YG Entertainment teased us with a comeback from one of their artists. While many were positive it would be the long-awaited debut of Winner, it has in fact turned out to be Akdong Musician, the brother-sister duo who clinched a win in the hearts of many, as well as on SBS‘ audition program K-pop Star 2. Thinking of their impending debut, I am reminded of my own experience with the show back when it first began in the fall of 2011.
I was intrigued when the concept of K-pop Star first came on the airwaves. An audition program with representation from the “Big 3” as judges? I was sold immediately. And when I heard news of international auditions, I decided to go for it. I’ve never been much of a singer. I can hold a tune decently, but I know my voice is nothing special. After years of training, I can play the piano well, but I stick to classical. And rapping? I’m not even going to pretend I have any flow. No, my talent would be dancing. I’d been trained in classical and contemporary styles for fourteen years at this point, and dance was basically my life through all of high school. Auditioning as a dancer made sense.
Now, I’d never auditioned for any such show nor even had the slightest inclination to do so, mostly because I’d never had the confidence. For some reason, in September of 2011, as I started my second year of college, I felt a little impulsive and I decided to submit an application to preliminary auditions — it was a simple form for personal details. I hadn’t expected that anything would come of it.
So when I received an email to go, I wrote it off with a laugh. Me auditioning to be an idol? Hah. I was two weeks into the school year, and I’d never had any ambitions to be an idol. A back-up dancer maybe, but never an idol. I still doubted I’d get anywhere. When I told my friends about it as a passing remark, they voiced the thought that had been niggling at the back of my mind: “Well, it couldn’t hurt to try, right?” With that, I decided to make the trip from Georgia where I was attending university, up to New York where auditions were being held. That’s a fourteen-hour drive going and another fourteen hours coming back. As a usually level-headed, extremely indecisive person, I still look back on this trip and wonder where I found the moxie to drop everything go.
With two of my best friends in tow, I left on a Saturday evening. I had confirmed my audition for Sunday, though I knew I needed to get there early since it was still first come-first served. We drove all night, arriving in Englewood, New Jersey (the location for the “New York” audition) at just past six in the morning. I had managed a few fitful hours of sleep somewhere between Virginia and New Jersey, waking up as we hit the New Jersey Turnpike without any cash. When we arrived at the venue, there were already a few people waiting. Despite my exhausted state, I was excited. I’d arrived without any stakes in the possibility of getting through to the next round. I was ready to enjoy the experience.
I was thirteenth or fifteenth in line. The conversations stayed on the obvious topic: K-pop. People voiced their love for groups like 2PM, Shinee and Big Bang, talked about which company they would choose, and discussed being a foreigner in the K-pop fandom. After an hour or so, the line was growing increasingly long, and the show’s staff finally began to arrive. As they began handing out tags and paper work, the contrast between their tired, humorless faces and the enthused, K-pop crazy faces of contestants became apparent — it was quite amusing. By the time they had organized everything and told us how we would be proceeding, we were an hour behind schedule, and we hadn’t even begun.
As we waited for them to let us into the building, tensions rose in line. People began psyching each other out: singers warmed up, musicians practiced and dancers stretched. Meanwhile, I played games on my phone and discussed where to eat after the audition with my friends. I can’t deny that I had some nerves — who wouldn’t? — but I wasn’t overly concerned with how things were going to go. I had choreographed a short 60-second piece to f(x)‘s “Mr. Boogie” and had my CD in hand, ready to go.
Some time after nine they finally began to let us in, and it was chaos.
The staff — a lot of whom barely spoke English — was already frazzled in trying to organize everything, and a stampede of tweens and teens was not in their capabilities to control. After taking up our forms and photographing us individually, we shuffled into a theater where they were holding the first group of about 300 or so people, including one friend or chaperone per contestant. The cameras were already set up when one of the staff members took the stage to explain what was going to happen. To get opening footage for the show, they were going to play “Sorry, Sorry” by Super Junior so that we could dance, have fun and hopefully get rid of some nerves. As the song came on, a few people stood up and danced, and everyone sang along. But it was undoubtedly a lame attempt at fun, and the guy in charge told us so. There was a round of laughs, and he said he’d give us a second chance. This time, we brought the house down. Everyone was in the aisles dancing and having fun as cameras on stage and overhead moved and filmed us.
When the song ended, we returned to our seats, and they took the first sixty contestants backstage. I was among that group. Before they organized us, they asked us to warm up and practice so they could film it all. After showing off what we all had prepared, the staff divided us into three groups and took each team to a small room. They explained that we had sixty seconds or less to show our talent, and that’s it.
I auditioned as one of the last of my group. Surprisingly, they told me that they liked me and that I was to go on to the next room. In the next round, they cut me off just short of sixty seconds to tell me that I was “very talented and pretty but not what they were looking for.” With a quick thanks, I left. It was all very short and simple. I wish I had made it into the finals just so I could have met JYP. Hah. He was there to judge the finals and select whom to send to Korea for the broadcast auditions.
Despite all the filming they did, there is maybe one frame in the opening of the first episode as a testament of the auditions that day. It was a different experience than I’d expected, completely unorganized and considerably briefer. Nevertheless, I had fun. I ended up with a great story to tell at dinner parties, though I still have yet to tell my parents about it. I’m quite sure they would question my sanity and maybe not even believe it ever happened. I still have trouble believing that it happened at all.
Readers, have you auditioned for a program? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.