15-year-old S’porean K-pop hopeful: They tried to ‘fix’ my face

Elizabeth Soh
Elizabeth Soh
Singapore Showbiz

Anthea performed a Jessie J song with a new image which she was uncomfortable with (Photo courtesy of Channel M)

She left Singapore a 15-year-old fresh-faced aspiring K-pop star, one of two wanna-bes who beat hundreds of others to represent the Republic in the Channel M Star Hunt reality television show.

Anthea Wang was eventually eliminated and returned home a month later -- after a gruelling four-week boot camp which involved a serious battering of her self esteem. The teenager was told that her face needed to be "fixed", given an extreme makeover and she even suffered a melt-down on screen after a particularly stressful hair cut.

Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore on Thursday, the spunky K-pop hopeful from Kranji Secondary schoolgirl said her trip to the land of Seoul and "Gangnam Style" was a huge reality wake-up call.

'Petite plastic surgery'

"I was told that my jaw was square, my skin was ghostly and pale, and my nose was humped," said Anthea, whose other facial features escaped harsher criticism.

In one episode of the reality TV show aimed at grooming future K-pop stars, contestants were brought to consult with a Seoul plastic surgeon and offered a chance at "free fillers", euphemistically called "petite plastic surgeries" to subtly alter their looks.

Anthea was given a full transformation after being told her skin was pale and ghostly and she had a 'humped nose' (Photo courtesy of Channel M)

Extremely popular in plastic-crazy Seoul, fillers are a temporary aesthetic procedure where substances like hyaluronic acid are injected into a patient's face to re-shape uneven features or overly-strong jawlines.

"I wasn't surprised to hear it, because I look in the mirror and I know what I see, but still, I was like, ouch."

The self-assured teenager admitted feeling tempted to do fillers on her nose and jaw, but decided not to in the end because she wanted to seek the permission of her parents first.

"They gave us so little time to think -- it was like, the minute you say 'yes' they started applying numbing cream on your face. I didn't want to do it without consulting my parents first -- I'm only 15, I don't know if that was even legal?"

There was also drama on screen when another 15-year-old Filipino contestant, Liahona, decided to back out of doing fillers after agreeing to the procedure.

"I told her, you're just 15 and you're beautiful the way you are, you don't need it, but she felt very pressured to do it," said Anthea. "She was quite emotional and she said her father would be really sad if she fixed her nose, because it was just like his."

The dilemma ended with Liahona tearfully changing her mind and sobbing as she rubbed the numbing cream off her face with her bare hands.

'They tried to make me someone else'

Looking back on her one-month experience, Anthea's biggest takeaway from her short time in the cut-throat K-pop industry is that nobody is allowed to be themselves.

"They come up with a style and an image for you, and they pick your hair, your make-up, your face, everything. You don't get to decide anything for yourself," said Anthea.

Anthea was later to shed her fair share of tears during a traumatic hair cut, which saw her waist-length, straight locks hacked off into a chin-level bob and permed for good measure.

Anthea had a meltdown during a hair makeover (Photo courtesy of Channel M)

"I cried because I was very uncomfortable with what they were doing to my hair," admitted Anthea, who has experimented with alternative fashion like cos-playing.

She had initially been open to the idea of having her long hair cut but baulked when her Korean hairdresser told her she would be giving her short bangs high above her eyebrows.

"I felt it looked strange, something you only see in artsy photo shoots and I was really not comfortable with it, I felt it was not me at all. The hair dresser was polite, but very strict. She told me that if I were her customer, I would have a choice -- but I was not."

The perm and short bangs were all part of a "cutesy" image the show's producers had decided she would have to adopt, along with glittery tracksuits and loud clothes, despite Anthea not being "cutesy" type at all.

"I feel that when they ask you to act cutesy but you're not, it's like you're lying to people, and that's not right," she said firmly.

Anthea wipes away tears after a tense makeover session (Photo courtesy of Channel M)

Despite all that drama, Anthea says what the Star Hunt contestants had to go through was mild compared to actual K-pop trainees.

"We trained about 3 hours every day, which was very manageable. They also did not restrict our diet. The only thing was that we weren't allowed to leave the house at all when we were not filming," said Anthea.

There were also surreal moments when the hardcore fan of girl-group 2NE1 found out that the Gangnam dorm the contestants were staying in was just two levels above Cube Entertainment boyband B2sT's rooms.

They were also just across the road from the dorms of SM Town's F(x) girl group as well as JYP Entertainment's headquarters -- literally smack in the middle of the ultra-posh Gangnam district.

"Once, we were eating in a restaurant near our dorm and we saw (boyband) B2B there! Not only did we get to sit at the table next to them, they also smiled at us and told us to eat well," gushed Anthea. "It was so cool."

Back to reality

As surreal as her experience was, it's back to reality -- and exams -- for Anthea, who deferred her 'O' levels last year for a shot at K-pop stardom.

She intends to continue singing covers of songs she enjoys on her YouTube channel, MariAnneDeChanteur, but her main focus will be on doing well for her exams while the excitement dies down and she gets used to being just a normal girl again.

"I was a bit worried about fitting in with my juniors and a bit sad when I saw all my friends graduating and moving on to Poly or somewhere else," she said a little sadly.

"But I have no regrets at all about going. If I had to choose again, I would still have gone. If I see a great opportunity, I would never miss it."

Confident, articulate and self-assured, Anthea has come a long way from the quiet contestant who only decided at the very last minute to try her luck at the Star Hunt auditions.

K-pop Star Hunt S2 airs every Saturday at 10 pm on Channel M (StarHub Channel 824 or Mio TV Channel 518)

Watch her at her auditions here singing 2NE1's, "Ugly".

Related links:

Cold, stark reality behind the bright lights of K-pop stardom

16-year-old represents Singapore in K-pop reality show

Singapore's youths fixated on fillers?

Korean 'ulzzang' beauty phenomenon comes to Singapore