[NEWS] K-Pop Boom in Asia Sheds Light on Korea’s Unique Talent Search!


The boy group 2PM performs on a television show.

Approximately 23,000 aspiring singers from elementary school students to those in their early 20s flocked to the JYP Entertainment's talent search held in Seoul last month.

Only four were picked as JYP trainees, scheduled to go through the years-long training program before making their debut.

The record-high turnout in the audition came after the JYP trainee program gained the reputation of a machine producing K-pop idols, such as Wonder Girls and 2PM.

Not only JYP, but also other entertainment businesses have seen a huge number of aspiring stars participating in their talent searches.

Despite the K-pops' phenomenal success in Asia, hallyu experts warn the popularity of Korean pop icons may be short-lived if the bad practices in the industry, which only benefit entertainment businesses while idols income is minimal, persists.

Who Are Trainees?

The phenomenal competition in the JYP audition raised a question about the new trainees ― who are they?

Industry experts say most of the aspiring singers usually spend several years in a training program, before making their debut.

No official definition about trainees has been made, partly because industry professionals have only just begun calling the aspiring singers under their star incubating programs by this name.

There is also no official data regarding how many young people in total across the entertainment industry here are in these programs now.


Han Soo-jung, a public relations manager at JYP Entertainment, told The Korea Times that seven 2PM members, including former leader Jae-beom, spent an average of four years as trainees.

Jae-beom quit the boy band after he failed to weather harsh criticisms from some bloggers for what he wrote on My Space in 2005 and 2007 when he was a trainee, which was basically a private conversation shared with his online buddy.

The pop idol's exit is still controversial as an increasing number of Koreans began blaming those bloggers for driving the star out, saying they went too far.

Under the star incubating program, the 2PM members took vocal training, choreography lessons, and acting classes.

Members who were raised in foreign countries, such as Nichkhun, took one-on-one Korean lessons, Han said.

Origin of Trainee System

Hallyu expert Park Jung-sook told The Korea Times that the origin of the trainee system here goes back to the 1990s when Lee Soo-man, founder of SM Entertainment, benchmarked Johnnys, a Japanese entertainment company that started a unique star search program.

"Probably boy band HOT, which was popular across Asia in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, was one of the first trainee attempts,"
she said.

Currently, 20 to 30 aspiring stars are training at JYP, dreaming of being just like their successful predecessors 2PM and Wonder Girls.

Han says she cannot give the exact number of trainees, partly because some of them drop out of the program.

"It is also our policy not to disclose any details of our trainees, such as their age, the number of trainees that we have and so on, for business reasons,'' she said.

JYP is not the only entertainment company that does not give specific data of aspiring stars preparing for their debut.

Two other businesses ― YG Entertainment and Pledis ― which The Korea Times contacted for this report also declined to provide specific information.



Talent Search

Jung Hae-chang, executive director of Pledis, handpicked the hottest pop icon Son Dam-bi, who is also the highest in demand for television commercials. The K-pop star had prepared for her debut in a three-year trainee program.

JYP and YG said they discover talent through public auditions that take place once or twice a year, regular auditions that take place every other Sunday, or other types of public competitions.


Trainees are from all parts of the nation and some come from foreign countries. Nichkhun, a 2PM member, is originally from Thailand. Sandara Park, a girls' group 2NE1 member, joined YG in 2007 from the Philippines.

Supportive parents move to Seoul from other cities to help their children focus on the trainee program without distraction.

Some student trainees move near to the training camp so as to have more time for sharpening their dancing and singing skills, industry experts say.


Each entertainment business adopts different strategies when searching and training.

Jung of Pledis said that his company has only four or five trainees now.

He believes that stars are born, not made.


"Rising stardom is not something that can happen to people whose talent is not outstanding. So we handpick those who have strong potential to become pop icons," he said.

Jung goes everywhere, including high schools of art, streets and venues where the talented get together, to discover aspiring stars.

"I just recognize those who are born to be stars at first sight," he said.

Pledis does not provide its trainees with foreign language lesson.

"We kind of wait and see how they go after making their debut and then invest in the foreign language lesson for only those who have strong potential to go global," he said.


YG, meanwhile, prefers the youngest possible trainees.

"Founder Yang Hyun-seok, a former member of Seo Tai-ji boys, believes that discovering those who are talented when they were young is the key to success. So we have more elementary and middle school student trainees than any other entertainment businesses,"
said a YG staff member who asked not to be named.

Dark Side

Some entertainment businesses in Thailand have begun looking closely at their South Korean counterparts to learn about their unique trainee programs.

Industry experts say the popularity of boy bands, including 2PM and Super Junior, is phenomenal in the Southeast Asian country.

Despite the soaring popularity, they point out that the entertainment industry here faces a major challenge to make the popularity of K-pops in Asia go longer.

Hallyu expert Park said: "The Korean star casting system is considered unique because it has both elements of the Japanese and U.S. systems."

Park said entertainment business experts in Japan search for talent when aspiring stars are very young, usually before they go to elementary schools.

Under the Japanese trainee system, those who are chosen under the star incubating program are paid during the program.


Park said the U.S. system, meanwhile, is characterized as the survival of the fittest. If those handpicked talents go on to huge success, the entertainment company tries to share the outcome of success with the trainee-turned-stars, treating them as equal business partners.

"The Korean casting and training system is kind of in the middle of the Japanese and the U.S. system," Park said.

An increasing number of entertainment businesses pick younger talents like Japan, but once they become pop icons, their popularity at home and abroad is underappreciated in their income.

This is because some entertainment businesses try to lock their rising stars into the fixed, long-term contracts.


The Samsung Economic Research Institute report released in 2006 found that content power in K-pops and dramas was one of core elements that made the Korean wave go global.

Park said, "K-pops have competitive content that appealed to people in Asia. But we don't have the sustainable system that can make K-pop artists enjoy popularity in the long-term.

"We need to set ethical norms and business rules in the trainee system so as to make a more durable star producing machine."


Source: The Korea Times

3 Responses so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    looooooooooong *yawn*

  2. Anonymous says:

    I really hope everything works out for 2PM
    boys, don't let something like stop you
    or hinder you from reaching your goals and
    ambitions. stay strong and keep fighting!

    JAY we miss you and we love you so much
    2PM is NOT the same without you.
    it will never be the same without you!
    2PM need you and we need you!

    Jay should be forgiven and able to move on!
    He's not the person that he was before.
    I don't believe that he has to be sorry in
    the first place, nonetheless he came out to
    the public and apologized. This situation has
    been blown WAY OUT OF PROPORTION.

    we hope to see all 7 members of 2PM reunited
    with their leader Jay Park. Jay should be back
    to where he belongs. BRING JAY BACK!
    JYP is irresponsible and ridiculous.
    if this isn't the case, we want a legit statement
    from Jay himself!

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