‘Second Kim Kwang-seok’ finds fame in imitating singer

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‘Second Kim Kwang-seok’ finds fame in imitating singer

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Che Hwan

The singer Che Hwan is starting a series of concerts, going from tomorrow to April 20. He shot to fame after appearing on JTBC’s show “Hidden Singer” as a Kim Kwang-seok impersonator.

The concerts kick off in Toma Hall, a small theater located in Daegu’s Bang Chun Market, beside Kim Kwang-seok Road.

“Thanks to JTBC, ‘Hidden Singer’ and Kim Kwang-seok, my 20 years of anonymity have finally ended,” said the singer, who has been dubbed the “second Kim Kwang-seok.”

So it’s only appropriate that Che Hwan promised to donate part of his concert royalties to help decorate Kim Kwang-seok Road, an alley where the singer grew up that has been turned into a memorial to the great singer’s life and songs.

“Hidden Singer” is a music program on JTBC on which famous local singers compete with their impersonators every week. Audiences cannot see who is singing so must guess who is the real singer and who are the impersonators. With some of the impersonators singing even better than the stars, the show has become quite popular.

Che Hwan, whose real name is Lee Heon-seung, participated on an episode in December 2013 as one of the impersonators of the late Kim Kwang-seok.

Kim, one of the most famous singers in Korea, was responsible for many hit songs beloved by public before his suicide in 1996 at the age of 31. His death was the shock of the era. His hit songs, like “Around 30,” “Though I Loved You” and “Becoming Dust,” are constantly covered by contemporary artists.

Che Hwan’s amazingly similar voice and style of singing surprised the public. “Kim Kwang-seok’s music made my start as a singer,” said Che Hwan.

Che Hwan’s affection for Kim Kwang-seok started in his childhood. In 1984 he got hooked on Kim’s early song “In the Wilderness” while listening to the radio. In 1985 he moved to the Bang Chun Market area, where Kim used to live, and even met Kim twice at parties after concerts.

“I asked him how to sing,” said Che Hwan. “He encourage me to ‘sing from the bottom of my heart.’ He said never to give up. He was all I wanted to be.”

Che Hwan’s life as a singer started at the age of 17 when he started busking. His made his recording debut in 2007 and has actually recorded 34 albums and more than 1,000 songs but was unknown before his appearance on JTBC in December 2013.

Since 2012, he has visited Kim Kwang-seok Road every week to give street performances. After more than 100 performances he earned 2 million won ($1,870) and erected a bronze statue in memory of Kim. He appeared on “Hidden Singer” to win the cash prize of 20 million won to create the statue.

He released a Kim Kwang-seok memorial album “Around 40” on Jan. 22. It was a hit: it has been downloaded more than 100,000 times already.

“I am planning to build a Kim Kwang-seok-themed theater in the middle of Hongdae,” he said, referring to the area in western Seoul famous for live music.

“It’s my dream to sing and enjoy his songs in that theater until the end of my life.”

By KIM YOUN-HO [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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