How Foreigners Became KPOP Idols

Elly Zulaikha
November 13, 2020
3 minutes

Can foreigners pass auditions and become KPOP idols? What are the things they need to achieve before they can break through the market? Have a read through this article, as we uncover the sacrifices foreigners endure to be famous KPOP idols. 

What It Takes to Become a KPOP Idol

The first step is to find an entertainment agency and sign up as a trainee. Most hopeful trainees are scoured through endless auditions, whereas a few lucky ones are scouted by talent agents. But it’s uncommon to see young children as young as 10-year-olds who has already started practicing singing and dancing, on top of attending their day schools.

Next, surviving idol life training is a priority for many trainees. Not to mention, average contracts which span anywhere from 5-7 years bind these trainees with their agencies, as they undergo talent assessment, skill workshops and withstanding the harsh ‘idol life’ to become perfect idols.

But what happens to trainees who don’t get the chance to debut? Check out our article about this here

Foreigners' Transition as Korean Idols

Image via Youtube

It is no exception that there are plenty of foreign hopefuls wanting to hit it big as a KPOP idol. Regardless of the processes every KPOP trainee has to face before they can debut, foreign idols face twice the challenge and criticism while in South Korea. In fact, due to their race and ethnicities, they may have to put up with constant racism and double standards in Korea. So when their fellow Korean members receive criticism for things like body image, beauty, and talent, foreign idols receive triple blows of criticism. 

Indeed, what they go through is NOT for the faint of heart. 

Language training

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Many entertainment companies make sure their foreign trainees are trained well, so they mostly send their idols to language schools, have one-on-one training with a language coach, or learn from local members themselves. For example, BLACKPINK Lisa had no prior grasp of the Korean language. YG Entertainment forbade her from communicating with other trainees in English, but luckily, she had her members to teach her Korean.

Korean Stage Names

Image via Youtube

Usually, when foreign idols debut in a group, they will use either their real names or a Korean stage name. For instance, if they are ethnically Korean, but born a different nationality (such as American, Canadian, etc.), they may use their middle Korean name, which is mostly given by one of their Korean parent(s) or grandparents. 

Here are some idols who were born overseas but has Korean blood:

Huening Kai (휴닝카이) - TXT

Image via Youtube

Birthplace: Hawaii, United States

English name: Kai Kamal Huening

Korean name: Huening Kai (휴닝카이)


Image via theglassmagazine

Birthplace: Auckland, New Zealand

English name: Roseanne Park

Korean name: Park Chae Young (박채영)

Eric Nam (에릭남)

Image via allkpop

Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

English name: Eric Nam

Korean name: Nam Yoon Do (남윤도)

Jessi (제시)

Image via kpop.wikia

Birthplace: New York, raised in New Jersey

English name: Jessica Ho

Korean name: Ho Hyun Joo (호현주)

Bang Chan (방찬) - Stray Kids

Image via koreaboo

Birthplace: Born in South Korea, moved to Sydney, Australia

English name: Christopher Bang

Korean name: Bang Chan (방찬)

SOMI (소미)

Image via neakorea.wordpress

Birthplace: Ontario, Canada

English name: Ennik Somi Douma

Korean name: Jeon Somi (전소미)

Whereas if an idol is not Korean ethnically, but let's say they are of Chinese ethnicity, they can still translate their name characters to Korean. The reason is that the Korean language has Hanja (漢字), Chinese characters in their language system. So, if you have a Chinese name, you can still translate it to Korean pronunciation and to Hangeul (한글) , which is Korean writing. 

Here are some EXO members who translated their Chinese name to Korean:

Xiumin (시우민) 

Image via Soompi

Chen (첸) 

Image via msn

Korean name: Kim Jong Dae (김종대)

Chinese Name: Jin Zhong Da (金鐘大)

D.O. (디오) 

Image via entertainment.kompas

Korean name: Do Kyung Soo (도경수)

Du Qing Zhu (度慶洙)

Kai (카이)

Image via allkpop

Korean name: Kim Jong In (김종인)

Chinese Name: Jin Zhong Ren (金鐘仁)

Sehun (세훈)

Image via Soompi

Korean name: Oh Se Hun (오세훈)

Chinese Name: Wu Shi Xun (吳世勛)

However, for idols who do not have a Korean middle name (usually given by their parents) or can translate their original name to Korean, they'll just use their real name or completely make up a fake stage name. 

For instance, idols who use their real names/stage names are: 

Momo, Sana, Tzuyu, and Mina (TWICE)

Bambam, Mark Tuan and, Jackson Wang (GOT7)

Minnie, Yuqi and Shuhua (G)-IDLE

'Controversies' involving foreign idols

KAACH (같이) 

Image via allkpop

They were the first British KPOP girl group who debuted on 29th April 2020 under a London-based entertainment company called FrontRow. This 4 member girl group consists of various nationalities; Venezuelan, Spanish, Filipino, British, and Korean. Their first single, 'Your Turn' was released in April 2020, followed with a recent comeback on November 4, 2020, 'Photo Magic'.

Before their debut, the group garnered mostly mixed feelings from the KPOP community. Some hated how mainstream the group's name sounded, and some simply couldn’t tolerate that they were not Korean people who were attempting  to sound like KPOP idols. But, it is still too early to speculate the fate of this group. 

Either way, check out this article that talks about KAACHI here 

The Z-POP Dream 

Image via indianexpress

Zenith Media Group (ZMG) was a subsidiary entertainment company of Zenith Media Contents (ZMC). Following the discontinuation of ZMC, the business is now handled by Divtone Entertainment (formerly known as COZMIC Group).

The ZMC (now Divtone Entertainment) created the 'Z-POP Dream Project' which was to find talents across South and Southeast Asia who dream of becoming one of the first international K-POP groups. The agency later debuted two groups, Z-BOYS and Z-GIRLS on 23 February 2019 respectively. 

While both groups have 4 tracks and MVs and one collaborative song, it is uncertain whether both groups will be able to make another successful comeback, after their company underwent a major structural shift and also because of COVID-19.

Both groups seem to hold promising future as among the first Asians outside of East Asia and Thailand to become KPOP idols, but their real potential is somewhat blurry since the K-POP industry rarely bats an eye at SEA fans, nor are they bothered because they consider J-POP as their ‘real’ competitor.  

GIF via candiperfumegirl

We hope you have a better understanding of what these foreign KPOP idols go through before debuting as a KPOP idol. 

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