Strumming to her own tune

Strumming to her own tune

John Kang talks to K-pop reality TV show contestant Shimali de Silva about her experience


Kpop Star Hunt 2_L
Photo: Thomas Yau/SCMP
If you had the chance to become a K-pop star, wouldn't you take it? Wouldn't you want to become the next BoA, be part of a group like Girls' Generation, or, if you're a bit portly, the next Psy? Not if you're Shimali de Silva, who says she wasn't interested enough in that chance, even though it was up for grabs.

Organised by Channel M, a TV entertainment channel in Korea, K-pop Star Hunt is a singing and dancing reality show, where contestants aged 15 to 29 compete to sign with top music label FNC Entertainment and become the next K-pop star. The contestants come from seven countries: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The Hong Kong auditions for Season 3 of the show will be held on October 6. The winner and runner-up from these then compete with the winners and runners-up from the other six countries.

Shimali was the winner of last season's Hong Kong auditions, where she competed alongside Hongkonger Leona Ho. While she didn't win the final, Shimali had a great run, making it into the top 12 even though she was only 13 years old - the youngest contestant the show's ever seen.

Shimali studies at Sha Tin College, an ESF school, and believes she is part of the "ESF subculture" of being yourself and being natural. This, she says, is probably why she didn't do better in the competition, as it's an ethos that doesn't go well with the TV show.

"I was less willing to play for the cameras," she says. "You'd go somewhere, and [the camera crew] would be like 'OK, act excited!' and everyone would be like 'Oh my god, yeah!' and I'd be like 'So unnatural!'."

It wasn't just this "ESF subculture" mentality that hindered her progress in the competition, she says, but also her general disinterest in K-pop, especially when compared with the other contestants.

Being so young, you might think Shimali could be a K-pop prodigy. But when she won the Hong Kong auditions, she says her friends "were surprised and confused, because they never saw [her] as a K-pop fan".

"I've always been more exposed to Western music. For me, K-pop is like a new phenomenon," she says.

Even if she was exposed to K-pop, she doubts she would have been a K-pop fan.

"I knew some music videos that made it really big but I wasn't a big fan of them because they were too commercial and mainstream," she says. "I always had this idea that I was indie and acoustic."

So why join a competition for wannabe K-pop stars? "The competition was another opportunity for me to perform. Whether it's K-pop or Bollywood, or anything else, I'd grab that opportunity," says Shimali.

But looking back, Shimali says she does regret not getting into the spirit of the competition.

"I should have just embraced it. Embraced the idea of being in a reality TV show," she says.

For example, she feels she could have been more accommodating.

"The producers would say 'Could you sing a song like this?' and I'd be 'No, that's not really what I do'. And they'd ask 'Could you please not play your guitar?' and I'd say 'No, I want to. It's me'," she says. "I could have just tried something new and been open to the new experience, because it was essentially harmless."

But all was not lost. From the experience, Shimali made some great friends, and has learned to better appreciate her situation back in Hong Kong.

"The other contestants came from very different countries and social backgrounds to me," she says. "For a lot of them, this [competition] was their way out. But for me, I just joined because it was an interesting experience. For them, it was like 'OK, I can actually win this. I've got to support my family.' It just really sunk in how lucky I am to be where I'm at, and to have the privileges I have."

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