In the world of K-pop, where nubile starlets are a dime a dozen, youth is a prized commodity. And at age 24, aspiring Singaporean K-pop star Josephine Hung admits: "I feel very old for K-pop. The industry wants the young ones."
But the K-pop dance instructor never allowed her futile attempts at talent hunt and agency tryouts over the past seven years to dampen her spirits.
Now, things are finally looking up for Hung, who goes by her nickname Jojo, as she has landed a lead spot on a reality television series, Miss Korea.
She was among two out of 300 applicants worldwide picked to star in the series' second season, which is currently airing on Channel U and cable TV channel M. It is also available online.
Titled Miss Korea: Julia And Jojo, the 12-episode travelogue features Hung and 19-year-old Julia Wu, an Australian- Chinese studying music in Boston.
Unlike the first season where the series was purely a travel programme, the second instalment has the additional challenge for participants to work towards becoming a K-pop idol during their three-month stay in Seoul.
In between visiting tourist spots and sites frequented by K-pop idols, Hung and Wu attended dance practice and singing classes.
In one episode, they received singing tips from the vocal coach of K-pop royalty, pop groups Girls' Generation, Super Junior and 2PM.
At the end of the three-month stint, they got the chance to audition at Korean management agencies. Filming took place in Seoul from September last year.
Miss Korea's director, Kim Hak Jun, says the leads were picked for their passion and talent for K-pop.
Speaking fondly of Hung, Kim says: "She fulfilled the basic requirement with her love for K-pop and Korea. Her dance skill is on a professional level and her singing voice is beautiful.
"When we did a Skype call with her to talk to her in person, we found that she has an attractive personality and character. There was something extraordinary inside this ordinary girl."
With her striking platinum blonde dyed tresses and dark-lined eyes, Hung looks every bit the sassy K-pop star.
When Life! spoke to her last week, she comes across as down-to-earth and amiable.
"I never imagined that I would be a lead in a show. I'm just a nobody. Getting into Miss Korea, whether I become an idol or not, I think it's one of my biggest achievements," says Hung, the eldest child of a 68-year-old retiree father and a 59-year-old sales promoter mother. She has a twin brother and a younger brother who is 18.
The sprightly young woman from humble beginnings is slowly gaining an international fan base.
"I've had people in other countries leaving messages on my Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channel. There are messages from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea. Pretty shocking," says Hung, who counts boybands DBSK and JYJ and singer BoA as her K-pop idols.
Since Miss Korea started airing earlier this month, she has had more than 100 new subscribers on her YouTube channel and another 500 followers on Instagram.
The journey to stardom in a foreign land has not been smooth for her because of the language barrier and she is living alone for the first time.
Worse, she suffered a bad fall and had to get stitches on her upper lip. The injury caused her to miss out on two weeks of training before the auditions.
"I could not open my mouth to sing. My lips were swollen and I had to rest my lips. I also chipped one of my front teeth. I had a lot of experiences with hospitals in Korea," says Hung, who declined to reveal details of her fall.
Now back in Singapore teaching, she is keeping mum on the progress of her auditions with agencies in Korea, saying only this: "You'll have to tune in to find out."
Should she eventually get the golden ticket to join a Korean management agency, she says "it will be a dream come true, especially since I'm so into Korea and K-pop".
She adds: "It's been my dream since young to be an artist who can inspire people through hard work and passion. I've told myself to enjoy the process more than the goal.
"Being able to sing and dance every day now is already a blessing."
Catch Miss Korea: Julia And Jojo on Channel U on Sunday at 10pm and on channel M (SingTel mio TV Channel 518 and StarHub TV Channel 824) on Friday at 7pm. The series is also available on insite TV YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/insiteTV1
This article was first published on Jan 22, 2015.
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