Korean-made audition shows like the format of Britain’s Got Talent or America Idol are bombarding in South Korean TV scenes. The first audition show launched in Korea that attracted huge media attention was “Superstar K” (2009). The show was aired on Mnet, a cable TV music channel and it successfully gained national interests. The cable channel’s success led other TV channels to produce programs with a similar format. More than 10 different audition programs are now running and few programs are already on their next sequels. Literally, if you switch between channels, at least once, you’re being exposed to a different audition show. Audition fever is at its heights right now and 1.93 million people from across the country have taken parts in the 3rd sequel of “Superstar K” scheduled to be televised later this year. The figure accounts for 4% of Korea’s total population. The contestants are varying in terms of their age, job, nationality, and etc. No matter how different they are, they share their passions and talents that somehow touch audience watching the show even if winning the audition and becoming superstar comes as their highest priorities. We are already up to with those folks who have potential to be Susan Boyle or Paul Potts of Korea who have overcome their impoverished background. Audition programs are serving as outlets for Koreans’ desire to become famous. Though, we get to see so many people in the show who turn up to compete at huge opportunity cost. Deluge of audition programs is now raising concerns about their side-effects.
Talent search shows are instigating false hope of an instant big win. South Korean entertainment companies are well-known for mass-productions of pop culture in Asia. Numerous young kids are seeking to be picked by top producers and add their names to the list of current celebrities. Yet the chances are very slim. According to a recent study, only 0.01% of the people preparing to get in celebrities business actually get a chance to make their debut. Because the chances of being on the TV look pretty decent, people see the arrival of audition shows as a way to come one step closer to their dream on the fair ground. The illusion is somehow exaggerated, though, through repeated “rags-to-riches” stories. Take example of Mr. Huh Gak, a 25-year-old repairman won the 2nd sequel of “Superstar K”. The contrast between his powerful voice and his plain appearance amazed the public and he even beat his handsome rivals. Though he rocked the nation for a while, he is still on a bumpy road to succeed as a real musician. Winning an audition does not put you on a royal road to stardom instantly. He is still known as the winner of huge prize of KRW 200 million, a car, and a contract to release an album. Subsequent talent shows raised the reward up to KRW 500 million. Shows are under criticism for mass commercialism. Tempted by instant wins, people jump into vague dream sacrificing the meaningful achievements in their lives built up so far. On top of that, immature teens are now hopping on to the trend as well. They already are influenced by teenager stars. The audition shows may exacerbate the current situation that people are enormously influenced by celebrities.
Audition program is no longer a fresh twist compared with other TV programs. It even feels quite obsolete due to mass production of similar format of the shows and repetition. Aside from participants’ talents, producers and journalists tend to shed more light on the personal stories to differentiate the program and talents. Adding touching stories to the show and individual participant that can make people weep, and give audience “ah-“ moments is a great way to appeal to emotions of large crowds. Additionally, instant attention from the media and words of mouth of viewers can be obtained with those stories. This tactic somehow reveals and exaggerates contestants’ private life and it really kills pure purpose and charm of the reality shows. Power of story-telling is wearing out quickly and stories are deemed more or less the run of the mill. They all contain classic materials of “zero to hero” plot; born in a poor family, received no professional training to hone their skills, never gave up their dreams despite the hardships, and now I am here. Since this emotional touch does not count as importantly as before, producers often end up in over-dramatization. For example, Mr. Choi Sung-Bong, a contestant in “Korea’s Got Talent” triggered instant sensation but also criticism. Mr. Choi had such a dark history which contrasts his amazing voice singing Nella Fantasia. He said he had been living on his own since the age of 5 escaping from orphanage so at one point he had to sleep in public restrooms to find a shelter. He also mentioned that he did not receive any training to be a vocalist. Later, he was found out to be a graduate of an art high school and majored in vocal music. The show had to go through massive criticisms for distortion and made public apology.
“It is unfortunate that only the desire to become famous in entertainment business is strongly encouraged and gains nation-wide attention but not other noble pursuits.”
Audition fever in South Korea will not quickly disappear. Audition shows have so far achieved one of highest audience ratings in recent history. Millions of people out there are still looking for audition opportunities to be a star. However, the popularity will likely fade away as with the case of the rise and fall of former popular reality shows. Similar personal stories no longer guarantee media attention, either. Last but not least, the media are encouraging people to adore stardom blindly. It is unfortunate that only the desire to become famous in entertainment business is strongly encouraged and gains nation-wide attention but not other noble pursuits. What if there is a TV show for young entrepreneurs competing with each other with their passions and business idea? Politicians always talk about small and medium businesses are the backbone of the economy but they do not support for young talents who are working hard on their dreams at their early stage ventures. With flow of government and private funding to embrace more ventures and corporate’ needs for young talents who can make difference on their corners regardless their background or education, it is probably a good time to think of audition type of young talent shows for a future business leader. Challenge for building is encouraged but the business atmosphere is not mature yet to embrace people who fail and give those people who fail another chance. Who knows a televised program can bring a change to the status quo and offer better foundation to foster talented young venture-minds to come out of their garages?
(This article was developed with Steve J. Min, a staff writer.)