Variety shows lift stars to greater heights

SINGAPORE - The nicknames Haha, Giraffe and Sparta would probably not have rung a bell a few years back.

But today, legions of adoring fans across Asia know that the nicknames are those of the hosts of well-loved South Korean game show Running Man, in which celebrities team up to outlast each other in a series of tasks.

Such shows have boosted the fame of celebrities who used to be unknowns outside their native land, and some have even started holding fan meetings here.

Sparta (Kim Jong Kook, 37) and Haha (Ha Dong Hoon, 33) were in town for fan meetings in February and last Saturday, respectively, while Giraffe (Lee Kwang Soo, 28) will hold the first fan meeting in his entertainment career here on Aug 17.

Avid fan Nicole Song, 21, a sales and marketing executive, jumped at the chance to meet her favourite Running Man hosts here, snapping up tickets for all three fan meetings.

"I came to know these stars through Running Man. It's really addictive, and I watch the latest episode every week. I hope all the hosts can come together for a fan meet here," she said.

Branching out to variety shows is a route many Korean celebrities take to boost their exposure.

Girl-group member Fei (real name Wang Feifei) - often overshadowed by fellow Miss A member and advertisers' darling, Suzy - got some time in the spotlight on variety shows Masterchef Korea Celebrity and the Korean version of Dancing With The Stars earlier this year.

The 26-year-old emerged second on Masterchef and champion on Dancing With The Stars.

Fei's variety-show stints did her good - she clinched a rare endorsement deal with Korean casual- apparel brand Connie Colin in March.

Veteran Korean emcee Shin Dong Yup said that having K-pop stars as guests on his variety shows - Saturday Night Live Korea and Incarnation - has helped the programmes gain "international fans".

These new viewers subsequently follow the variety shows, the 42-year-old added.

The variety-show offerings on cable television here have increased, thanks to the launch of Korean channels such as Sony's One and Fox's M, with shows ranging from Taxi The Talk Show to virtual celebrity marriage reality show We Got Married.

Shin summed up the international appeal of variety shows featuring Korean personalities: "Variety shows make for a more informal setting for the stars to share and talk more about themselves. (This allows them to) showcase their fun personalities outside of their promotional work."

[[{"fid":"29221","view_mode":"default","type":"media","attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-default"},"link_text":null}]]

Who: Fei (Wang Feifei), from girl group Miss A

Variety-show outing: Contestant on Masterchef Korea Celebrity and the Korean version of Dancing With The Stars

Variety star power: Who doesn't love a sexy dancer who can cook?

Fei, 26, showed off her cooking chops on Masterchef earlier this year, while enduring gruelling daily five-hour practice sessions and injuries offscreen.

She then sashayed her way to top spot in the Korean version of Dancing With The Stars in May.

Catch her on: The finale of MasterChef Korea Celebrity on Saturday, 10pm on channel M (StarHub TV Ch 824/SingTel mio TV Ch 518)

[[{"fid":"29222","view_mode":"default","type":"media","attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-default"},"link_text":null}]]

Who: Shin Dong Yup

Variety-show outing: Host of Saturday Night Live Korea and Incarnation

Variety star power: The comedic host has the gift of the gab and is not afraid to sacrifice his image for the sake of entertainment.

The 42-year-old has no qualms about acting all pervy around female celebrities like girl group 4Minute's Hyuna on the risque Saturday Night Live Korea.

In an e-mail interview with My Paper, Shin said: "It seems that I play the role of bringing (a show's) explicitness up to 19+ (restricted rating in South Korea) - that's my image anyway."

Catch him on: Saturday Night Live Korea, which airs every Saturday at 11pm on channel M, and Incarnation - The One Who Rules The Heart, which airs every Thursday at 11.45pm on channel One (StarHub Ch 823/SingTel mioTV Ch 513 and 604)

[[{"fid":"29224","view_mode":"default","type":"media","attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-default"},"link_text":null}]]

Who: Lee Kwang Soo

Variety-show outing: One of the seven regular hosts on Running Man

Variety star power: The gangly Lee may be the perpetual loser on game show Running Man, but his hilarious antics on the show have made him a winner with fans.

The 28-year-old Lee's overwhelming popularity in South-east Asia, as seen during the show's filming in Thailand, has earned him the nickname "Asia's Prince".

Catch him at: The Lee Kwang Soo Fan Meeting at Festive Grand Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa, on Aug 17 at 7pm.

[[{"fid":"29225","view_mode":"default","type":"media","attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-default"},"link_text":null}]]

Who: Lee Seung Gi

Variety-show outing: Host of Strong Heart (2009-2012) and 1 Night 2 Days (2007-2012)

Variety star power: Lee is one versatile artist - making waves as an actor, a singer and a variety idol. The 26-year-old squeaky-clean and easy-going celeb has carved a name for himself in the variety-show scene, and has even won awards for it.

Though Lee is taking a hiatus from variety shows, fans can catch him at an upcoming fan meet here.

Catch him at: The Brilliant Show at Festive Grand Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa, on Sept 7 at 7pm.

Get My Paper for more stories.