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K-pop auditions spread their reach

Local, global producers increasingly take part in the search for new talent


With the world-wide popularity of Korean pop music, local auditions to find new singers are becoming bigger, serving as a golden ticket for producers and musician aspirants alike.

Audition programs became big in Korea following the success of “Superstar K: Season 1,” which was aired on cable channel M.net beginning July 2009.

The program’s success led major broadcasters MBC and SBS to start their own programs “Star Audition” and “Survival Audition K-pop Star,” respectively, quickly changing the pattern of talent recruitment for entertainment agencies. 
Logo for “The World Music Icon,” a joint audition project organized by Korea’s Enex Telecom and joined by the Wright Ent Group, Convict Muzik, Universal Capitl and Sony Music. (Enex Telecom)
Logo for “The World Music Icon,” a joint audition project organized by Korea’s Enex Telecom and joined by the Wright Ent Group, Convict Muzik, Universal Capitl and Sony Music. (Enex Telecom)

Instead of searching for young talent on the streets and via unofficial auditions, they began to hold open auditions by joining hands with broadcasters or overseas firms.

While holding auditions is apparently not an easy matter ― considering the money and the amount of time necessary ― agencies are gladly making the effort, recognizing them as the best means of finding competitive new talent.

“It’s also a good way for producers and agencies to promote their names globally, considering the impact they can have on international fans,” said Kim Myung-jin, head of promotions for Enex Telecom, an organizer of a global audition program slated for next year.

Enex Telecom recently announced its plan to jointly stage auditions with major overseas entertainment firms to help Korean talent “become noticed by international star makers.”

The project, “The World Music Icon,” is aimed at finding members for five finalist teams, who will be trained and produced by international powerhouses such as the Wright Ent Group, Convict Muzik, Universal Capitl and Sony Music. The project has yet to find an Asian partner.

These U.S.-based firms, meanwhile, have produced some of the world’s most famous musicians including Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne, Usher and Scorpions.

Auditions will be held in various countries on four continents with the final competition held in New York. Top artists including Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey and Beyonce will be among the jury, Enex Telecom said.

“We came up with the idea after contacting overseas producers who expressed great interest in the growing influence of Korean pop artists,” said Kim of Enex Telecom. “We began to wonder why Asian and Korean pop musicians rarely become world stars despite such high interest.

“We plan to make the utmost effort in supporting the audition winners to make successful debuts and achieve fame not only in Asia, but throughout the U.S. and Europe,” he said. 
left: S.M. Entertainment’s top musician BoA, YG Entertainment CEO Yang Hyun-suk and JYP Entertainment President Park Jin-young sit as judges for SBS’ “Survival Audition K-pop Star.” (SBS)
left: S.M. Entertainment’s top musician BoA, YG Entertainment CEO Yang Hyun-suk and JYP Entertainment President Park Jin-young sit as judges for SBS’ “Survival Audition K-pop Star.” (SBS)

During a press conference held earlier this month in Seoul, Johnny Wright, head of the Wright Ent Group, expressed high hopes in the upcoming audition, calling himself a “big fan” of Korea’s JYP Entertainment and S.M. Entertainment.

“The key to success overseas is to find a good local partner that can guide the musicians properly,” Wright said.

The firms plan to hold their first audition in May next year, continuing their search for a one-year-and-six-month period. Anyone aged 14 and above aspiring to become a global star can take part in the auditions. While being organized by a Korean company and mostly aimed at finding potential Korean talent, contestants will be selected without regard for their nationality.

SBS’ “Survival Audition K-pop Star” is another ongoing audition show eyed with interest by pop singer aspirants and the music industry.

Joined by three of Korea’s top entertainment firms ― JYP Entertainment, YG Entertainment and S.M. Entertainment ― final winners of the weekend program will not only win cash and an award, but get the chance to become better singers with training.

With the contestants performing in front of the three influential judges ― JYP President Park Jin-young, YG CEO Yang Hyun-suk and SM’s top musician BoA ― the competition appears much fiercer compared to other audition programs.

“They know that this is not just about winning,” said Park Sung-hoon, producer of the show. “We believe the weight of these three agencies, who know how to train top stars, has an impact that goes far beyond an ordinary audition program.”

The three entertainment companies have distinctive characteristics, heightening expectations about the gems they will unearth.

“We are seeking to find the hidden gems with different perspectives,” Yang, who produced idol groups Big Bang and 2Ne1, said during a press conference last month. “Those who may qualify to compete in other auditions might not be fit for this program because we are looking for people we really want to train and produce.”

Park, who put together Wonder Girls, Rain and 2PM, said he had never signed a contract with the winner of other auditions because their “color did not match” his.

“But I plan to choose someone I actually want to work with through this audition. I am looking forward to the process very much,” he said.

“K-pop Star” offered regional preliminaries in Europe and South America, the first time for a Korean talent show, going beyond the U.S. and Asia, which had been the popular destinations for other audition projects.

According to organizers of the show, some 2,000 people applied for the audition in the U.S., of whom about 80 percent were non-Korean.

The preliminary auditions in Paris and Buenos Aires received some 500 applications each, while Beijing already has more than 6,000, indicating the increasing interest in the K-pop auditions among international fans.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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