Having undergone showbiz training boot camp in Korea, wannabes Elaine Yuki Wong and Ferlyn Wong now know the price of fame
All those wannabe pop stars dreaming of fame and fortune, take note. Stardom comes at a cost, as two Singaporean K-pop hopefuls are finding out.
Back home in Singapore from Korea last week for a two-week visit, the two girls told LifeStyle about the gritty reality behind the glitz.
They had spent a week in Seoul getting their first taste of the gruelling regime of exercising and dieting they will have to endure for five years under the Korean star-making machine.
Elaine, 23, says: ‘I didn’t expect it to be so tough. But since we are scheduled to debut in March next year, the intensive training is necessary. We have to be at our best.’
Their experience of being groomed for stardom has been more like undergoing a military boot camp.
This has been their regime five days a week, with weekends off:
No boyfriends are permitted, either. Luckily, both girls say that they are single at the moment.
And no make-up – the girls are supposed to have a minimal, natural look.
Other orders: When out with their managers, they have to wear sunglasses which they must not remove in public, even when indoors.
Add to that new look, new identities: They have to use Korean stage names, with Elaine’s being Yuki and Ferlyn’s, Gieun.
Elaine, who has graduated from her studies in tourism and hospitality management at private school Kaplan, says: ‘I get hungry very easily and I would complain once every two to three hours. Luckily, my minders give me a banana or a few low-fat biscuits when I complain.’
One of the aims of the week was to build up their stamina and whip them into shape.
Ferlyn, who is deferring her business studies course at Temasek Polytechnic for her shot at stardom, says: ‘It is very tough, but it is something that previous female stars have gone through before. They survived and are fine now, so I am not worried that it would affect my health or anything like that.’
The 19-year-old has been ordered by her minder to lose 3kg during the two weeks she is back here. If not she will ‘die’ when she returns to Korea, she says with a laugh.
Ferlyn, who weighed 52kg before she went to Korea, says: ‘I have only soup these days when I am in Singapore: tofu soup, seafood soup, seaweed soup, fish soup. I feel hungry sometimes, which is why I try to have more small meals a day. It works though, I have already lost 2kg in a week.’
The local duo are being handled by Korean minders who are well-known in the industry and have managed big Korean names such as Girls’ Generation, Rain and Dong Bang Shin Ki.
The training they are undergoing is similar to what those big names went through to crack the big time and make millions of dollars.
Local talent management company Alpha Entertainment pays for everything during the training period. The girls do not get any allowance during this time.
After they debut, they will be paid once every three months – a net sum and any profits they earn.
They went to Seoul after being chosen from more than 3,000 hopefuls by Alpha Entertainment in an audition held here late last year to find K-pop’s next big thing.
Ferlyn’s previous entertainment experience consisted of learning singing and dancing for many years. She was a dance instructor at Chinese pop entertainment company Ocean Butterflies before the life-changing audition.
As for Elaine, she does not have any prior experience but had been doing freelance modelling on a regular basis.
Next weekend, it is back to Korea to continue their rigorous training, coming back to Singapore only once every three months to visit their family.
They will stick with Alpha Entertainment under a five-year contract which starts on the first day they debut. If either of them wants to quit during the training period, they have to pay a penalty of US$20,000 ($25,000).
With about five to 10 Korean rookie groups debuting every year, competition is stiff. Some bands such as five-member male group Beast made a strong impression when they emerged, but there are others who toil for years before making it – and some fizzle out altogether.
OK to diets, plastic surgery
Elaine had her concerns as well. She says: ‘Initially, I had my doubts. I had to shut down my blog which was my source of income through advertisements and I wondered what I would do if we didn’t make it big in a saturated market.
‘However, I have decided not to think so much anymore. Since I have decided to go for it, I should work hard and perform well when the group debuts.’
But such is the pull of the fame game and she and Ferlyn are undaunted.
They are even prepared to undergo plastic surgery, common among Korean pop stars. Ferlyn wants to have double eyelids, while Elaine has thought about enhancing her nose.
However, Elaine, who before being selected for K-pop camp was earning her own money from modelling and blogging, says: ‘We asked our minders in Korea and they told us that we look fine and do not need to go for plastic surgery. So, we are not thinking about that issue anymore.’
The duo were wary about one aspect of the Korean entertainment industry: the casting couch, where rising stars have to perform sexual favours in return for landing roles in shows. But their Korean minders have assured them that no such thing will happen as they will keep tabs on them all the time, even when they go to the restroom.
Ferlyn’s parents are unfazed by the K-pop boot camp. Her mother, housewife Rosy Ng, 48, says: ‘What the girls have gone through so far has been quite reasonable. The company has invested a lot in them, so they need to work hard for the company. I am not worried about Ferlyn. I want her to follow her dreams and make it big.’
Alpha Entertainment says it is investing $500,000 in each girl to turn her into a star .
As for Elaine, her mother, a housewife in her 40s who wants to give her name only as Mrs Wong, has told her: ‘No matter what happens in Korea, do not do anything stupid. Remember that your family is always here for you.’
S’porean has had many sleepless nights since her teenage daughter was picked for K-pop stardom
This Singaporean may soon be the proud mother of a K-pop star.
For Ms Lucy Wang, the journey has been a long and sometimes trying one, ever since the Singapore leg of the JYP & Alpha Asean Region Audition 2010 was held here by local entertainment company Alpha Entertainment (Alpha) two years ago.
Her daughter Natasha Low, 19, was selected by the casting directors to be one of Singapore’s first K-pop girls.
She joins fellow Singaporean Ferlyn Wong, 20, and the Korean members of the group.
The group’s name and size are shrouded in secrecy before its official debut in Korea next month.
Will the group soar to dizzy heights a la Girls’ Generation, miss A, Kara, Wonder Girls and 2NE1?
Initially, Ms Wang had objected to her daughter signing the seven-year work contract.
But after months of persuasion, Low, who had just completed her studies at Fuhua Secondary School, finally convinced Ms Wang to allow her to pursue her passion.
Low packed her bags and left for Korea to begin her training last July.
Ms Wang will fly to Korea at the end of next month to witness her daughter’s first step as K-pop star.
Ms Wang, a 46-year-old dance instructor, told The New Paper: “Of course I had my concerns about Natasha becoming a K-pop singer.
“I heard that the training is tough and there were those stories about indecent proposals from higher-ups in the industry (as part of the casting couch culture).
“I wanted Natasha to have a normal job in a local corporation, but what she told me was that if we forced her to do something she didn’t want, she’d just do it for the sake of doing it and wouldn’t be happy at all.
“That stubborn part of her, she definitely got from me. I do miss her, but she’s so busy these days.”
Low’s parents divorced three years ago. She and her older brother Nicholas have since lived with their mum.
At Ms Wang’s house, Low’s room is now the family maid’s room and all the posters she had on her wall have been taken down.
Ms Wang said they gave the room the “makeover” only after Low had been in Korea for a year and she was sure that her child was going to be staying there.
She added, with a laugh: “Since she has gone to Korea, I’ve been depositing $500 every month into her bank account so you can say that I’m still giving her anallowance.
“She has promised me that once she makes it, she will give me money. I think how successful they will be depends on how hardworking they are.”
In the first month after Low had left for Korea, a worried Ms Wang found she couldn’t sleep at night – she kept thinking about her daughter in a foreign land.
As the girls were not allowed to use their mobile phones in the day, she had contact with Low only close to midnight, and even then, it was often just exchanging SMSes.
In the beginning, when Low was still settling down in Korea, she would contact her mother almost every day. But Ms Wang admitted that of late, they haven’t spoken in weeks.
However, according to her observation of her daughter the last few times that she has been back to Singapore, including at Christmas, Low has changed – and for the better.
Said Ms Wang: “In the past, she used to be a stubborn girl and sometimes lazy.
“Now, I find that she’s very independent as she has learnt to take care of her group members as they all have to live together and spend all their time with each other.
“Initially, she had told me that training from 8am to 11pm was very tiring, but she has never once wanted to give up. This is so different from the Natasha last time who would give up easily whenever she undertook anything.”
While trying to figure out her career path in the past, Low took lessons in singing, ballet and hip hop, but she didn’t continue with them after a while.
Family of dancers
Low, whose grandfather is Mr Sunny Low, the owner of the renowned Sunny Low Dance Studio, comes from generations of dancers.
Her brother is in Thailand training to be a professional ballroom dancer. Ms Wang had no problem with that since he would be carrying on the family tradition.
Ms Wang also laughed affectionately when she recalled how her svelte daughter used to be so plump that she was a member of the TAF (Trim And Fit) club in primary school.
The 1.68m-tall Low, who used to weigh 55kg, has lost more then 10kg thanks to the vigorous dance training and healthy meals in Korea.
Ms Wang recalled her daughter’s love for sweets and durians and how she could finish three bowls of rice at meal times and would finish her family members’ leftover food as well.
The girls’ new image will also only be revealed at the launch next month.
To comfort her mother, Low has told her to take her prolonged absence like she’s “on holiday”.
Said Ms Wang: “Some people might think that it’s difficult for the girls as they will have no life over in Korea what with restrictions such as they all have to go out together at all times and strict curfews.”
She added: “But I prefer it this way as I know Natasha will be controlled and ironically I feel that it’s safer for her than if she were here.
“Here, there would be less control.
“Natasha hasn’t had a boyfriend, so I trust that will be the case for the next seven years (as the girls aren’t allowed to date).”
Two years ago, Low had accompanied her friend to the Singapore leg of the JYP & Alpha Asean Region Audition 2010, which saw more than 3,000 wide-eyed hopefuls slug it out for a shot at K-pop stardom.
Ironically, since she was young, Low had aspired to be a star in Taiwan like her idol, Taiwanese actress Rainie Yang.
But she auditioned for fun anyway. As fate would have it, she impressed the socks off the local and Korean casting directors.
A few months after she sang and danced for them, they offered her, local blogger Elaine Yuki Wong, 23, and later, student Ferlyn, a full contract to be part of the new group.
Elaine dropped out of the group at the end of last year, after six months of training, citing that it was “too tough”.
The girls are not allowed to do any interviews before their debut.
Alpha CEO Mr Alan Chan told The New Paper: “This is the way things are done in Korea and everything about the girls must be kept hush hush before the launch.
“There have been cases before where divulging the group’s name earlier resulted in rival newbie groups stealing the name.
“All I’ll say is the girls look amazing and next month, all will be revealed.”
3) The New Paper