Two S’poreans earn shot at K-pop stardom

Singapore Showbiz

The Singapore representatives of tvN K-Pop Star Hunt 23-year-old Maressa Zahirah and 16-year-old Jasmine Tan. (Photo courtesy of SPRG)
The Singapore representatives of tvN K-Pop Star Hunt 23-year-old Maressa Zahirah and 16-year-old Jasmine Tan. (Photo courtesy of SPRG)

Two Singaporean teenagers have been chosen to train professionally for a shot at becoming the next Rain or Lee Hyo-ri.

Maressa Zahirah, 23, and Jasmine Tan, 16, survived several rounds of elimination before finally winning the Singapore leg of tvN K-Pop Star Hunt on Sunday.

After submitting a online video audition, the pair were among 100 that had been called up for a live audition at Starhub Green along Paya Lebar Way a day earlier.

That field was whittled down to the top 20, who then had to perform live in front of about 300 people at Square 2 Novena on the following day.

[Slideshow: Contestants audition for K-pop reality talent show]

Both Maressa and Jasmine will now be flown to Seoul, Korea to participate in a three-week boot camp at the end of next month. The camp is organised by Cube Entertainment, whose CEO Simon Hong had previously produced Rain, Wonder Girls, God and 2PM.

The boot camp will be filmed as part of a reality TV show that will feature eight other finalists from Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines. After a final live showdown between the final four in Korea, the winner could be offered a chance to sign with Cube.

For Zahirah, it is the chance of a lifetime.

And having participated in the KBS K-Pop World Star earlier this year and cracking the top 10, she knew what to expect.

"I kept joining competitions because I wanted the experience so when eventually this happens, I already have the experience of being in a competition," said the girl who has  Pakistani-Portugese-Javanese ancestry.

If she does succeed, she could even be the first Malay to be a K-Pop star. The Oklahoma City University graduate has strong support from her musically-inclined family. Her dad's a musician who plays in a band at pubs while her brother is a dancer. She was also previously scouted by singer Imran Ajmain after her participation at a Rihanna talent show in 2009.

For now though, it's more gruelling sessions at the gym to get in shape for next month's boot camp.

Revealing she's already lost 15 kilos in the last four months while training for the competition, she said she's going to keep pushing herself.

"We are going to dance more and even though age is not a factor, age is catching up and I don't want to fall behind when it comes to stamina," said Zahirah.

Referring to her drastic weight loss, she said,  "I didn't lose it just because of this competition per se, but generally because I want to get into the industry."

The other Singaporean winner also had to break through the pain barrier to win her place in the reality show.

After impressing the judges after dancing to "On The Floor/Ma Boy/Fingers", Tan -- who had been battling flu and sore throat during the earlier elimination rounds -- was asked to sing.

"Jasmine was sick yesterday and we tested her and made her sing. It was to test her attitude and she just sang," said CEO of Fly Entertainment and one of the event's three judges, Irene Ang.

"So I think if you are hungry enough, the chances of you making it in the industry is higher," she added.

But the competition could yet take a toll on Tan's studies.

The Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' student will be taking her O-level exams the day after the final elimination round but she said if she has to be stationed in Korea for training, she is prepared to continue studying in Korea.

Otherwise, she has her sights set on pursuing forensic anthropology in a local polytechnic.

So what can the girls expect in Korea next month?

Joining the intensely hard-driving industry is hard for Koreans, much less these two Singaporean girls and it will do them good to persevere through, said Ang.

"The way Koreans train their talents, (they are) very stringent and strict and it's best for them so the girls better be prepared," she added.

Head of Cube Entertainment Park Jae-Hyun, who was also one of the judges, explained that the boot camp will be hard and it will test the participants on their mental strength.

Participants will have to deal with homesickness, cultural differences and hone their crafts in just three weeks.

Judges of the Singapore leg of tvN K-Pop Star Hunt, Park Jae Hyun, Irene Ang and Eddy Tan. (Photo courtesy of SPRG)
Judges of the Singapore leg of tvN K-Pop Star Hunt, Park Jae Hyun, Irene Ang and Eddy Tan. (Photo courtesy of SPRG)

"My only worry is that Singaporean kids are very sheltered and these two girls might just cry and come home," said Ang, who added that "they have to prove to the world that Singaporeans are made of substance."

She likened them to Olympic athletes because they will be bearing the Singapore flag so they better "last at least a few episodes" and "don't be the first to be sent back".

"For a long time, I've really wondered why is no one gathering these talents," she said.

"We've been paying a lot of money for these Koreans to come here and I think that it's about time we make a bit of money back from them," she quipped.

The reality series will premiere in the first quarter of 2012 on tvN (StarHub Channel 824).