When the very first K-pop talent search was held in Singapore in 2010 under JYP Entertainment and Alpha Entertainment, thousands of wannabes turned up in the hope of becoming the next big music star.
This was followed by the annual K-pop Star Hunt from 2011 to 2013, which were affiliated with Korean talent management agencies Cube Entertainment and FNC Entertainment.
Such K-pop talent searches were widely publicised and greeted with much media fanfare.
So you would expect K-pop giant SM Entertainment, home to A-list groups like Girls' Generation and Super Junior, to pull out all the stops for its own version - believed to be its first - here.
Instead, the SM Entertainment Global Audition was a surprisingly muted affair.
The closed-door audition was held last Saturday at the Korean Church at Gangsa Road. It drew a queue of a few hundred participants who were already shortlisted after submitting video applications online.
The organisers were on the lookout for potential singers, actors, models, dancers, lyricists and composers, and the session is believed to have lasted about six hours.
A 20-year-old student, who only wanted to be known as Ms Roslan, was one of the candidates in the queue.
Ms Roslan, who is Malaysian, took a four-hour bus ride with her sister from their home in Kuala Lumpur to Singapore the night before the audition.
She had submitted a video of her singing Without Words by Korean actress-singer Park Shin Hye in January.
The fan of boy band TVXQ told The New Paper it was her first time joining a K-pop talent search. She added: "I'm just doing it for fun... trying my luck. If I get in, then good. If not, there's nothing I can do about it."
In the audition room, Ms Roslan said she was given about one minute to sing a segment from a song of her choice. She performed Baby Steps by K-pop girl group Taetiseo in front of one female judge.
"I was nervous of course, I had a bit of stage fright," she said.
"It's very hard to say (if I'll advance to the next stage). I heard the people around me singing and they were all very talented."
Another shortlisted contestant, Singaporean Koh Eu Fei, a 19-year-old student at Temasek Polytechnic, found out about the audition through SM Entertainment's YouTube channel.
He said: "Both my sister and I signed up. I came at about 1pm with her, although my time slot was at 3pm.
"I waited until 5pm. The queue was quite disorganised.
"I sang We Found Love by (Barbadian pop singer) Rihanna. There was only one female judge that day who looked Korean, but I don't recognise her."
All participants were required to sing a cappella.
Although Mr Koh felt he did better than some of the other contestants, he said he does not have high hopes of advancing to the next stage.
"I'm already 19, a bit too old for the industry. Most of the K-pop stars from SM (Entertainment) were my age when they were at their peak," he said.
Candidates were told that results of the audition would be out in a month's time.
Singaporean singer Ferlyn Wong, 23, can relate to the gruelling, time-consuming process and overall uncertainty.
She was chosen from more than 3,000 hopefuls at the 2010 JYP-Alpha Entertainment talent search and became a member of K-pop girl group Skarf. She left the group last year to pursue a solo career.
She told The New Paper: "My audition experience was crazy and long. It took me months to complete the whole audition, from Singapore to Korea, before I was officially signed to the company.
"My advice is 'less is more'. Do not try too hard to impress others. Instead, simply use your confidence and personality to impress.
"Skills can be trained, whereas a strong individuality cannot."
Ironically, the man who started the whole trend in Singapore, Mr Alan Chan, CEO of Alpha Entertainment, admitted that K-pop talent searches are "not as effective anymore as the K-pop industry is already stagnant".
He said: "Just like J-pop, it has reached its peak.
"Moreover, it is very hard to find a K-pop star from such a small talent pool in Singapore. You not only need looks but also the X-factor. It is not easy.
"A lot of people also say K-pop is meant for Koreans. Why are we bringing foreigners in?"
Mr Chan added that it is also difficult for Singapore males to break into the K-pop industry due to national service.
"Many K-pop stars also had to leave school when they were 13 or 14 to be groomed and to train their talents. Not many Singaporeans are willing to do that."
S'porean singer Ferlyn Wong: My audition experience was crazy and long. It took me months to complete the whole audition, from Singapore to Korea, before I was officially signed to the company.
This article was first published on Apr 4, 2015.
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