The desperate search for future starsLee Jong-taek from Popcorn Management never thought that he would miss the old days when young star wannabes fell at his feet every time he mentioned he was “searching for a new face.”
Mr. Lee’s job is to visit schools and after-school classes, looking for prospective TV stars.
On a recent day, he stopped by a drama class at Chung-Ang University, the alma mater of many actors and actresses currently gracing Korea’s TV screens. There were 30 people in the senior class ― half majoring in production and the other half in acting. He spotted a few people that looked ready for the camera and approached them. But he was taken aback by their response.
The first girl stared at him and said, “I’ve already made a contract with a management agency.”
He moved to a second one, but she also gave him an odd look and said, “It’s been a while since I signed a contract with another management company.”
He found out that half of the students majoring in acting had already found themselves management agencies.
“On the first day of school, you receive calls from advertisers, and model and acting agencies asking you to sign a contract,” said Yu Seol-a, a junior majoring in acting at Chung-Ang, who has already started acting on TV. “Unless you are planning to act only in plays at theaters, most students make contracts with an agency before they make their debut.”
The situation is not much different at other schools. At Hanyang University and Seoul Institute of Arts, both renowned for their acting courses, employees from management agencies were spread around the campus searching for new faces.
“We are actually most busy at the end of the year when schools start accepting applications for admissions,” said Park Seong-hye, a manager from Sidus HQ, the largest celebrity management agency in Korea. “We hire part-timer workers in order to cover each college with an acting department.”
The management employees wait with a camcorder in hand next to a college application registration table.
If the students, mainly young women, applying for a place on an acting course appear photogenic on the camera screen, the worker immediately asks them their details and whether they would be interested in signing up with the company.
By the time the students are approved for school admissions, the company has called them, reminding them to sign the contract too.
“Only 0.1 percent of these freshmen end up making contracts with us,” said Ms. Park. “And again only 0.1 percent of those signing contracts will become stars.”
But why bother when there must be hundreds of young star wannabe lined up in front of celebrity agencies?
Management agencies speak the sad truth: Its rare to find “a jewel” from among those who just walk in to the agencies’ offices .
Lee Sang-yeop, a manager from Fanthom Management, says he has even started targeting arts high schools and junior high schools. He says that by the time students are in college, it’s too late.
“Its better to pick them up as a teenager and ‘rear’ them to become a star,” Mr. Lee said.
Kim Ji-hye, a promoting manager from Sidus HQ, said her company even has a specialized desk that surfs Internet pages for prospective stars.
“We found one new face by searching the mini home pages on Cyworld and made a contract with her,” she said, beaming.
by Baik Sung-ho