The world can’t get enough of them—reality competition shows, survival talent shows, or whatever else they are called. The airwave is filled with progenies of “American Idol,” “Britain’s Got Talent,” and “The voice” that spread and prosper like bamboo shoots after rain—as a Korean would say. The K-pop scene is fully embracing this phenomenon as well.
“The Voice of Korea,” on the cable network Mnet, is part of an international franchise started by the Dutch show, “The Voice of Holland.”
Korea’s also got “Korea’s Got Talent,” which is on another cable network tvN.
One of the biggest stars that the show has generated is Choi Sungbong, who is often compared to Susan Boyle of “Britain’s Got Talent.” The young man, who grew up supporting himself by selling chewing gums and energy drinks after running away from an orphanage, caused many wet eyes in the audience as he sung on the stage.
Korea also has its own homespun shows that are enjoying an even bigger success. Mnet’s “Superstar K,” returning for a fifth season this year, served as a gateway for many of the now-recognizable stars, such as Seo In-guk, Busker Busker, Ulala Session, and John Park. (Incidentally, John Park made to the top 20 position in “American Idol” shortly before winning second place in “Superstar K.”)
Major networks are also joining in. MBC’s “Star Audition: the Great Birth” was widely popular, reaching a highest rating of 22.8% in 2011.
SBS’s “K-pop Star,” anticipating a second season this year, is produced in partnership with three major Korean record companies that have a specific aim of finding the next stars for their labels. The show, which introduced LeeHi to the world, attracts keen interest and enthusiasm of aspiring stars and fans alike with the enticing opportunities it offers to its winners, including a contract option with one of the partnering record companies for a debut album.
The wild popularity that the Korean survival talent shows enjoy also exposes them to criticism. Some critics question the fairness of their judgment processes. Others argue these shows glorify pipe-dreams and fantasies. Yet others say they take advantage of ordinary people and turn them into a modern gladiator for a commercial purpose. Meanwhile, viewers will continue to tune in, lest they miss the moments through which a shinny new star emerges little by little—one round of survival at a time. Count on it.