Barry C Chung
K-pop is all the rage these days. Talent agencies are tapping into the K-pop phenomenon and holding Asia-wide contests to find the next big star.
Their message: everyone wants to be a K-pop star. Now you can too - sort of. And you don't even have to be Korean.
The South Korean television channel tvN staged a new hunt for stars, in collaboration with record label Cube Entertainment.
Last year, Cube invited aspiring young musicians from Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Hong Kong to send brief videos of themselves as they performed. Shortlisted candidates were invited to live auditions in their home towns, where they competed for two spots in each region. The winners were flown to Seoul to compete on tvN K-Pop Star Hunt: Cube Audition, a reality show where contestants were voted off until only one remained.
Nicola Chan Wing-tung, 18, and Andy Lui Chun-yeung, 17, represented Hong Kong in the contest. Both have Chinese fathers and Korean mothers. And both wanted to make it as a K-pop star.
The pair spent about three weeks in Korea, where they learned many aspects of being a successful performing artist.
They were both eliminated in the first round, where six of the 11 contestants were sent packing.
Nicola says she made two crucial mistakes when it came to her performance of Girls Generation's Gee. 'That's a group song [for] about six people and the melody is very fast,' she explains.
'I think I could have done better with another song. At the time, they asked us to choose one song, and we weren't allowed to change. Some of the songs they provided I didn't know, so I chose a song that I knew.'
Also, on the day of her performance, Nicola wasn't dressed properly for the cooler Korean climate.
'It was really, really cold and I only wore a T-shirt and [trousers]. [I] was freezing and couldn't really sing. It was difficult for me,' she recalls.
Andy, too, has had time to reflect on what went wrong in Korea. He thinks he has learned his lessons and says he will be more prepared next time around.
Andy spends two hours a day practising singing.
He also wants to enrol in dance classes to improve his stage routine and become a better all-around performer.
Their setback hasn't slowed down the two aspiring pop stars. They insist they will enroll in future talent shows.
They say the competition in Seoul provided them with a world-class learning experience. 'We had vocal lessons, dancing classes and Korean language classes,' says Andy, who speaks fluent Korean.
'I also learned many things, like living together in a dorm taught me co-operation.'
Stars aren't just born; they are made. They need to work hard to make it in the fiercely competitive world of pop music, the two teens learned.
And the K-pop scene is as competitive as any - especially now that the genre has gained global appeal.
'This was a very good experience for us all,' Nicola notes.
'We both have the same dream - to be a K-pop star!'
TvN will air K-pop Star Hunt Special, a half-hour behind-the-scenes programme, on Saturday at 7pm