Since he was younger, 17-year-old David Shin has been a fan of K-pop idol Taeyang and wanted to emulate him. But living in the United States, far away from the K-pop world, Shin had few chances to prepare for auditions at Korean entertainment agencies. Then Born Star, one of South Korea's largest entertainment training centers, opened up a New York campus in January, and things changed drastically.
Born Star New York is just one of the company's multiple branches, with others located throughout South Korea and China. The center has trained top K-pop stars like INFINITE's Woohyun, Girl's Day member Sojin and KARA's Youngji and helped them land contracts with their respective record labels.
Anthony Seo, the general manger of Born Star Training Center New York, sat down with KpopStarz recently and explained what exactly Born Star is offering students.
"Our program is very simple," he said. "We are in charge of the entertainment training aspect. If you're interested in music, we teach you music. We teach you any skill that auditions want to see."
"For example, these days, dancing is a requirement in many auditions, even if you're an actor," Seo explained. "It's our job to follow the current trends, which are always changing. If you don't know the language, we supply you with Korean class. We provide vocal and acting classes. We will give you any course you need to pass an audition."
"The greatest thing about Born Star, which is why many students come to us, is because we work with top agencies in Korea and we give auditions each month," he added.
The Korean entertainment industry has developed a reputation for the contrived nature of the field, where often times entertainers are crafted by record labels and agencies after an in-house training period. What many don't realize is that most of those K-pop stars, whether singers or actors, have undergone prior training, just to get standards up to par for Korean entertainment companies to consider them. As the K-pop industry becomes increasingly competitive, hundreds of K-pop training centers have popped up around South Korea, and Born Star NYC is the first one to expand to the United States.
"We know where the market is shifting, we know the talent agencies these days want to enter other markets, other than Korea, like Hollywood in the U.S., as well as China and Southeast Asia," Seo said. "There are a lot of fans out there, and a lot of good talents. In Korea, there's a lot of good talent, but it's oversaturated. Here, the good talent is untapped, and we know that there's a lot of good talent out here."
As for what makes the Born Star NYC students stand out, "Knowing English is a huge skill," Seo pointed out. "I tell my students that English is their biggest skill, and will separate them from the natives in Korea. 'They work hard over there, but you have English.'"
Seo thinks that K-pop is special because the goal isn't to find talent, but to create it.
"Potential is something that you make," he explained. "I look at personality, to be honest. In Korean entertainment, we have the notion that you can make stars. If you're confident, dedicated, willing to work hard and persevere, what is there you can't do?"
"I'll talk to a student and know if they'll do well in the industry," Seo continued. "We call that 'ki' or 'kichaengi' in Korean, it's a certain charisma about somebody. They're the people with the special sixth sense in the entertainment world. I'll tell them 'dance' and they'll begin dancing, even if it's not good, and it will make people laugh and enjoy it. Most people will get nervous, but that's not it. It's the ones that have the 'I'll just do it, I don't care what other people think' attitude. Even if you screw up, it's good."
On any given day, students at Born Star are expected to spend their time in practice rooms, but they are also provided with classes at least twice a week. Many students arrive in the early morning and don't leave until the training center closes its doors at 10:30PM, with the desire to train until they get the okay to audition. Others, Seo says, come to hone skills but are doing it more for personal growth than actual career goals. Some students, for instance, are middle-aged, who just want to get the "K-pop polish."
Born Star NYC is less than a year old, but with trainers and managers who have worked at other campuses, success came quickly. Foreign language skills, particularly English, are what most Korean entertainment agencies are looking for nowadays, according to Seo, so there has been a lot of interest in Born Star.
Each month, a different Korean entertainment company reviews auditions from the campus. Seo happily revealed that Shin was in talks with multiple Korean entertainment agencies to continue his training in South Korea, while another female trainee is undergoing audition prep courses at Born Star's main campus.
So what sort of services does Born Star NYC offer to people accepted into the program? Singing, acting, and dancing classes are a must, and Korean language classes are offered to anyone who is not already fluent. Classes are formally held only two to three times a week, but trainees are urged to practice every day.
During the visit, five trainees were at Born Star practicing, and most admitted that they come in the morning each day and only leave when they are forced to do so. Born Star NYC holds showcases regularly for students to exhibit their skills. As for tests - they are a bit like pop quizzes, often administered by Seo simply pulling trainees out of class and asking the students to show him what they have learned lately.
Even though being a Korean star looks glamorous, there is a lot for potential trainees to consider. Seo admits that most foreign trainees have a lot to adjust to, even though it is a bit easier for them to get taken on as trainees thanks to their marketability.
"You shouldn't feel that you should be entitled, you should still go by the rules of the Korean culture system," he said. "It's easier and an advantage to get there if you're a foreigner, because there is less competition. But I suggest, for any foreigners that want to get into the industry, you're still working in another country. You should still work hard. You shouldn't break any rules or make controversies."
"Americans, we're known for freedom of expression, but it does end up biting us a bit," he continued. "I micromanage the students in the Korean way, because they don't know the industry, so I have to educate them."
But with Born Star's reputation in Korea as the biggest training center, and a history of getting trainees into major agencies, Born Star NYC's network is vast and trainees there are given multiple opportunities to audition for record labels. Each month, one agency is lined up to check out trainees Born Star thinks are ready to be signed. Upon walking into the academy, posters bedeck the wall listing which agencies are lined up for upcoming months,names like DSP Media (Kara, SS501, AJAX) and Big Hit Entertainment (BTS, Homme).
There are three rounds each trainee has to get through before signing with any Korean agency, including interviews and performance auditions. Born Star NYC helps students get through the trainee rounds, but Seo said that students will also head to the main campus in South Korea to take audition prep courses if they feel like they need more guidance.
What about guidance outside of performing? Seo said that Born Star won't tell someone what to do or how to act, but will offer tips. No crazy hairstyles for auditions, Seo suggested, even though K-pop stars often sport intensely dyed hair. All the trainees present said that their style has changed since they began training at Born Star, to help present themselves better. Others said that they have lost weight, either because of the intense dance practices or because they are conscious of competition.
If you think you have what it takes to be a K-pop star, head to Born Star NYC's website for more information and to fill out the application.
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Posted by Born Star NYC 본스타 뉴욕 on Saturday, July 18, 2015