[Viewpoint] The lure of distortion and omissionChoi Sung-bong has made the world cry with his song. On June 4, the 22-year-old appeared on a regional audition for “Korea’s Got Talent,” a reality television show on cable channel tvN. Even before he sang, viewers were impressed by the personal journey of the young man.
When he was 3, he was abandoned by his parents at an orphanage, but at age 5, he ran away. He slept in public restrooms and in staircases, selling chewing gum on the street and working odd jobs. He was even rumored to have earned an equivalent degree for elementary and middle school and put himself through high school.
Choi sang “Nella Fantasia,” or “In My Fantasy.” The popular Italian song was originally sung by Sarah Brightman, crossover soprano and musical actress.
Choi’s baritone voice brought tears to many. Judges Kolleen Park and Song Yun-ah were also crying. When the song was over, Song was so moved that she couldn’t even wipe the tears overflowing from her eyes. She said, “I just want to give you a big hug.” Her comment sums up what everyone was feeling. Choi, of course, made the audition, and on July 16, he advanced to the final round with the highest score.
Four days later, Choi Sung-bong found himself at the center of international attention. CNN reported the amazing story behind the singing sensation. In a few days, the video clip of Choi had more than 10 million views on YouTube. Now, people around the world will be watching the birth of Korea’s Paul Potts or Susan Boyle in the final round on Aug. 20.
Before becoming an internationally renowned pop opera singer, Paul Potts had been a manager at a mobile phone store. Susan Boyle was a middle-aged woman from a small town in Scotland, who had “never been married and never been kissed.” If Choi Sung-bong wins “Korea’s Got Talent,” he would represent another Cinderella story. Choi has all the elements that could make his success touching and amazing. Everyone wants to see him triumph.
Regrettably, however, there is a suspicious part in Choi’s dramatic story. He actually attended Daejeon Arts High School, studying vocal music. And, as Choi also explained, he received private lessons as well.
When it comes to classical music education, Choi was neither self-taught or as disadvantaged as he said. The three years in high school is the adolescent period when emotions and sensitivities are most keen. During this time, he was developing his talent in an artistically supportive environment, despite financial difficulties.
His education at the arts high school is an important fact. Of course, it is not fair to discount his struggle and suffering because of the educational background. If Choi had not gone to high school, he probably would still have studied classical voice on his own. But that does not mean the reality show can hide his background.
The contestants on “Korea’s Got Talent” are ranked by viewers voting on their mobile phones. When viewers make the selection, they certainly take such information into account, and therefore, the viewers have the right to know.
However, in the audition episode in June, the producers of “Korea’s Got Talent” had omitted the information about Choi’s educational background.
Choi did mention he received vocal training at an arts high school, but the producers edited out the segment in order to make Choi’s story more dramatic. The Korea Communications Standards Commission ruled that the cable network should make an apology and reprimand those in charge.
The broadcasters should also think about how to mend the damage on the dignity of Korea. The CNN report also missed the part on his education. Although CNN aired the story after it was known that Choi had lessons at the high school, the report did not mention it.
In this heartless - and tough - world, the human dramas of Paul Potts and Susan Boyle remind us of dreams and inspirations. However, distortion or omission should not be allowed even for dreams and inspirations. Choi Sung-bong is already a man of dreams and inspiration even with his educational background. But any attempt to edit the true story would make his baritone voice falter. The “Nella Fantasia” lyrics are touching and significant. “In my imagination, I see a fair world. Everyone lives in peace and in honesty there.”
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin