A German idol with Korean roots

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A German idol with Korean roots

Cologne, GERMANY ― More than 6 million Germans watched him singing at midnight on a weekend a few weeks ago. Mike Leon Grosch, 29, a Korean-German singer, rose to stardom through Germany’s version of “American Idol,” a show called “Deutschland Sucht den Superstar” (Germany Seeks the Superstar) on RTL, the country’s biggest commercial TV station. Mr. Grosch came in second by a narrow margin on March 18, beating out some 14,072 people who took part in the competition preliminaries.
On the day of the final, the atmosphere in RTL’s Cologne studio was electric ― Mr. Grosch’s rival, Tobias Regner, 23, a muscular singer from southern Germany, energetically belted out his songs. The two singers sang three songs each, all wildly received by the audience.
One judge said both singers did so well that no matter who won, both had become superstars. It was a very close competition with the result impossible to predict. The vote count ― votes were cast by about 7 million viewers ― ended at 12:10 a.m. and when the result was announced, Mr. Grosch congratulated Mr. Regner, who edged him by a couple of hundred votes, and walked down from the stage to hug his mother, who had been sitting in the studio and cheering on her son .
“I love you, my son,” said Seo Seong-yun, 53. Ms. Seo said she was proud for her son, who despite not having a formal music education kept winning in the six-month long competition to reach the final.
Ms. Seo arrived in Germany as a nurse in 1970s when a large number of Korean nurses and miners emigrated to the country. She worked a 40-hour week in a hospital and raised her son alone after her husband left her when her son was four years old. Because of irregular shifts, she was often exhausted when she returned home but still managed to make a good home for her son in their small fifth-floor apartment.
Ms. Seo said she sometimes ate cold leftover rice but always fed her son newly cooked rice. As Mr. Grosch grew up, he realized the warmth of his mother’s love and said he never thanked her enough.
Before becoming a superstar, Mr. Grosch sold cellular phones ― after graduating high school, he gave up on going to college because he wanted to become economically independent. He was sociable and cheerful, attributes the quickly made him a sales manager at work. He said, however, that he always felt there was something missing.
He was a good singer and sometimes performed in a band with a group of friends singing cover versions of famous songs. He also sang at friends’ weddings from time to time.
Last summer, he had the opportunity to perform in front of a wider audience after a friend recommended that he apply for the star-search program on RTL. Most participants were teenagers or in their early 20s, and the chance of getting through the preliminary rounds was 1,000 to one. Also he was fortunate that the age-limit for entry into the competition was raised to 30 last year.
Only 10 people make it through to the finals of the competition and their songs are featured on a compilation album that sells between 4 million and 5 million copies each year the contest is held. They also get guest appearances on television shows after the competition while the winner gets a recording contract with the BMG label.
Although he did not win the competition, Mr. Grosch said afterwards, “I hope I can follow my dream of pursuing a singing career.”

by Ryu Kwon-ha
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