[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]A talent show is coming to your town

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[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]A talent show is coming to your town

Most Koreans love singing. The program "Jeonguk Norae Jarang" (Countrywide Amateur Singing Contest), can thank that for its longevity.

The mobile talent show, which is broadcast at 12:10 p.m. Sundays on KBS1-TV, channel 9, has been going strong since 1983. Though on the surface it seems like the local version of "Star Search," "Jeonguk Norae Jarang" is much more. The program is not only about finding new stars; by holding the show in a different town every week, it honestly depicts the people and the mood of the country.

Park Hyo-gyu, in charge of producing the program, said, "We lay the biggest importance in delivering the joys and sorrows of ordinary people all over the country. Singing is only a medium to meet that goal." While the contestants who sing and dance on the show can be of any age, most are past their 30s, and they choose to sing old hits. In fact, though the show's main audience is the older generation, the program consistently captures about 15 percent of viewers in its time slot.

Every week the show moves to a different rural town and invites the residents to compete. Singers and dancers wanting a moment in the spotlight first have to survive a preliminary contest in order to get on the show. Mr. Park, the producer, says that he gets at least 300 applicants every week.

When they arrive in a new town, the production staff builds a makeshift outdoor stage in a village square, including a spot for the show's musicians to play. Each show becomes like a town party, and the site is packed with people holding banners and cheering their friends. Often, the elders of the town are given the seats up front. The banners say something like, "Ms. Kim, the singing prodigy of the town."

The show sets up a panel of judges to choose the winners. But on this show there are no losers. The contestants always enjoy being onstage, win or lose. Some noncontestants do whatever they can to get on camera. Grandmothers bring a plate of the region's goodies, like rice cakes or fruits, to give to the host of the show, Song Hae, a friendly, rotund man. Sometimes they try to treat the judges -- but nobody ever suspects them of trying to influence the contest's outcome.

Sometimes a real star is found. Past participants on the show include Kim Hye-yeon and Park Sang-cheol -- both of whom developed into professional singers.

Mr. Park, the producer, expects the show to stay popular. "Many young people complain that they have to watch the show only because their grandpas and grandmas are choosing the channels. But they'll be tuning in when they get old."

by Chun Su-jin

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