The cold stark reality behind the bright lights of K-pop stardom
Almost one year after heading to Seoul with heady dreams of becoming part of the next Girl's Generation, Singaporean Elaine Yuki Wong has dropped out and returned home.
Elaine, 23, announced on her blog in February this year that she was "Back For Good" and cited medical reasons for deciding to end her contract with Alpha Entertainment.
"I've dropped out from the girl group .. due to medical reasons and there being too tough ... I couldn't take it and broke down lots of times," she wrote in a post explaining her return.
"It's not easy being there, all my myself. Without friends and family. Especially in places which (sic) language you don't even know how to speak. I can't even describe and put it in words."
Elaine and fellow Singaporean Ferlyn Wong, 20, beat 3,000 other hopefuls in 2010 to emerge tops in a mass audition held by Korean talent management agency JYP Entertainment and local company Alpha Entertainment.
Back then, Alpha's Chief Executive Officer Alan Chan told local media that the girls would be groomed together with another Singaporean, 18-year-old Natasha Low, as well as four other Koreans to form a six-member girl group debuting in March this year.
Their launch date has since been pushed to July this year.
Half a million dollars would be invested in each girl, who, if successful, could expect to earn about US$1 million (S$1.2 million) a year. In all, Mr Chan is estimated to have spent $2.5 million in his efforts to create the next K-pop girl group idols.
However, the gruelling training proved to be too much for Elaine, who, as it turns out, was seriously affected by the lack of freedom.
"Even though I'm back, but I'm actually very happy with my life now. I can do whatever I want to, go wherever I want to and meet whoever I wish to! Something I learned: Life's not about fame. It's about being happy," she blogged.
Training for the girls in Seoul, Korea, came in the form of a military-style boot camp where they were not even allowed to go to the bathroom without a minder.
Their intense 14-hour days would start at 7 am and involve hours of gym, dance, singing, and swimming. The girls were also made to wear sunglasses both indoors and outdoors all the time and not allowed to apply any makeup.
Breakfast and snacks (no lunch) was low fat biscuits, lettuce, and bananas, while dinner was boiled chicken breast and salad, and they were not allowed to drink water after 7 pm to prevent "bloatedness" the next day.
Elaine and Ferlyn, who were re-named "Yuki" and "Gi-eun" and told to answer to those names only, were also told to de-activate all social media platforms before leaving Singapore, including Facebook, Twitter, and any blogging sites.
This was a stark contrast to Elaine's very open life as a model and popular blogger here before leaving for Korea.
"I went through a going-to-be superstar life. Those trainings, those diet plans. Totally being controlled like as though (sic) I'm leading my life how they want it to be," wrote Elaine.
When contacted, Alpha's CEO, Mr Alan Chan, told Yahoo! Singapore that Elaine is still contracted with his company, but had dropped out from the girl group in October last year.
"We will ask her (Elaine) to stop because she needs our permission," he said, referring to her making money off her blog. "We will make an announcement about it in July when the girl group is launched in Korea."
He added that at this moment, she had not been found to have breached her contract.
Yahoo! Singapore understands that if Elaine is found to have breached her contract with Alpha, she may face a penalty of US$20,000 (S$25,000).
In response, Elaine told Yahoo! Singapore that she would speak for herself on any issue related to her career and was not represented by Alpha or Mr Chan.
She also said that she would continue to blog and post photos of herself and is much happier being back here in Singapore.
"I will still consider a career in entertainment. I love to act!" said Elaine in response to questions about whether she will take another stab at the showbiz industry.
An Asian entertainment talent scout here, who declined to be named, told Yahoo! Singapore that the Korean formula for producing stars is notoriously unforgiving.
"It is really like you are signing your life away -- you lose your identity and they create a new one for you. In Korea, its widely accepted because competition is so stiff and they only have one shot at making it big. So I am not surprised that she (Elaine) dropped out -- there are so many girls waiting to debut and only one or two will really make it," she said.
Despite making the decision to drop out, Elaine expressed her thanks to Alpha Entertainment for the opportunity.
"This road is tough, but I've got no regrets. If I were given a chance again, I'd still go for it. I'll (sic) still go through everything again; for the auditions, fly to Korea and go through these tough trainings (sic)."