Inside a K-pop audition: What candidates go through & can S’poreans stand out?

Inside a live audition for K-pop girl group Fifty Fifty

It’s fair to say that the K-pop industry and the bands it produces hold a fair amount of appeal for Singaporeans.

Entering such an industry, however, is no easy task — as experienced by one 29-year-old Singaporean who spoke to MS News about her recent audition.

Source: @thesmartlocaltv on Instagram

Charmaine was one of the young women who took part in the live tryouts earlier this month. More than 100 candidates were vying for a spot in the K-pop girl group Fifty Fifty.

Fifty Fifty, known for 2023 viral hit Cupid, was formerly a quartet, but three members left the group following contractual disputes with their management agency Attrakt.

Only Keena remains in the group, now. Through these auditions, which are open to South-east Asian residents aged 14 and above, Fifty Fifty’s management hopes to the group a quintet.

The audition, which was held at an event space at Kallang Place on 3 Feb, took place in front of a silent panel of judges, though Charmaine also described the weeks leading up to the audition as nerve-wracking.

Source: @thesmartlocaltv on Instagram

“I was getting more and more nervous and scared with each passing day,” Charmaine recalled. “It’s actually very scary, I had a breakdown the day before due to the nerves.”

On the judging panel was the CEO of Evergreen Group Holdings, David Yong, who was impressed by the high-quality turnout. Evergreen Group Holdings is investing millions of dollars in Attrakt.

Of the 120 participants that showed up, three candidates from Singapore made it through to the final round in Thailand, Mr Yong told MS News.

Aspiring K-pop idols have little time to prepare for audition

Speaking to MS News, Charmaine revealed that her colleagues had signed her up for the auditions as a joke, not anticipating her application to be successful.

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Gearing up for the audition was daunting for Charmaine, who felt that she had little time to prepare.

“Everything was very last minute for me,” she explained. “From the time my teammates told me they signed me up till the audition date, it was slightly less than two weeks.”

The application period for the Singapore live auditions was from 11 to 21 Jan.

This meant that candidates had less than a month to prepare their routines before the audition on 3 Feb.

Following her successful application, Charmaine received an invitation email from the organisers.

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In the e-mail, she was asked to prepare a one-minute song or rap without music alongside a one-minute dance to music.

Charmaine went with ‘Ocean Eyes’ by American singer Billie Eilish for her song, and chose to dance to ‘Shut Down’ by Blackpink, which she knew the choreography for.

“I tried to practice as much as I could, so that I could remember the lyrics, dance moves and small details,” she said.

In light of the little time given to prepare for auditions, Charmaine noted that aspiring K-pop idols should begin by practicing now.

“The time between the confirmation email and audition date is very short, so there might not be enough time if you only start then,” she said.

K-pop audition in Singapore on 3 Feb attracted more than 100 candidates

Despite her nerves leading up to the audition, Charmaine bit the bullet to see it through.

Upon arrival at the venue at 2.15pm, she registered at the entrance and received a sticker labelled with a number, which she stuck onto her shirt.

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The organisers then separated the candidates into a few groups and placed each one in a holding area. 

Charmaine recalled that there were 30 to 40 girls in her group, and they were further divided into groups of about 10.

This was when the girls had the opportunity to make small talk or practice what they had prepared.

Candidates for K-pop audition performed for silent panel of judges

After a two-hour wait due to an opening speech and media interviews, Charmaine and the other four girls in her group entered the audition room.

They were the first group from their session to do so.

They then sat in a row at the side of the room, taking turns to perform their routines in front of a panel of judges.

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“The judges don’t say anything, except asking you to speak louder if you’re too soft,” Charmaine said.

“The moment it’s our turn, we need to introduce ourselves by saying our name, age, which country we are from and what we are singing or rapping.”

Charmaine was the third from her group to perform. “In the audition room, I got more nervous because it felt so tense and everything was so real,” she recalled.

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The audition itself was fast, with Charmaine’s turn taking not more than 15 minutes.

Once done, candidates could walk out of the audition room.

Unlike the auditions viewers are used to seeing on television such as for Singapore Idol or America’s Got Talent, the judges did not share their thoughts and comments.

Instead, they remained silent after all the performances.

Source: TheSmartLocal on YouTube

Charmaine recalled that some candidates’ family members came down for moral support. They were told to wait in a separate area, and candidates were allowed to meet them before and after their audition.

Majority of candidates at K-pop audition were 14 to 15 years old

Talking to the girls she was with in the holding room, Charmaine learned that the youngest was 14 years old while the oldest after her was 26 years old.

The majority of the candidates were 14 to 15 years old, with a few ranging from 18 years old to being in their early 20s.

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For most of them, it was their first time auditioning for a K-pop group.

A few of the candidates had travelled to Singapore from other countries just to try out for the auditions.

One of them, though, had been to many auditions before, including for YG, which manages Blackpink, and RBW, which handles the girl group, Mamamoo.

The candidate was even offered a contract to be a trainee. However, her parents rejected it at the time due to her young age.

Charmaine was grateful for the chance to attend the auditions, describing it as a rare opportunity.

While the tension before the audition was high, she noted that the candidates were supportive of each other.

She also observed that the range of talent among attendees of the audition was vast, with many of them exhibiting excellent singing and dancing skills.

“They definitely have potential,” she said. “More importantly, they signed themselves up for this because they really want it.”

Candidates taking part in K-pop audition showed a high quality

Speaking to MS News, Mr Yong shared that he had been impressed with the number of candidates who showed up for the event.

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“The turnout was better than expected, and they showed a very high quality,” he said. “We did manage to draw a good calibre of quality in the candidates.”

In fact, there were several famous influencers from Malaysia among those who took part in the auditions.

Ultimately, three candidates from Singapore were selected for the final rounds in Thailand on 2 March, although eight to 10 were “very impressive”, he said.

This was even more so as the auditions for Fifty Fifty were looking for candidates who were about 80% ready to debut with the group, Mr Yong added.

Fluency in English a bonus for Singaporeans aspiring to become K-pop idols

When asked if Singaporeans had what it took to make it through K-pop auditions, Mr Yong said: “Definitely, there is a lot of potential,” adding that the candidates selected are 14 to 15 years old.

In terms of potential, if Singaporeans had daily training, they definitely (stand) a very good chance.

The international aspect of K-pop, he went on to note, is a bonus that can be to Singaporeans’ advantage when it comes to making it in the industry.

“Generally speaking, K-pop is global,” he said. In his opinion, labels managing K-pop groups such as YG and SM may be open to considering foreign trainees.

Such firms are also increasingly looking at candidates’ command of English while assessing their suitability, which gives Singaporeans an edge.

Before trying out for such auditions, though, training with academies in Korea is vital for trainees before their debut.

So is starting from a young age of about nine to 10 years old, Mr Yong noted, with the debuting age getting younger over the years.

Idols need X-factor to succeed in industry

Alan Chan, director and chief operations officer of iGet Holdings, also gave his own perspective on what Singaporeans needed to break into such a cut-throat industry.

Chan previously launched the K-pop group SKarf, a Singaporean girl group that debuted in 2012.

Source: Wikipedia

In a 2023 interview with Money FM 89.3, he shared that judges at auditions had a system for shortlisting candidates.

It involved assessing candidates on their performances, commitment, attitude, and most importantly, their “X-factor.”

“[They] don’t need to sing or act very well, all these can be trained,” Mr Chan said, adding that such training can span nine months to two years.

“Candidates need the “X-factor”, [which] they have or they don’t have.”

Such a quality, he cautioned, was very difficult to quantify. It was more about how candidates presented themselves in front of the audience and the camera. As such, it simply couldn’t be trained, he said.

“On [the] TV screen they look fantastic, [they] must have that aura,” he added.

A singular skill is not enough for survival in cut-throat industry

At the time, Chan’s company customised a full-time training programme for shortlisted candidates, which would vary depending on their vocal, acting or dancing skills.

For iGet Holdings, in particular, candidates had to go through several compulsory foundational training classes.

This involved learning martial arts, four different languages including Korean and Mandarin, as well as how to host.

“Right now as an artiste… you need to be multi-talented,” Mr Chan said.

Just having one skill wasn’t sufficient for aspiring artistes, he added. They needed to know how to play at least one musical instrument, write their own songs, or host, for instance.

Such demands, he noted, made the K-pop industry much harder to break into compared to Cantopop or Mandopop.

Can Singaporeans break into the K-pop industry?

Is it, therefore, impossible for Singaporeans to break into the K-pop industry?

Not entirely — some have done it before, such as the aforementioned SKarf. It was led by Singaporean Tasha Low, with Ferlyn G featuring in its starting line-up as well.

The band released its first mini album, ‘Oh! Dance’, in August 2012, with its debut showcase held in Seoul the same month.

While the group disbanded in late 2014 according to 8days, both Tasha and Ferlyn went on to pursue careers in the local entertainment industry.

32-year-old local singer-songwriter Alfred Sun also previously trained in South Korea, according to fashion-beauty site Grazia. He received the opportunity to train and debut in a five-member band.

Source: @sealfred on Instagram

Sharing K-pop dance covers on social media, he launched his debut single, ‘Vampire’, last year.

“Being a K-Pop idol is not an easy feat – it requires a combination of talent, hard work, and opportunity,” he told Grazia.

“In Singapore, there are limited opportunities for [the] young to focus solely on their craft and develop the necessary skills to succeed in the K-pop industry,” he pointed out.

Mr Yong similarly told MS News that quality training schools should be set up in Singapore to equip youths with the abilities necessary to succeed.

This would ensure that more Singaporeans have the level required to make a name in the industry.

“To me, it is not so much about how many auditions that we hold, but at the same time giving required training to the talents,” he said.

Successful candidates will form second-generation of Fifty Fifty

Only time will tell if any of our local talents do manage to successfully break into the K-pop industry in the future.

Mr Yong has confirmed that the final round of the audition for K-pop group Fifty Fifty will be held in Thailand on 2 March.

“We are looking forward to the final round of the auditions,” he said.

Dispatch reported that Attrakt plans to confirm the lineup for the second generation of the group around April.

Following which, the group should be set to release a new song by June.

Also read: K-Pop Girl Group Fifty Fifty Looking For New Members, S’pore Audition On 3 Feb

K-Pop Girl Group Fifty Fifty Looking For New Members, S’pore Audition On 3 Feb

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