February 5, 2024
SINGAPORE – Wearing a cropped top, knee-high socks and coloured contact lenses, 14-year-old Cassa Tan tossed her glossy, pin-straight hair as she belted out, unaccompanied, the chorus of English singer Jessie J’s 2011 hit Price Tag before a panel of five judges.
The Secondary 3 Anderson Secondary School student was one of some 120 young women who showed up for a preliminary audition held to find four new members for K-pop girl group Fifty Fifty.
The audition was held at an event space at Kallang Place on Feb 3.
Three members of the former quartet, best known for their 2023 viral hit Cupid, have left the group due to contractual disputes with their management agency Attrakt.
Only Keena remains in the group, which is being planned for an expansion into a quintet.
Cassa also performed the dance choreography of Yes! OK!, the theme song from Season 2 of China’s idol production reality competition Youth With You (2020).
She told The Straits Times: “I was looking at the camera the whole time. I was too scared to look at the judges. I was worried they might give me a stern look or something and it would make me more nervous.”
Audition hopefuls were given about one minute to sing and/or rap and another to dance.
The audition was open to South-east Asian residents aged 14 and above. Most hopefuls were teens or women in their early 20s living in Singapore.
If Cassa makes the cut, she will advance to a final audition round in Thailand on Feb 17, where she will compete with other South-east Asian candidates who sent in their audition clips online.
Attrakt also held auditions in Japan and South Korea for new members.
Results from the Singapore audition will be announced to the applicants via e-mail on Feb 9.
Mr David Yong, the Singaporean chief executive officer of Evergreen Group Holdings, which unveiled its plans to invest 10 billion won (S$10.2 million) in Attrakt in August 2023, was one of the judges.
Evergreen Group Holdings is an enterprise which develops a diversified range of businesses from timber to finance.
“The talent exceeded our expectations. There will be people we saw today going to Thailand, but we’re not sure yet about the final line-up of Fifty Fifty,” he said.
Evergreen and Attrakt are working on a tight timeline. They hope to finalise the line-up of the group in April and have them release new music by June.
“We came with the mindset of perhaps selecting two people to send to Thailand, but given the quality of the candidates we’ve seen today, we might expand that number to four or five,” he said.
Other judges on the panel included Mr Nicholas Ong, founder and director of Jam Republic Agency, a talent agency for dance artistes, and Jam Republic dancer Latrice Kabamba.
Attrakt had two representatives on the panel – Mr Choi Yong-sok, vice-president of corporate strategy and business planning, and Mr Choi Seung-ho, vice-president of artiste management.
The new members of Fifty Fifty would be expected to move to South Korea to live, train and work, which Cassa’s mother Yvone Lim, a 54-year-old business broker, fully supports. She has taken Cassa to modelling shows and singing competitions in countries such as China and Vietnam.
“Cassa started enjoying singing, dancing and performing when she was around 11. I can see her potential too, so if she likes it, I would support her all the way,” Ms Lim said.
Cassa will continue to seek out opportunities in performing even if her audition falls through. “I want people to see my talent and I want to perform on an international stage,” she added.
Another supportive mother is Ms Milona Xia, who is the patron of a law foundation. The 37-year-old accompanied her daughter, 15-year-old Joye Cai, a Secondary 4 student at St Joseph’s Institution International, to the audition.
Ms Xia, who also has two younger sons, said: “My whole family is behind her and we all fully support her K-pop dreams.”
Joye, who performed K-pop star IU’s Blueming for her singing portion, said: “I forgot the lyrics, so it was quite disastrous, but I’m still confident of my chances of going to Thailand.”
If her entertainment dreams do not work out, Joye hopes to pursue a degree in political science or economics in the United States.
Another hopeful was Natalie Sng, a 19-year-old university student.
Ms Sng has been dancing ballet since she was three and started on contemporary dance when she was 11.
She said: “I was on the fence about applying because I think I’m too old at 19. But I thought I’ll just give it a try since I do theatre and other performing arts. It’s something that can enrich my experience no matter what happens.”
Indeed, most K-pop groups debut when their members are in their teenage years.
Hyein – the youngest member of NewJeans, which staged their first performance in Singapore on Feb 3 – was 14 when she made her debut in 2022. Jungkook, the youngest member of BTS, debuted when he was 15.
Still, age did not deter Ms Sng or Ms Christinna Kuan, a 26-year-old Malaysian content creator with close to 800,000 followers on Instagram.
The Penang-born influencer, who posts primarily about fashion, said: “I’ve been mostly doing fashion-related events for the past 10 years that I’ve been in the industry. K-pop is something different from what I’m doing right now. It’s a new thing for me to try.”