Idol Train­ing: The Road to Fame

In­creas­ing num­bers of Chi­nese young­sters are pur­su­ing dreams of be­com­ing pop idols, prompt­ing the emer­gence of the “idol train­ing” in­dus­try in China.

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Du Wen Pho­to­graphs by Mai Tian

When asked about their fa­vorite pop stars, most Chi­nese young­sters in the 1990s would have named singers from Hong Kong or Tai­wan. Dur­ing the early aughts, the an­swer was fre­quently some South Korean or Ja­panese idols or pop bands be­fore ex­pand­ing to cover Western house­hold names such as Tay­lor Swift and Justin Bieber. In con­tem­po­rary China, “idol” has be­come a term to re­fer to an at­trac­tive pop star who gained fame as the win­ner of a song or dance con­test. Most try to ex­tend their time in the spot­light as long as pos­si­ble by ap­pear­ing on re­al­ity shows and au­di­tion for film and tele­vi­sion roles, through which they can amass enor­mous fan bases of teenagers and young adults.

In 2018, the pop­u­lar­ity of Chi­nese main­land re­al­ity shows fea­tur­ing the “idol train­ing” mode orig­i­nat­ing in Ja­pan and South Korea has be­come a craze that is hard to avoid wit­ness­ing on tele­vi­sion sets across China. This mode aims to “pro­duce” pop idols through months or even years of ar­du­ous train­ing of young per­form­ers. Mar­ket an­a­lysts have re­ported that the trend her­alds the emer­gence of the “idol train­ing” in­dus­try in China. Tough Road to Star­dom

Wu Qingli is a 19-year- old Hong Kong ci­ti­zen who grew up in Shen­zhen. She used to work part­time as a model while in school. “Hong Kong is too small to re­ally make it big,” she lamented. With a dream of be­com­ing an idol trainee, she ven­tured to Beijing alone in May 2018, turn­ing a new page in her life.

In Beijing, Wu passed the re­cruit­ment exam of an en­ter­tain­ment agency and be­came a trainee— a nec­es­sary step for the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of young­sters hop­ing for a ca­reer in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. Trainees are sub­jected to ar­du­ous

as­so­ci­a­tion. I had to learn dance at an af­ter-school train­ing class.” Af­ter care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, he dropped out of col­lege as a ju­nior and trekked from his home­town of Taiyuan to Beijing, where he be­came a trainee in an en­ter­tain­ment agency.

Af­ter months of train­ing, Duan’s singing and danc­ing skills im­proved con­sid­er­ably. At a re­cent pub­lic per­for­mance, he per­formed two dances. How­ever, life as a trainee isn’t al­ways fun. “My ev­ery train­ing sched­ule is very tight and ex­haust­ing,” Duan sighed. “Af­ter re­turn­ing home, the first thing I want to do is to col­lapse on my bed.” Now, his clos­est friends in Beijing are all trainees at the same agency. “Sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences give us many top­ics for ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion, but this ten­dency also lim­its the scope of my so­cial net­work.” Fast-grow­ing Mar­ket

If Wu and Duan fin­ish train­ing and ex­cel in ev­ery ex­am­i­na­tion, their agency will ar­range their of­fi­cial de­buts based on their strengths and the mar­ket sit­u­a­tion. De­spite their promis­ing ca­reer prospects, they must first en­dure rig­or­ous train­ing and sur­vive bru­tal knock­out ex­ams. Chi­nese idol trainees face enor­mous pres­sure although the sit­u­a­tion isn’t yet quite as bad as in South Korea, where only about one in 800 trainees can com­plete the en­tire pro­gram.

“I’ll con­sider chang­ing my ca­reer di­rec­tion if I fail to de­but af­ter two or three years of train­ing,” Wu said.

The in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion of idol train­ing orig­i­nated in Ja­pan in the 1980s. Back then, sev­eral girl bands emerged and ex­ploded overnight. Since the late 1990s, in­creas­ing num­bers of boy bands led by South uth Korea’s H.O.T. have grad­u­ally gained pop­u­lar­ity. Typ­i­cally, a boy y band in­cludes at least a dancer, a vo­cal singer and a rap­per.

Mar­ket an­a­lysts trace the Chi­nese nese main­land’s pop idol mar­ket’s emer­rgence to 2012. De­spite the fact that hat a few trainees re­turn­ing from overseas seas

Thanks to her on-cam­era ex­pe­ri­ence and Man­darin flu­ency, Wu Qingli (left) was named host­ess of the quar­terly per­for­mance for the sec­ond time. Gen­er­ally, an en­ter­tain­ment agency will strictly con­trol the ex­po­sure of its trainees be­fore their de­buts.

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