.

"Trot or K-pop idol auditions only cover one genre, so anyone who is not interested in that genre won't even consider watching the show. But ‘Sing Again’ has no genre restrictions, so I watch it at least once when a new season starts to see if there are any participants that I might like. It's a rare program that my parents, who like folk songs, and I, who like trendy songs, can watch together," said Park.

Park said that the program also aroused an underdog effect -- a phenomenon in which viewers sympathize with those less successful and support them. "As a person struggling to find a job, I empathized with the participants when they shared stories of their failed dreams.”

Another enthusiastic fan of the show in her 40s commented that “Sing Again” is a rare audition program that she does not feel frustrated watching. "The show is more like an introduction of unknown singers, rather than a vicious competition."

"Other audition programs have many scenes where judges scold and try to teach amateur contestants, but the judges on ‘Sing Again” mostly encourage and comfort the contestants. It feels like an emotional healing."

Pop culture critic Jung agreed that the judges played a big role in the success of the program. “Rather than merely determining the scores, the judges focus on analyzing the strength of each participant and explain their voices in detail, as if to let the viewers know what values the participants have.”

Nevertheless, the program is wanting in a few aspects.

Throughout the three seasons, the number of judges was eight, which made it difficult to determine the winner whenever there was a tie. Individual judges' musical tastes may have also swayed their scoring as the contestants sang songs of varying genres.

In fact, in the third season, seven contestants were sent on to the semi-final after a long discussion among the judges following a tie. The competition rule states that only six contestants compete in the semi-finals. Intense arguments between judges were frequent occurrences as well.

"It may be better to have an odd number of judges, or to set another rule to determine a winner when there is a tie," advised Jung.

The boredom caused by repeated formats is another inevitable problem of TV shows with multiple episodes.

"The production team seems to be trying to make some changes, like presenting new judges for each season, but the overall setting of the show has become obvious. Maybe they can include other types of artists like bands or duets, instead of sticking toe soloists," said Park.