Living the K-Pop dream

AS A 12-year-old, Khairul Najmuddin became besotted by the Korean soap opera Winter Sonata, along with millions of people around the world.

Completely blown away by the culture, style and charisma of the Korean entertainment scene, Khairul wanted to be a part of it from then on. He even picked up the language by watching Korean shows on TV and enrolled in Korean language class.

Last year, he auditioned for the K-Pop Star Hunt season 2, a regional competition organised by CJ E&M and Fox International, and aired here on HyppTV.

This talent show features contestants from countries outside of Korea such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Thailand, where the Korean Wave or Hallyu is still gaining momentum.

For the audition, Khairul sang the Bruno Mars song, Grenade, but when he made the cut and was sent to Korea with other short-listed contestants, Khairul sang a Korean song by Korean boyband Super Junior, which surprised the show producers and judges.

For the final performance on K-Pop Star Hunt, Khairul blew away the judges and viewers with his rendition of Kim Bum Soo’s I Miss You and 2PM’s I’ll Be Back.

But he lost to eventual winner, 15-year-old Ling Ling (Kawintida Sujindaporn) from Thailand, by just one point.

It was the second time a Thai had taken the title as season one was won by Sorn (Chonnasorn Sajakul), also age 15.

Since his return to Malaysia, a lot has changed for Khairul.

He says at a recent interview at theSun office: “I have been hosting shows. I have also done some acting jobs and will play a Korean guy in the upcoming drama series, Hanbok Untuk Hanis.

“When I was in Korea, I met many stars and I realised many people were fascinated by the Korean pop scene. I think it is because the artistes have the passion, spirit and also a great fashion sense.

“Most of the K-pop stars that I spoke to said passion is important if you want to be a star. The companies that will hire them want their artistes to be passionate about their work.

“You must also have spirit. When we were sent to dance classes for K-Pop Star Hunt, I was working really hard.

“They wanted me, a guy, to do splits. I said I would do it. I kept trying until I cried but I managed to do it. I would practise whenever I had free time. When the producers saw that, they said Malaysians are really hard-working.”

Khairul believes that viewers notice when contestants lack the fighting spirit and, therefore, won’t vote for them.

When he was on holiday in Korea last month, he managed to attend a couple of auditions but has not heard from them since. “You have to wait about two months to get a reply. So I am still waiting.”

Khairul says he would love to record a purely Korean album. His favourite Korean artistes at the moment are Big Bang and K-Will. He feels that his vocals have improved due to his training in Korea.

“I have been through many reality TV shows here. But when I was in K-Pop Star Hunt, I realised the Korean entertainment industry is far more advanced. That is how I feel. I too just want to make it to the next level.”

He admits to being upset for having lost by just one point but takes it in his stride. “I asked one of the judges why I lost. He said maybe it was my age. In Korea, they like their stars younger. That’s why I would advise young talents to try out.”

He also urges those who want to take part in the third season of K-Pop Star Hunt to try and sing in Korean.

As to what to expect from taking part in the show, Khairul says to be ready for unexpected changes in format.

“In season one, the contestants had to go for dance class and their teacher would scold, scold and scold. But in season two, we had to audition first and then they checked our health, the medication we were taking and even asked if we smoked. They were even marking us on that. They marked us on our attitude too.”

Still, Khairul has no qualms about doing it all again because he enjoyed himself so much. He still keeps in touch with some of the contestants and talents involved in the show.

There is also no need to worry about race or religion. “I realised from my own experience that it is all about talent.”