They can't take off their sunglasses in public
This is among K-pop 'boot camp's' list of what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos for these stars in the making. -TNP
FOR the next five years as members of a new K-pop group, they will walk the red carpet, perform to crowds and rub shoulders with their once out-of-reach showbiz peers.
Singaporeans Ferlyn Wong and Elaine Yuki Wong have also been cast in an upcoming Korean drama that will likely see Korean teen idol Kim Junsu as their co-star.
The two girls were picked by Alpha Entertainment to form an as-yet-unnamed group that will debut next March and include three Korean girls as well.
The auditions that the Korean-based Singapore entertainment company held here last year drew more than 3,000 hopefuls.
Alpha Entertainment has employed staff members from Korea's entertainment giant SM Entertainment, which has produced successful K-pop acts like Girls' Generation, SHINee and Super Junior.
According to Mr Alan Chan, CEO of Alpha, the girls will earn about US$1 million (S$1.2 million) a year if they are successful.
It sounds like a fantasy come true.
But when Ferlyn and Elaine fly to Korea at the end of this month to undergo Alpha's K-pop "boot camp" and start their new careers, it will spell the end of life as they know it.
The Alpha Korean staff's list of what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos reads more like a girl's nightmare.
It's strictly no boyfriends, no mobile phones and no unsupervised trips - even to the toilet. When in public, the girls can't ever take off their sunglasses lest their tired peepers are caught on camera.
They must speak only Korean and respond to their Korean stage names.
They will address their Korean management as their family - the men they will call "appa" (father in Korean) and women "umma" (mother in Korean).
For most of their 14-hour days, the use of make-up is prohibited as the Koreans require a bare-faced, natural look.
After 7pm, there will be no eating or drinking - even a single drop of water won't be allowed. At meal times, they will both be given the same food to eat.
Five hours of gym, dance, vocal and Korean language lessons are compulsory daily.
There will be no fraternising with other K-pop stars or anyone outside their "family".
And they're not allowed to go anywhere without their Korean manager, who used to manage popular K-pop girl group Girls' Generation.
This includes all leisure activities like going to the movies and shopping at the mall.
On their rest day, they will have to spend bonding time with their "family", be it at the beach, bowling or watching fireworks.
Even in Singapore, where they will return once every three months for a week, a local staff member will take over the watch.
Flout the rules? A warning will be issued. And getting caught more than once means a possible termination of their five-year contract.
If any band member should want out during the six-months training period, they will be fined US$20,000.
If someone quits the group after the training period, the penalty sum will be discussed between her and management.
Food and lodging is free for the training period only.
Group members will be paid every three months, a sum dependent on how much they made during that period.
Last week, the girls had flown to Korea for a week's taste of the pop star life.
But is stardom really worth giving up one's identity and freedom?
For blogger-model Elaine, the timing for this is just right, whereas second-year Temasek Polytechnic student Ferlyn might end up completing her studies in Korea.
Ferlyn, 19, told The New Paper: "We didn't think it was going to be so tough.
"During dance training, we were asked to put our arms up in a certain position.
"Once we lower them a little, we'll get shouted at.
"Elaine pulled the muscle on her inner thigh while doing a split and couldn't move it for some time but we still had to push through the training."
Added Elaine, 22: "We knew that to be K-pop stars, there were sacrifices to be made. We really want this.
"And even though the Korean management is very strict with us, they are fiercely protective of us and treat us really well."
The girls said their families were "very supportive" of their decision to be in a K-pop band - despite knowing of all the restrictions.
Said Ferlyn's mother, Ms Rosy Ng Siew Whee, 48, a housewife: "I believe it won't be a problem for my daughter and these restrictions are good for her.
"I'm so proud of my daughter. She must make it big."
Elaine's mum, who declined to give her personal particulars, said that she would "support Elaine in whatever she does".
Alpha Entertainment CEO, Mr Chan, said: "What rules the girls follow are what members of K-pop bands have to go through in Korea.
"It's the Korean culture to be very protective of their charges. The girls are there to be trainees with the eventual goal to become stars, so they shouldn't have any distractions.
"It's very competitive in Korea. Our training system is the same as (SM Entertainment's)."
Potentially joining Ferlyn and Elaine is Natasha Low, 18.
Natasha has just completed her Secondary 5 studies at Fuhua Secondary School and was supposed to do a dance degree at Lasalle College of the Arts in August, but said it's likely she won't be be taking it up any more.
Although she has decided that she wants to sign the five-year contract, she can do so only after her relatives meet Alpha next week.
The K-pop group will comprise six members if she comes on board.
Natasha told The New Paper: "My grandfather and other family members are concerned about me.
"They are consulting a lawyer on the terms and conditions of the contract.
"But if all goes well, I will be flying to Korea with Ferlyn and Elaine at the end of this month."
It was clear that Ferlyn and Elaine had already begun settling into their new lives as they addressed their Singaporean manager who brought them for our photoshoot as "appa".
Natasha was the only one of the three girls who could take pictures sans sunglasses as she hasn't signed on yet.
Said Ferlyn: "That's why we didn't wear any make-up today even if it's a photoshoot as we have to abide by the rules."
Elaine and Ferlyn also revealed that they aren't allowed to sing in public until their official debut next year.
Despite facing a punishing and regimented five-year K-pop boot camp, it's clear that they are ecstatic about their upcoming prospects, judging from their happy grins and radiant complexions.
Elaine's dream is to meet and act with Boys Over Flowers star Kim Hyun Joong while Ferlyn wants to someday dance with Super Junior's Eun Hyuk.
What's more, the girls were already approached for autographs when they were in Korea last week.
A group of 10 besotted Korean men who had spotted Elaine, Ferlyn and their Korean bandmate So Eun having dinner at a seafood restaurant recognised their Korean manager - who is apparently famous in Korea as she used to "babysit" Girls' Generation.
Said Elaine: "The guys came up to our manager and asked her if we were celebrities.
"She said yes and then they asked for our autographs and our phone numbers.
"So our manager gave them her number. We were just so happy to sign the autographs even though we were in the middle of eating crabs at that time!"
Is stardom really worth giving up freedom?
By Jeanmarie Tan
IMAGINE a life like this.
Day in day out, you are told what to eat, when to eat, where to eat.
When you need to pee or take a dump, a "guard" is stationed outside the toilet cubicle.
You are to obey the authority figures around you.
You are stripped of your name, your identity, your freedom, your mobile phone, your friends and family.
And don't even think about using Facebook.
If this sounds like a prison sentence, then starry-eyed Singaporean wannabes Ferlyn Wong and Elaine Yuki Wong are voluntary inmates.
After all, this is apparently what's required of carefully manufactured K-pop female idols these days.
For someone who can't tell Wonder Girls and Girls' Generation from 2NE1 and 4minute, it's all looking very "factory production line".
Ferlyn and Elaine have given us a peek into what goes on in the sweat shop of showbiz dreams.
However, the rules they have to comply with are, in a word, insane.
These young ladies have only experienced the tip of the iceberg with their one-week immersion programme in Korea.
But once the honeymoon is over, one wonders if they'll still be smiling.
Even though they are going in with their eyes open, nobody can see what lies ahead.
Are they truly ready - physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually?
Have they been counselled to handle stress and even failure?
And ultimately, will they be losing more than they stand to gain?
Especially when K-pop has fast gained a reputation as an industry tainted with suicide, sexual favours and slave contracts.
Korean minders are also notoriously draconian, controlling their famous charges like mastermind puppeteers.
Ask any reporter or concert organiser who has ever had to deal with this breed and they'll have more than a few horror stories to spill.
At press conferences and interviews involving Korean stars, "no photos, no videos, no personal questions" is a common refrain.
All that's missing from this picture is a ball and chain.
So it would seem that being a K-pop star requires as much discipline and passion as being a national athlete - with a dash of mind control for good measure.
I'm not knocking our girls' ambitions; I'm just questioning the way they are made to jump through ridiculous hoops to fulfil them.
I suppose they have five years to prove me wrong.
Still, I have to give it to the Koreans.
Forcing our girls to don sunglasses in public from now on is genius.
Nobody will be able to tell if they've really been crying.
He wants to defer NS to become a K-pop star, but...
By Charlene Chua
BY APRIL next year, he could well be touring Asia as part of Korea's newest boy band.
But Singaporean Alfred Sng (right) has one obstacle to overcome before he can take the leap to stardom and sign on the dotted line on a similar five-year contract as his female counterparts Ferlyn Wong, Elaine Yuki Wong and Natasha Low.
His request for deferment from national service for five years was rejected a few weeks ago.
The third-year Nanyang Polytechnic student, who is studying for a diploma in digital animation, is due to enlist at the end of next year.
Alfred said he's willing to quit school immediately to pursue his dreams.
Alpha Entertainment, which chose Alfred during last year's auditions, has urged him to ask for a two-year deferment as it is still willing to sign him on for that period of time.
Alfred will join four Korean guys in Korea to form a five-member boy band.
Alpha will also help appeal on Alfred's behalf by speaking to the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and taking him to meet his Member of Parliament.
Full-contract artistes are usually asked to sign on for five years with the company.
Alfred, 20, told The New Paper: "I wrote in through e-mail to my MP at Sembawang, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, and also to Mindef (the Ministry Of Defence) for my deferment request, but the reason that it was rejected was because Singapore doesn't support pre-NS enlistees to accept overseas job offers.
"I was disappointed as not everyone gets such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I've always wanted to be a performer.
"It's sad that I was rejected even though I was asking for only five years. By then, I will be only 25 and will still be able to serve in the army."
He said his mum had joked about asking him to give up his Singapore citizenship to become a Korean in order to realise his dream.
Alfred said he will be requesting deferment from national service again next week and he is keeping his fingers crossed that it will be approved.
He will be flying with the girls to Korea at the end of this month to get his own sneak peek at what it's like to be a K-pop star.
Said Alfred: "I don't see the point of me becoming a Korean because if I don't succeed there, I won't be able to return to Singapore.
"I actually prefer going into the K-pop industry as a Singaporean and coming back and making everyone proud."
This article was first published in The New Paper.
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