I became a hardcore K-pop fan in 6th grade. Almost half the students at my middle school, John Burroughs, were Korean and almost all of them listened to Korean music, especially K-pop (Korean pop music). I had never been interested in it. It sounded too strange to me, but that all changed in sixth grade when the huge hit “Gee” came out. All my friends were singing the chorus and imitating the dance. “Gee” fever sucked me into K-pop. It became my life. I listened to K-pop nonstop and filled my iPod with it. In a month, I had memorized the names of countless members of boy and girl bands and stuck pictures of my singer “boyfriends” on my walls. I would ditch my weekend art and math classes and go with my friends to concerts. This would always result in my mom yelling that I was wasting my life. My mom thought K-pop was trash and wanted me to like classical music like she did. But classical music made me fall asleep.
Every day during middle school I went to a K-pop gossip and news site called allkpop.com. On this site I learned that I could audition to become a singer in a K-pop band. The flashy clothes, thousands of screaming fans and hearing them chant my name seemed so much more exciting than being a middle school student. Becoming a K-pop star was all I wanted.
I started watching the audition videos of current stars and reading blog posts from people who had auditioned. They explained how it worked and made the environment seem low-pressure. This made me want to audition even more. After watching those videos, I saw that most of the current stars weren’t that amazing in their auditions and that each singer had improved so much through training. I had never had vocal lessons and didn’t think of myself as a good singer. “But if they could do it, I could do that too,” I thought.
I didn’t practice much
My friends and I spent the two weeks before the audition practicing together at our houses. We would half fool around and half sing without real effort. It seemed to be more of a hang out rather than a serious practice. I chose “Because of You” by Kelly Clarkson because it’s hard to sing. I thought I could impress the judges with it. During our practices, we took turns singing and giving each other feedback. My friends would say, “you’re decent” and “you’ll be fine,” so I believed them. As the audition got closer I got excited.
The night before the audition, I quickly looked through the lyrics again so I wouldn’t forget any of the words. I felt ready.
On the day of the audition, I woke up early and practiced for an hour. After singing the song one last time, I met my friends and we walked to the Wilshire Plaza Hotel in Koreatown. We arrived two hours early so we wouldn’t have to wait too long in line. My friend who had auditioned once before told us that she had come an hour after auditions had started and waited four hours.
When we got there I saw at least 50 people already in line in the parking lot and felt my confidence dropping. They were all practicing. The singers filled the air with the sweetest voices I had ever heard. In the waiting room B-boys and B-girls were spinning and break-dancing so wildly that I wondered how a human could move that way. The model applicants posed with their pretty faces and tall, slim bodies. I looked around and saw that everyone was much more talented and beautiful than me. It seemed obvious that these people had taken lessons for years. I had thought practicing for two weeks would give me a chance. As more and more people got in line behind us, the more I didn’t want to audition.
While waiting, a person working there gave us all applications to fill out. I wrote my name, birth date, address and other information and attached a picture of myself (the ad for the audition told us to bring a picture) to the paper. To note that I was auditioning to be a singer, I checked the box that had “singer” next to it. There were also boxes for “dancer,” “model,” “actor,” “comedian” and “composer.” We were all auditioning for S.M. Entertainment, a big entertainment company in South Korea. If they liked our auditions, we would become trainees and move to Korea to study singing and dancing, and then hopefully become stars.
As I got in line to turn in my application, I saw that we were being put into groups of 10 and told we would be auditioning with each other. I felt a part of me dying. I would have to humiliate myself in front of all these people.
I felt dizzy and nervous as I walked into the room. It made me feel so confined. Inside, there were two judges and a cameraman sitting at a table. They smiled but their stares seemed to pierce us. The sight of the judges made me even more nervous and I held my friend’s hand tighter.
“Calm down, Susie,” whispered my friend, “You’re going to break my hand.”
After everyone was in the room, we were instructed to stand in a straight line facing the judges. The head judge looked at us and the woman judge next to him gave him a nod to begin.
“Welcome to the audition,” the head judge said. “You guys are our first group and I wish you all good luck.”
He smiled and sat back down. The woman next to him stood up.
“We will go one by one. Everyone should say their name and age before their audition,” she said. “Let’s begin.”
I gulped. I was sixth in line. The first applicant stepped forward.
“My name is Emily Lee and I am 15 years old,” she said. “I will be singing.”
The first two performers wowed the judges
Emily’s voice was so strong. She sounded better than most professional singers. Even the judges seemed impressed. They smiled at her as they asked her questions after she finished. My stomach began to turn. If I had at least a tenth of her voice, I wouldn’t feel like this. She was a potential star.
Emily took a step back and a dance boy swaggered out. He made the judges laugh and his dancing was impressive as well. He was a street B-boy who danced so crazily that the others in my group had to back up so we wouldn’t get accidentally kicked in the face. The judges and the other people trying out smiled during his audition. He was surely going to the next round.
One by one, the others before me auditioned. There was a boy who rapped so fast that the judges stared wide-eyed. I figured out that the bad ones were cut off after about 10 seconds, while the ones the judges liked got to sing for a minute. You could also tell who was going to the next round by looking at the judges’ faces. If they liked you they would smile and nod their heads, and if they didn’t they kept a straight face the whole time.
My hands started to sweat and shake as my turn approached. The tall girl who auditioned before me, and who the boys stared at, was trying out to be a model. After she finished striking her five poses, it was my turn. I hesitantly stepped forward.
“M-my name is Su-sie Park and I am-m 13 ye-ears old-d,” I stuttered
The cameraman turned the video camera in my direction. I wished that I could turn back time. I felt a large lump coming up to my throat. Sweat formed on my forehead. Only 13 people were in the room, so why was I feeling like my audition was being broadcast throughout the world? All eyes were on me. The silence gave the judges an impatient look. I took a deep breath and began. Every second felt like hell. My voice was horrible. It cracked from nervousness and sounded whiny. I slowly looked at everyone in the room. The disappointed judges stared at their papers instead of me. The other participants smirked and whispered in each other’s ears. I hoped the judges would stop me sooner, but they didn’t. I was so bad I wanted to stop myself.
“Because of you, I am afraid …” I stopped before finishing the song because I was so bad. I could feel my eyes water, so I stepped back into the line.
“Umm, OK. Thank you,” said the woman. She gave me a pitying smile.
I couldn’t get out of there fast enough
There were no comments or claps, unlike after some of the other performances. I waited for everyone to be dismissed. Every second I felt trapped and when we were done, I ran out. As I tried to get out of the building, I noticed that an hour had passed. The people in the audition line were now wearing numbers like 623.
“So many people want this,” I told myself. “You will never make it.”
After the audition I quickly told my friends goodbye. As I walked home, I cried. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t concentrate. In math class, I promised myself that I would never audition again. In art class, I thought I was stupid for thinking someone as untalented and ugly as me could even audition in the first place. In book club, I thought that I shouldn’t ever show my face in public again. My mom didn’t help my ruined self-esteem. She told me that she knew that this would happen. Things got worse at school on Monday when my friends teased me because of how bad I was. I felt my world tumbling down when I heard that a girl I despised got into the final round.
Two weeks later I got an email rejection letter that also invited me to “come back next time.” No way. Delete. I was sad about having a bad audition, but I was devastated I had lost my dream. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to in my life. My depression turned into anger. Every time I listened to a K-pop song or saw a picture of a K-pop singer, I thought of my audition and how it broke me. It made me too sad. I stopped listening to K-pop and ripped the posters off my walls. I started hating K-pop. I guess watching people live a life I couldn’t have made me mad.
After about a year, the horrifying experience of my audition became a funny memory and I didn’t care anymore. I laughed with my friends whenever we mentioned it. I didn’t worry about losing my dream, because I had made a new, more realistic one. I made it my goal to get accepted into Columbia University and live in New York City. Columbia is hard to get into but about 1,300 freshmen enroll every year, while only about one or two new K-pop stars break out every year.
I learned that becoming a singer takes talent, lots of practice and luck. I also discovered new boy groups and slowly filled my iPod again. I bought new posters and started to annoy my mom again by going to concerts. I love it again, but this time not as someone trying to pursue it, but just as a fan.