In light of the Korean Wave sweeping across Indonesia, some Indonesians have begun to chase their newfound dreams of becoming the next K-Pop star.
The path to K-Pop stardom is a tumultuous one, even for native Koreans. The preferred, surefire route is to get accepted by a major Korean talent agency that trains aspiring singers and churns out popular K-Pop bands. Getting into one of those coveted agencies, however, is jaw-droppingly competitive.
You need to pass multiple rounds of auditions and display something special, whether it is your voice or good looks or preferably both, as the agencies are swamped with hundreds of applications and demo tapes every week. In a much-talked-about open audition held by S.M. Entertainment, one of the Big 3 talent agencies in Korea, only one person was accepted out of 8,231 applicants.
And, if by some incredible miracle you get accepted, you have to plow through years of grueling training before you can finally make your debut. Jo Kwon, a member of the boy band 2AM, for example, had to spend eight years as a trainee before his debut in 2008.
As daunting and competitive as the audition and training process is, it is even more so for non-Koreans living abroad.
Global auditions are held only a few times a year in select countries like the US and Japan. Not only that, foreign trainees have to face culture and language barriers while staying in Korea, separated from their family and friends for years.
Given all these difficulties, only a handful of foreigners have ever succeeded in joining K-Pop bands. One example is Nickhun Horvejkul, a Thai singer in the popular boy group 2PM.
Some Indonesian hopefuls, however, remain undeterred even by these overwhelming obstacles. Arie Raditya is one of them.
Arie is a 21-year-old student at the University of Indonesia currently participating in an exchange program in South Korea.
He has always enjoyed singing since an early age, but he took an interest in K-Pop only after majoring in Korean Studies in college. He started covering K-Pop songs when he could “no longer stand listening to people sing Korean songs with bad pronunciation.”
After winning the biggest K-Pop singing contest in Indonesia organized by the Korea Tourism Organization in 2010, he began to seriously consider auditioning for Korean record labels.
“I had nothing to lose and I felt like singing was an arena I knew I could do well in,” he explained. He recently had his first live audition for S.M. Entertainment in Seoul, a weekly open audition for aspiring singers, dancers and actors of all nationalities.
He recalls the day of the nerve-wracking audition, where he arrived late and was so panicky he “bumped into everything” on his way. He sang Huhgak’s ballad “Hello” in front of three judges.
He thinks that the odds are stacked against him as he is a bit too old. Those in their teens usually have the edge over older hopefuls as agencies have more time to groom them and train them to become skilled singers and dancers.
He tries not to get his hopes too high, well aware of the fierce competition. Even if he gets turned down, he takes solace in the fact that he at least gave it a shot.
Despite his realistic expectations, Arie still has confidence in his singing talents.
He has a number of awards under his belt, including first place in Scientists & Engineer Members International Festival 2011 singing contest held in Korea.
He is always seeking ways to get more experience singing in front of an audience.
Arie believes that it is particularly difficult for Indonesians to audition for Korean record labels.
To date, none of the Big 3 talent agencies have come to Indonesia to recruit. Indonesian hopefuls have to fly either to Singapore or Malaysia for auditions there, or all the way to Korea to have a shot at open auditions.
Even award-winning Indonesian cover dance teams, like the NYE Boys that were sent to Korea to represent Indonesia at the K-Pop World Festival 2011, were not able to go to auditions. As a result, numerous online petitions and Facebook groups have sprung up, urging talent agencies to hold global auditions in Indonesia.
But Arie also has another goal apart from more audition opportunities.
He hopes Indonesian talent agencies create a fairer recruiting system similar to the one used by their Korean counterparts, where auditions are open to everyone with talent and passion.
“Frankly, I’d be happier if I could start my music career in the Indonesian entertainment industry where there are amazing composers and artists.”
In the meantime, Arie plans to continue auditioning for Korean record labels in between his studies in the hopes of one day realizing his dream of becoming a singer.