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Music reality marathon begins

Participants gather at the Seoul preliminaries of SBS’ “K-Pop Star 2” for a chance to make it to the second season of the music reality show. (K-pop Star)
Participants gather at the Seoul preliminaries of SBS’ “K-Pop Star 2” for a chance to make it to the second season of the music reality show. (K-pop Star)
What will new season’s ‘SuperstarK,’ ‘K-Pop Star’ and ‘Star Audition’ bring?

SuperstarK ― arguably South Korea’s first major music reality program ― kicked off its fourth season last week, signaling the start of a near year-long song-and-dance marathon.

MBC’s “Star Audition 3” and SBS’ “K-Pop Star 2” are following close on its heels with scheduled start dates in October and November, respectively. Mnet’s “The Voice of Korea 2” is slated to run early next year.

This is good news for music audition program buffs, because it means a continual supply of favored fare. It is also good news for aspiring singers, because it means more audition opportunities.

All in all, it looks like a win-win situation, especially if everything runs according to schedule, with little to no overlap between the shows.

So let’s cut to the chase. Here is a roundup of this season’s music reality programs.

No win? No sweat

Every year, hopefuls compete for a chance at stardom, so part of a show’s popularity hedges on its actual ability to turn contestants into real celebrities.

“SuperstarK” has had three seasons to prove whether or not a win translates into fame, and the program’s track record is relatively solid.

Season 1 winner Seo In-guk is still dropping singles and recently nabbed two acting gigs in KBS’ “Loverain” and tvN’s currently on-air “Reply 1997,” while Season 2 winner Huh Gak is carving out a primarily ballad-driven solo career for himself.

Of even greater interest to contest hopefuls is the fact that you do not have to win to make it. 
“SuperstarK 3” finalists Busker Busker — proof that you don’t need to win to make it big — perform onstage during the third season of the Mnet audition program. (CJ E&M)
“SuperstarK 3” finalists Busker Busker — proof that you don’t need to win to make it big — perform onstage during the third season of the Mnet audition program. (CJ E&M)

SuperstarK 3 finalists Busker Busker released a successful full-length album and landed high-profile TV ads. “K-Pop Star” Season 1 contestant Park Jae-hyung has entered the JYPE fold as a trainee and runner-up Lee Ha-yi is training at YG Entertainment, while MBC’s “Star Audition 2” contestant Jang Lee-jeong is also training at a high profile entertainment company.

In other words, by this season viewers and contestants alike are probably well aware that a competition win is not the sole perk of the audition program format. The fun is in the show itself and in the hopefuls competing onstage.

So, what does this mean? Life is not over for contestants who do not win. Viewers do not need to mourn if their favorite singer or band does not get crowned.

Let’s not deny that winning would be nice though. It still is a competition, after all.

Cutting room controversy

Behind-the-scenes of every audition program, after the filming is over, there is the matter of editing, of taking the scissors ― snip-snip ― to the thousands of auditions, cutthroat comments and antics captured on camera.

Hands down, “SuperstarK” attracts the most buzz ― positive and negative ― for its cutting room tactics.

Last season, a group of contestants stormed out of their living quarters in protest of how the show was being edited.

This season, right after the first episode aired, the program got flack for a potentially misleading “coming up next” preview segment and created a stir over an “erotic” song about sausages and judge Psy’s bleeped-out, slang-laden comments.

In response, “SuperstarK 4” and “The Voice of Korea” chief producer Kim Ki-woong said over the phone, “This is about differentiating between good and bad editing, and I do not think we are being hard-core at all. We are just good at editing.”

Does being a cable television show influence the editing process? Does it allow them to add in more attention-grabbing, scandalous and racy footage? Mnet’s Kim says, “No, it is not about that. There is nothing of the sort.”

SBS’ “K-Pop Star 2” program director Park Sung-hoon offered in his two cents on the matter.

“I am not saying that this is wrong, not at all, but I guess you could say that the show does a speedy mash-up of various situations, even just splicing in, like, one line of a song, or showing short moments of participants singing onstage.”

Park might be right about the swift pace of “SuperstarK” which is a boon for viewers who crave speed, but not for those who don’t, and while the delivery might be fast, the overall show is going to be longer, by one episode, to be exact.

Mnet chief producer Kim revealed that this season “SuperstarK” is going from last year’s 14 to a total of 15 episodes this year.

Why? “We wanted to show some more footage of the preliminary rounds,” said Kim, who revealed that there were plenty of quirky hopefuls auditioning this time around and that is part of the reason why there will be an extra episode.

If “SuperstarK” is getting longer, MBC’s “Star Audition” is getting shorter. An MBC representative confirmed that not only will the upcoming season be 11 episodes shorter, down to 20 from last season’s 31; “Star Audition 3” will also be less one mentor, down from five to four.

Meanwhile “K-Pop Star” is also going to be shorter, going from last season’s 22-episode length to 20 episodes, according to SBS’ Park.

Park also explained the show’s editing aesthetic, stating, “What we are going for is for a real, authentic audition rather than for entertainment value, and for that reason we tend to show one performance at a time, in relatively long segments.”

En route to Sydney

While “SuperstarK,” “K-Pop Star” and “Star Audition” might not have similar editing approaches, the three programs all have one thing in common ― Sydney, Australia.

This season, the trio is holding preliminary rounds in Sydney. “SuperstarK 4” headed over first, then “Star Audition 3” followed in early August and “K-Pop Star 2” will be heading over next month. 
MBC’s “Star Audition 3” held preliminaries in Sydney, Australia, for aspiring singers this August. (MBC)
MBC’s “Star Audition 3” held preliminaries in Sydney, Australia, for aspiring singers this August. (MBC)

Both Mnet’s Kim and SBS’ Park pinpointed the novelty factor as one of the impetuses behind holding auditions in Australia, as neither “SuperstarK” or “K-Pop Star” have held preliminaries there before.

In addition to Sydney, “K-Pop Star” added London and Vancouver to their list this year, while “SuperstarK” added 12 South Korean army bases to their roster.

“We need to give people who didn’t have a chance before an opportunity,” Mnet’s Kim explained the decision to hold preliminaries specifically for the nation’s military.

Of the addition of Vancouver to their list of global audition spots, SBS’ Park explained that last season many participants from Canada auditioned at the Los Angeles and New York rounds, “so we decided to go there.”

This season, “SuperstarK” is also the only show out of the three to hold regional preliminaries nationwide.

“I think it is a given that we go to various regions,” said Mnet’s Kim. “If we only hold auditions in Seoul, then it is hard for those outside of the city to come, so we go to them.”

Both “K-Pop Star 2” and “Star Audition 3” will only be holding domestic auditions in Seoul. While “K-Pop Star” did not hold regional auditions last season either, “Star Audition” did host regionals last season.

“Of course South Korea is the most important region of our show,” SBS’ Park said. “However, we needed to focus on being efficient.”

Park said the decision was made to concentrate efforts on preparing for the auditions themselves then stretching themselves thin, with the belief that those who were serious about becoming singers would make the trip to Seoul.

“We do feel bad about having those outside of Seoul making the difficult trip to the city,” Park said.

That has not deterred participants from applying to “K-Pop Star.” This season has seen a five-fold increase in applicants from last season.

“SuperstarK 4” has also seen a boom in participants, up over 10,000 from last season to a total of 2,083,447, a record-breaking number for the show ― proving that a saturated audition program market has done little to quench the hope swelling up within the hearts of aspiring singers everywhere.

By Jean Oh (
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