Some three months ago, a 22-year old Korean manual laborer took center stage before live TV audience. Sporting a bowl haircut, a checkered shirt, denim pants and a pair of sneakers, he appeared unfit for for the part. Eventually, Sung-Bong Choi’s outstanding performance of Nella Fantasia moved judges and audience to tears.
“I wanna give you a hug,” said one judge.
He introduced himself as one who had made a living selling chewing gum and energy drinks for ten years. In reply to a judge’s question on whether he had vocal training, Choi said he studied on his own but took master classes whenever he had opportunities. Choi’s performance is considered the first talent discovery of note from the show Korea’s Got Talent..
Abandoned in an orphanage at three years old, Choi ran away from the abusive orphanage when he was five years old. In addition to working as a laborer to survive life beginning at age eight, he also delivered milk and newspaper. Choi later met a woman who ran the food cart outside of night clubs, who gave him the name Ji-Sung. Choi did not have a name prior to their encounter. She also encouraged Choi to take the Korean equivalent of a GED to complete his elementary and junior high curricula in order to enter high school. Choi tracked his official record with the name Sung-Bong Choi at the orphanage; however, this was not his given name by his parents. Instead, it was the name given to him at the orphanage; as a result, Choi preferred the name Ji-Sung over Sung-Bong.
He graduated from Daejeon Arts High School, which has caused controversy, however, Choi stated during the audition that he attended the high school. Choi also mentioned that there were not any teachers to give him vocal training at the school since he did not usually have the financial resources to pay for master classes.
When Choi got admitted at Kun Yang University Hospital due to medical issues related to the earlier car accidents, he voluntarily performed a recital for four students who needed the financial aid for schools during his in-patient stay. Choi initially considered dropping out of high school, but he later found master classes and practiced on his own. Nonetheless, his high school music teacher noted that Choi was often absent from classes due to his difficult situtation.
At this time, Choi cannot continue with post-secondary education due to his limited financial resources. Instead, he works as a construction worker with the type of work similar to that of a day laborer. Due to his immense exposure and popularity, Choi’s background has been intensely searched and verified by Netizens and South Korean media.
Choi was inspired to pursue a career in music when he was 12 years old after listening to a classical vocalist at the nightclub where he was selling chewing gum. Specifically, Choi mentioned during the audition at the club, he was fascinated by sincerity of the vocalist. He became a musical autodidact and later pursued classical vocal training at the musical department of Daejeon Arts High School. Choi stated that his favorite vocalist is Andrea Bocelli, Italian tenor.
Choi’s performance clip made it to YouTube and triggered a worldwide Internet sensation. One version with English subtitles has triggered international press interest and a worldwide view that Choi was “the next Susan Boyle” The video itself has exceeded ten million views The general public consensus was that Choi rendered a heartbreaking performance for the first performance. Choi advanced to the final level of competition scheduled for August 20th, 2011.