CONFESSIONS OF AN EX-SM TRAINEE
I cannot confirm if this is true, but it was an interesting read.
Fiction or true, this was a cool glimpse into the trainee world - and shows how no matter who the idol is, they have to work their butts off to debut...and sometimes even that is not enough.
All credit to Kpop Secrets. I simple copied the text - no edit were made!
This is NOT me: So, yes I was an SM Trainee.
There are a few things you need to know about me before I get to all the goodies. I am a boy, I am 22 years old, I am Japanese-American, I trained for 5 years (sadly) and I never got to debut.
I studied Korean in my high school and got to the third year in the language and my school had found some sort of program which would allow for students to kind of study abroad, but it was more of a Summer kind of thing so it wasn’t really.. idk, kind of hard to explain but that’s not the point~ So a bunch of students including me went into this program and we actually got in. Since the program was based off of a more CLASS type of thang, the two Korean teachers at my high school came along with us to South Korea. This all happened in the summer of 2007.
We stayed in SK from the end of June to the beginning of August and obviously we had some free time, actually A LOT of free time. I have always been into singing and dancing and especially KPOP, that kind of triggered me into taking Korean Class and my host brother was really into KPOP too, but he just listened to it, he didn’t really much dance or sing to it.
One day we talked about our hobbies and whatnot, getting to know each other and he told me to sing for him and I did and right after he told me to audition for SM, which was literally just a couple blocks from his house.
So I got all EXCITED~~~ It was a weekly audition, before I actually went down to audition, we had to call in and schedule and fill out applications and whatnot. It wasn’t until like mid-July when I actually got confirmed for an audition. I went down to the little audition building (it wasn’t the actual SM building, it was like a miniature SM building, they have more than one SM building, this wasnt the main one though) and there wasn’t as many people as I had expected, maybe about 30 of us, probably not even. It was like a normal high school class size. We all waited patiently to go in to audition and while in line everyone stayed quiet, I was expecting people to be rehearsing and whatnot but no one was doing that. It was extremely awkward and quiet.
All of this also took place INSIDE the building, we waited on the first floor, where it was quiet and they played some SM Artist stuff on a TV and we just sat everywhere. Someone would come down the stairs and call a name and whoever it was would follow. The youngest person I saw there was probably a little boy who was like .. maybe roughly 13 or 14, the oldest looking was a tall, skinny girl who looked about 21ish. I waited about 30 minutes when they finally called my name. My first name is an American name but my last name is very much Japanese. As soon as they called my name everyone turned and looked at me, their eyes wide and confused. I was like “okay then…”
I went and auditioned, sung my heart out cause singing is my specialty. The judges smiled and nodded and they asked me in English “How long have you been singing?”, “Were you born in Japan?” and that’s really all I could really remember.. After I answered, I left the room.
I was bummed out because I felt like I didn’t leave a good impression on them.. I was so sure I didn’t get in and continued on with life.
Apparently after like four days(?) I got a call from one of the SM judges and they told me they wanted to see more of me and that there would be another audition. I went and got through, another audition, went and got through. There are three rounds. I passed all of them. It was like almost August when they finally pulled out the contract and explained EVERYTHING to me, they made sure I knew what I was getting myself into and that I was sure about doing this.
I signed it with no hesitation.
Since I was a foreigner and it would be my Senior year in High School, SM told me to continue in America and when it would be breaks, I would come back to SK and train. Also at least three times a month, I would receive vocal and dance lessons over Skype, it was kind of funny. I finally graduated from HS and I was now an official trainee in SK. I really wanted to go to College, but SM didn’t cover that, it was my own kind of decisions. I decided maybe not to go to college (biggest mistake).
Now this gets more interesting.
I began to do intense training. At SM there are different levels for every category, the categories are Singing, Dancing, Acting, Rapping, Language (English, Japanese, Chinese (Korean for foreigners)) and instruments.
There are levels 1 through 6. Lvl 1 being NOVICE and Lvl 6 being EXPERT. For me, when I first entered, my stats were Singing: 3, Dancing: 2, Acting: 1, Rapping: 1, Language: Korean-1, Japanese-3, English-6, Instrumental: Saxophone-3.
SM encouraged us to focus only on our mains but never to forget about the other ones, so I only stuck to singing, dancing and language, brushing the others to the side.
There wasn’t a day when I didn’t train.
Intense vocal training in the morning till about lunch, then Dance practice from then on until about Dinner, then after that you do whatever you want. I mostly just focused on my singing and dancing. There were probably a total of like.. 40 trainees.. But I could be wrong.. All varying from like ages 8 to 25 …
Trainee life really is harsh, but very rewarding. I was considered a bigger size, not HUGE, but bigger, and once I quit being a trainee, I was considered SKINNY… LOL, kind of funny. I was put in an international dorm, which was a little bogus, but I was okay with it, preferred to be with everyone else but oh well. I shared a dorm with two others, they were both Chinese.
As trainees we are encouraged to train at least six times a week, but SM doesn’t really have control over us. Whoever wants to train is welcome to do so, those who are not as driven aren’t pushed to doing so. Basically you have all the freedom in the world but that depends if you want to work hard or not. Some trainees I saw like once a week. Some I saw every single day. Most of the time, those who trained EVERY day or most of them, were the ones who debuted.
Actually I wasn’t bullied for not being Korean, there are a lot of scenarios where you are and whatever, but it really depends on how you portray BULLYING. I mean, duh, I was looked at as a waste or energy or whatever because it is KOREAN pop, but that wasnt BULLYING. It all came down to how determined I was, that’s what determines my drive for being something in the KPOP world.
There were cliques, YES. I didn’t revolve myself around anyone in specific but I was pretty close to some trainees. We are encouraged to not become close with anyone because, ya know, we might not even debut with them.
You would expect some trainees to have entered SM just to get close with idols, but nahhh, that was BARELY the case. At first, I was very excited to meet BoA, Super Junior, etc. but once we were in the company, they were just like everyone else, they weren’t seen as stars anymore..
And YES, there was INTENSE competition, but even that doesn’t mean you are set for debut. There were some RUDE and arrogant trainees but when the reps and staffs came around their personalities CHANGED. Training made me realize how .. ahem.. scripted and ‘fake’ the kpop world can be.. BUT, of course the staffs and reps are in on it as well, they know who’s mean and who isn’t and most of the time, the nice ones get to debut.
At the end of the day it all depends on your drive, determination and character.
SM has like four buildings I think..?? One is for the trainees, one is for the artists and the others is just for staffs, representatives, etc. for business purposes. I was ALWAYS at the trainee building, duh. I was only at one of the business buildings for financial issues such as our weekly allowances ($25 a week). Trainees only ever went to the Artist building when we had showcases, which were monthly and it was an evaluation of how much trainees improved and whatnot. Many trainees were sent home because of showcases. I, surprisingly made it far .. not to be conceited..
NOW on to your favorite, the idols..
Like I said, they aren’t all that after entering the company.. They’re just as human as everyone else. They didn’t come around the Trainee building much, but they were always at the Artist building.
Whenever we had showcases, the only idols who ever came to watch were Yunho, BoA, Eunhyuk, Donghae, Tiffany, Sunny, Onew and a couple others. I’d say the MOST DOWN TO EARTH idols were most definitely Tiffany, Luna, Yunho and Amber.
I personally don’t consider the EXO members idols because I kind of went through everything with them, just didn’t know them personally. The SNSD members barely ever came around, the one I saw most was probably Sunny, she is probably my favorite member after getting to know a little bit of SNSD. They came around and the only ones that ever greeted us were Sunny, Tiffany, Taeyeon and Yoona, the others would walk right pass us. They gave short encouragements, telling us to not give up and they would end it there. From what I saw, what they portray on screen definitely isn’t fake.
The Super Junior members didn’t really interact a lot with trainees.. Eunhyuk talked to a lot of the girl trainees though and Shindong is only funny with the older people, he isn’t really much goofy with the younger kids. I say Luna is the most down to earth because even though she debuted already, she still talks to fellow trainees and she comes by a lot to encourage us to not give up.
Krystal isn’t a snob, but she’s been called that so many times, she just kind of stopped trying, but she is really nice, she comes to the showcases sometimes and always encourages all of us to do well. Amber is most definitely a tom boy, a lot of people say it’s SM’s doings but no, it really isn’t. The initial thing was to make Amber girly, it didn’t work, so they switched up the concept of f(x), having a tom boy. She is a tom boy but she has a very caring soul. I’d say she is the idol a lot of foreigners can relate to most, for she is an outcast, being Chinese and a tomboy, etc. She speaks up for a lot of trainees who are being outcasted and when f(x) comes around to check up on trainees, she tries to include outcasted trainees in some things, like maybe dance warm-ups, she would always bring them up to the front when they always stand at the back all shy and stuff.
I didn’t see much of SHINee, when I did, they always looked SERIOUS and like focused.. They’re the serious idols, they really aren’t that down to earth, from what I saw.
Now, onto EXO..
Since I trained for 5 years, you’d expect me to have been a line-up member, right? Well no.. sadly. I mean one of the managers brought it up to me and told me to work extremely hard, this was in 2010, when the ‘New Boy Group’ rumor was spreading throughout trainees. We all began to work EXTRA hard, but I wasn’t even chosen to be a POTENTIAL member..
The EXO members weren’t that close at first, obviously.. I’d say that my favorite members, after getting to know them through TRAINING, would have to be Suho, Baekhyun and Lay. Suho, being trained for 7 years, he never gave up and he lacked a lot in singing back in 2008, when I first entered. I was like ..why is he here.. then I saw his face and I was like Oh.. But yeah, Suho is VERY hardworking and he is very popular amongst trainees, as in like he is friends with a lot of them. He is very down to earth and yes he is a crybaby. He cries every time something dramatic happens to him that lets him get closer to his dreams. He cried when he was confirmed an EXO member.
Baekhyun, you’d expect him to be cocky and whatever, being trained for only 1 year, but you are all wrong, he already had an amazing voice when he entered SM, but his dancing was okay. He worked extremely hard to improve his dancing AND singing and his personality was already on point, so he was already at a 4th year trainee level. Lay is a super nice guy, he always smiles and tries to bring laughter to everyone.
Like I said, I didn’t know these guys personally, but who wouldn’t know who the popular guys were? The EXO members come around just a little and when they do, they aren’t as lively. Chanyeol is way different off-screen. He knows that he’s cute, so he’s a bit cocky and not too much a great guy. Kai is short-tempered, that’s just what I heard, so the EXO members don’t talk to him off-screen, the only one who does is Chen, but Chen talks to all the members.
I heard that if something seems to be going wrong OR needs to be done, the reps and staffs DEMAND the artists to do something about it. Chanbaek was created through staffs, because they knew that every group needs an OTP in order to gain a lot of popularity, so the one with the VOICE and the one with the MAD INSTRUMENT SKILLS was put together. It is very scripted, indeed.. After EXO debuted, the question of me still being in SM while I was 21 came to be questioned..
SM was probably not going to be ever debuting another boy group any time soon and I was right. My manager talked to me and said that reps discussed that the New Girl Group (GE7) would debut in 2014 and another boy group would have to settle for 2016, I’d already be like 26 .. I evaluated all my goals and I realized that what I had been doing all this time was just a waste of my time.. I was looked upon as just an extra and I didn’t even have a chance.
The KPOP world is definitely HARD and it you’re not a stand out, then don’t try.
I left SM in April 2013, when my contract with SM ended. I went home and right now I am working and hoping to go to College in the fall. My manager still calls me once in awhile just to check if I need anything or just to talk. It is quite sad, but you know, all you can do is learn from things like this.
Oh and also, I got a call from a rep from CCM and they want me in as a trainee and I just shook my head like NO and declined.. Really..? Uhh.. no, after all the controversy..
This is all I have to say.. Sorry for it being so long.. I hope this helped OR just was enjoyable.. Thanks for reading :))