Making the Band: The Never-ending K-pop Audition Queue

Making the Band: The Never-ending K-pop Audition Queue
Image Credit: Jorg Greuel via Getty Images

Finding someone with raw talent is no easy feat. Making a star is even harder. Meet MTV K's three K-pop hopefuls.

By Corynn Smith
September 20, 2012

As the summer wind downs and fall ushers in, our thoughts harken back to mid summer and all those who attended the NJ stop on YG’s audition world tour. MTV K was there. Not so much as to try our hand at entering one of the top three most successful Korean pop agencies to become idols, of course. But who isn’t somewhat intrigued about the process of making an idol group? How does it work? Who’s the competition? Do they have what it takes to survive within the ever-expanding wave called Hallyu? The rigorous training? The non-stop promotions throughout Asia and now abroad to the US, Europe and South America? How many actually potential trainees out of the thousands who come out, actually make it through the finite pinhole of the audition process? Inquiring minds really want to know…

It used to be that becoming a K-pop trainee required an in-person audition in South Korea. If you were really lucky, just being in the right place at the right time could nab you a spot on some agency’s recruiting couch. But now, with audition fever spreading just as fast as K-pop’s global takeover, thousands of fans around the world want their shot at possible pop-stardom and YG Entertainment is answering their call. Like the K-pop magnets that they are, they’re pulling in every fan from regions far and wide in their search for the rare, the talented and hopefully, the ‘chosen’ ones. Making it into the latter group is no simple feat. At best, as big agencies like YG et al will readily admit, after hitting eight cities in five different countries maybe three or four official trainees will be plucked out from the never-ending queues of unknowns.

Last July, we sent a couple of our MTV K bloggers to a one-day-only audition that YG was hosting in Fort Lee, NJ to find answers to some of the questions that have been rolling through our minds, and also to see if we could find some potential talent on our own. What better way to get a feel for how these shindigs work than to locate diamonds in the rough as they waited for hours on end to be seen? But then something strange happened. As we got to know them a little, the candidates who were between the ages of 11 and 19as per the audition requirements), we decided to create a fictional K-pop band and track each member’s progress as time goes on. Think of it like a K-pop meets Fantasy Football experiment, where each MTV K K-pop band member would be followed as they aim for spots in the Korean pop star registry, and you’ll hear everything about them here, first.

A Few Diamonds in the Rough

Unlike the televised American Idol auditions where a few attention-seeking candidates looking for a quick TV spot are almost always a prerequisite, the teens present at YG’s audition— in the second-floor ballroom of the Double Tree by Hilton— were a fairly serious bunch. No one dressed in a ridiculous sequined outfit. No one belting tunes purposely off-key. No one fighting for 15-minutes of camera time. Instead, some diligently receited song lyrics aloud, while others warmed up their muscles and rehearsed dance routines. These inspired hopefuls were looking for the long-term K-pop high, fully inclusive of the extensive training and coaching to become the stars they believe they were meant to be in a country far from home.

We first met 16-year-old Eliza Dagget as she practiced her audition routine in front of the mirrored walls of the hotel’s ballroom. Unlike most American teens who spend their summers pool or beach-side, or even at some sleep-away camp as a counselor stacking money for the upcoming school year,  Eliza’s was greeted with the news of an audition event as she visited friends on the northeast coast. Normally, she would have missed something like this in her home state of Florida, but as a huge fan of the movement, of course she decidedly accepted the challenge to tryout. “It’s my dream to entertain people with my singing and dancing. I know it can be kind of overrated nowadays because everyone wants to do that, but I feel I actually have the talent for it and can train to be even better than what I am now,” she confided.

By the way, she's a big U-Kiss fan.

If selected by YG, Eliza would be one of the first non-Asian trainees in the system. Something Latin-American fans would definitely cling to. And like a Wonder Girl, she is talented and confident in her girl-next-door vibe. She’s real and approachable, the type of girl, or idol for that matter, that you would certainly want to get to know. But what would the Wonder Girls, a JYP Entertainment girl group that often leans toward making retro music, be like if they were under the edgier, hip-hop-centric YG umbrella? After catching a glimpse of Eliza readying herself to wow the judges with a freestyle routine to the Black Eyed Peas’ “Imma Be,” the thought was something to consider. In that moment she became an MTV K trainee.

This wasn’t the first audition for 17-year-old New Yorker, Raymond Wong. While in line to receive his assigned number, he told our bloggers that his audition song, recycled from a past JYP audition, was Joe Jonas’ “Gotta Find You.” “To me it doesn’t necessarily mean a lover; It could be a friend or maybe even a dream. It’s a song I feel confident about,” he expressed self-assuredly. Audition piece aside, Raymond doesn’t really give off that Jonas Brothers vibe. You know, that too cool for school personality with a side offering of slick dance… Raymond seems more like a potential Se7en in the making.

Did we mention that he's CL's biggest fan?

Though he grimaced as we took a quick snapshot of him for our records—“I’m not photogenic, but…alright”—it was obvious that he was already a star in the making. Seeing him surrounded by his group of friends only added to this belief, showing us that Raymond has drawing power and the potential to be the center of a K-pop party. When asked about his best attribute, of which the choices were  talent, experience, style, attitude and love of K-pop, he circled all five. “Since I was little I had a big passion for dance, singing and acting. K-pop came to me later on.  As I continue to watch idols perform on that stage, I tell myself, ‘That’s gonna be me one day…’” MTV K trainee number two.

Then came Coraea Santos, a 16-year old we chatted with as she filled out a short participant survey we gave her, and what a sweet girl she was. On what would make her a great idol, she wrote without hesitation: “having a good foundation and knowing who you are.” A down to earth teen, she admitted to that her parents divorced just five years prior, but that didn’t stop them from helping her to coordinate a cross-country drive from her mother’s house in California. “I’m so grateful because everyone in my family really supports me,” she marveled. Her honest and genuine kindness won us over in person, even more when we felt it later in our correspondence with her over email. It’s hard not to love her; she exudes a quiet confidence that is reminiscent of A Pink.

She's not so naughty, naughty.

Before she auditioned for YG Entertainment, Coraea participated in a few K-pop events, even taking a stab at SBS K-Pop Star, the 2011 singing competition jointly run by the big three agencies— JYP, YG and SM. Even with that kind of experience on the circuit, Coraea was nervous today; thinking that she might very well be the sole, non-full-blooded Korean participant. She was extremely worried about being cut during the first round for that alone, but was surprised and excited to find a diverse crowd of kids at the audition. She had no idea K-pop had spread beyond South Korean audiences. “I was blown away by how popular it had gotten. When I was little, no one really thought it was ‘cool.’” MTV K trainee number three.

Our “Trainees”

So how would these three starry-eyed, hopefuls fit within our hypothetical MTV K K-pop academy? A few more of their answers  cleared up their roles within our fantasy team. After all, that was the big idea.

K-pop appealed to Eliza as a potential career platform with its use of organized and structured training. From her perspective, American artists are under a great deal of pressure to arm themselves with  the whole package upon signing with a label and prior to their debut. “[In Korea] You train and then debut and keep going, but in America, you never know. …I just saw this as an opportunity, really.” Equal thoughts practical thinker and dreamer, Eliza is the grounded one, who would keep everyone motivated. Wouldn’t Eliza make a great leader of our fantasy group?

Raymond humorously expressed that he could frequently be found singing and dancing randomly to himself in the street. “If I’m not dancing, I’m singing; if I’m not singing, I’m dancing. I love doing them both.” And it certainly helps that he’s good at both, too. His dance crew Unique Movement competes around the city, and at 17-years old, he has already led a hip-hop workshop. Raymond, feel free to spread your love of choreo to your group as its dance captain. (You can guide a few of us left-footed ones here at the office on a dance move or two while you’re at it…)

Born a military brat in Watertown, NY to her Korean mother and Puerto Rican/Irish father, Coraea learned to speak, read and write in Korean from an early age. One night, during a late-night television spree, she caught a broadcast of live music ranking show Music Bank and was instantly hooked. “On TV was SNSD (Girls’ Generation) with their song “Girls’ Generation” around when they first debuted. I thought they we’re so pretty and talented! My aunt started sending me K-pop mixed tapes and from there, my love spread to Big Bang, Wonder Girls, H.O.T and tons of other K-pop artists.”  Her soft approachability to what turned into a dance-heavy fantasy idol group, makes our group well-rounded. It doesn’t hurt that she has the necessary Korean language skills, as Eliza only knows the basics and Raymond hilariously wrote “not at all” on his questionnaire.

Want to know what really impresses us about our trio of trainees? Or even more, about those who participate in K-pop auditions across the globe? It’s their willingness to take a chance, knowing that the odds are not in their favor. Nothing discourages them or stops the pursuit of their dream. They keep showing up despite being rejected and the countless disappointments they endure.  “I should at least always try to achieve my dreams,” Coraea said humbly, as she sat among hundreds of other teens-turned-K-pop-fans, who now desire to live the rest of their lives as idols….

How will these three potential stars fare in their quest to become idols? We’ll keep in touch with them on their journey, and you’re welcome to come along for the ride. In fact, why don’t you help us out? What should we name our group of potentials? Leave a suggestion in the comments section!

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