Thai K-pop starlet in the making

Thai sweetie pie Chonnasorn Sajakul doesn't know a word of Korean.

But she will soon be relocating to Seoul, where she will eat, live and breathe the next three years as a full-fledged K-pop starlet in the making.

The doe-eyed 15-year-old, who is better known by the nickname Sorn, beat 10 other contestants from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines last December to emerge the winner of inaugural reality TV talent search tvN K-Pop Star Hunt.

The repeat telecast will air over Star World (StarHub Ch 501) on Saturday at 10.45pm.

As part of her victory, Sorn, who bears a striking resemblance to Disney actress-singer Selena Gomez, bagged a three-year trainee contract with South Korea's top record label Cube Entertainment, home to A-list pop groups Beast, 4Minute and female artiste G.NA.

Following her training stint, the label will launch her showbiz career, either as a solo singer or part of a new girl group.

Sorn, in town last Friday with her family on holiday, told The New Paper that her move to the South Korean capital could take place as early as July, once she completes her Grade 9 International Baccalaureate examinations (equivalent to Secondary 3).

She is studying at an international school in Bangkok, but has decided to stop her studies to focus on becoming K-pop's next big thing.

"Cube Entertainment actually offered me an alternative option...They said I could continue with my education and fly to South Korea for training during my vacation," said Sorn, speaking in fluent English.

"However, I felt that this arrangement would be a waste of time. I'd rather dedicate my time to my passion.

"Besides, the K-pop industry is very competitive and it's good to start out young."

Fortunately for her, she has her parents' support.

Her 60-year-old mother, Ms Taddchachad Kareungsri, who was with Sorn for our interview, said that ever since she noticed her daughter's desire to sing when she was a child, she has given Sorn the opportunity to hone her craft by sending her for vocal lessons.

"Sorn's a strong girl, so I'm not worried about her being alone in Seoul," said Ms Kareungsri. "We will most likely visit her once a month."

Sajakul's cute, mild-mannered appearance belies the fact that she is a straight-shooter, one who never shies from giving her honest opinion.

"As a K-pop trainee, I know I'll have to sing in Korean, but I do want to sing in English too," she said firmly.

"Through English songs, I feel I can express my vocal techniques better."

Not that the teen doesn't ace K-pop tunes - her renditions of Davichi's 8282 and G.NA's Because You're Mine were show-stoppers on tvN K-Pop Star Hunt.

She cited powerhouse Western divas Beyonce and Adele, and South Korea's soulful balladeers Baek Ji Young and Navi as her "role models", while distancing herself from teenybopper idols such as Girls' Generation and T-ara.

"I'm not the girly-girly sort," she stressed.

What gets her goat is the overt influence of K-pop on Thai pop, the music scene back in her country.

"Thai pop is definitely influenced by Korean pop. They basically sound the same," said Sorn, with a perplexed look on her face.

"In the past, there were a lot of Thai solo singers, but right now, there are just more and more dancing girl groups.

"Sometimes, I really don't know why."

After a slight pause, she continued: "I think Thai pop music used to have its own identity and style, like (popular 80s and early 90s Thai male singer) Bird Thongchai, whose music had a distinctive Thai sound...That uniqueness is lost.

"Today, Thai pop groups try to 'improve' by copying K-pop groups, but most of the time, they end up changing the tone of the Thai words and instead, it makes their songs sound weird. That puts off a lot of elderly folks."

If Sorn comes across as somewhat of an old soul, it could be because her father, 70-year-old Thavatchai Sajakul, is a former actor and one-time Thai national football team manager.

'Mobbed by fans'

Sorn, who has three older siblings, recalls going out with her dad and "seeing him mobbed by fans for photos and autographs".

Such is the kind of life that awaits her, as she prepares for her turn under the spotlight.

If she is successful in her quest for K-pop stardom, she will be the second Thai, after Nichkhun Horvejkul of boy band 2PM, to make it big in South Korea.

Her fellow finalists on tvN K-Pop Star Hunt, Singaporeans Jasmine Tan and Maressa Zahirah, have nothing but praise for their good friend.

"All of us expected Sorn to win," said 16-year-old Tan, who was eliminated from the competition after making it into the Top 5.

"The minute she opened her mouth to sing, we gasped. Her singing simply blew us away."

Agreed Maressa, 23, who added that Sorn was the "most hardworking" of the lot during the boot camp.

"She would wake up at 5am every day to practise singing and dancing."

This article was first published in The New Paper.