Jasmine Tan traded something most 16-year-old Singaporeans hold almost sacred – the ‘O’ levels – for a chance to be a K-Pop superstar, and ended up 1 of 2 picked for training by the renowned Korean record label, CUBE Entertainment at the final auditions for local aspirants held on Oct 23. Her reason? “I want to end up on stage and be stronger mentally and physically”.

She and Maressa Zahirah, 23, will also represent Singapore in the tvN K-POP Star Hunt with 8 other contestants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines. The 10 will feature in a Seoul-based reality TV series, as they compete for the prize of a contract with CUBE, to air on New Year’s Eve.

Winners of the Singapore leg of the tvN K-POP Star Hunt, Maressa and Jasmine.

Maressa Zahirah, 23, is no stranger to stage performances (having been ranked among the Top 40 in Singapore Idol in 2010 as well as the Top 10 of the KBS K-Pop World Star 2011). She sang the song “Lonely” by 2NE1. While her age might be an issue as the industry prefers younger trainees to maximise their training time, Mr Park also said that every artist has a different concept, and some are as old as 20 and above.

Next stop for the 2 finalists is Seoul, Korea, where they’ll be mentored by industry professionals in a 3-week boot camp at the end of November, before competing with 8 other contestants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines for the ultimate prize – a contract with CUBE.

Originally from a pool of 500 Singapore-based aspiring K-pop stars, the 2 are part of the 20 shortlisted contestants who made it through several rounds of auditions to finally battle it out at Novena Square 2 that day.

2 hours before the competition, most of the contestants were gathered at the shopping mall’s Popeyes fast food outlet to eat and wait for the big moment. While some were nervous, most were either calmly chatting or listening to music.

One contestant, Yong U-Lynn, 18, told UrbanWire that she’s been dancing and singing since she was 12, after getting interested in K-pop stars like Shinwa (hyperlinks for celebrities, etc) and Lena Park, and that K-pop encompasses different genres such as ballads, rap and hip-hop.

Full-time National Serviceman (NSF) Zhang Min Hua, 21, 1 of only 2 males shortlisted for the Top 20, is singing in a contest for the first time, but plans to participate in other K-pop contests, “to get all the experience I can”, since being interested in K-pop for 2 years.

The aspiring K-pop stars gathering in Square 2's Popeyes before the contest

Half an hour before the contest, a sizable crowd of curious passersby and supporters could be heard murmuring excitedly about the quality of the contestants. Shortly after, the opening act was announced: Jinjo Crew, one of Korea’s top bboy (commonly, but incorrectly, known as breakdancing) groups.

The 7-member group amazed the audiences with their many flips, freezes, and other bboy moves, all executed with a comical twist

At 1:50 pm, the judges took their seats in front of the stage. In the panel were popular local entertainer Irene Ang, the CEO and founder of artiste management company Fly Entertainment; Eddy Tan, vice president of programming at Fox International Channels; and Park Jae-Hyun, head of the Rookie Development Division at CUBE Entertainment.

Moments later, the contest that would decide the future of 20 aspiring K-pop stars began. All contestants could choose to sing, dance, or both. While some of the performances were underwhelming, others were awe-inspiring and impressive.

One of the two winners, Jasmine Tan, 16, impressed the crowd with a signature move from Korean girl group miss A's Good Bye Baby

After nearly 2 hours of back-to-back performances, the contest drew to a close and while the judges were deliberating the results, Jinjo Crew came back on stage for a second showcase.

At the end of the day, the judges’ choices were Maressa Zahirah and Jasmine Tan, and the Korean ambassador, Mr Oh Joon, presented them with air tickets to Seoul.

At a press conference later, the judges announced what they’d been looking for: “someone who best represents Singapore”, according to Ms Ang. Mr Tan was more meticulous, seeking someone with “stage presence, confidence, and the overall package”, while Mr Park, being the one with the most experience in the K-pop industry, cited dancing and singing skills as his main criteria. Ms Ang added that that Maressa’s voice “is a cut above the rest”, while Jasmine’s ”confidence and calmness would be her edge over other people”. “They have to prove to the world that Singaporeans are made of substance.”

Jasmine had this to say to those who didn’t win: “I want to tell them to work harder, to persevere and don’t give up, because their dream is right in front of them, and they can just reach it”.


More about tvN K-POP Star Hunt

tvNK-POP Star Hunt is a regional contest organised by Korean entertainment channel tvN, aimed at promoting K-pop and giving viewers a chance to become K-pop superstars. After submitting a performance video online, the top 100 fans aged from 11-29 from Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines would be invited for a preliminary audition before a shortlist of 20 contestants performed in front of a live audience. The Top 2 would then proceed to Seoul to compete with the 8 from the other countries and star in a reality TV series, with the winner securing a contract with CUBE Entertainment.

The reality TV series will debut on 31 December, 8 pm on tvN (StarHub Channel 824). For updates on the next tvN K-pop star, stay tuned to tvN and visit the official contest website.

To see more of Maressa Zahirah, keep watch on her YouTube channel.