Sungbong Choi may not have won the 2011 season of “Korea’s Got Talent,” but he came away from the TV competition with something much more valuable: a community of devoted fans.
Competing at just 21 years old, he had already been through more hardship than anyone should have to endure. Yet as he stood before the judges on the “KGT” stage, he was filled with hope for a better future.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1990, Choi was abandoned at an orphanage when he was only 3 years old. By 5, he was so badly abused that he ran away, living by himself in the red light district for years.
As a pre-teen he started selling gum and beverages inside nightclubs to earn money. It was inside these clubs that Choi realized how much he loves music.
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“I felt calm when I listened to music,” he explained. “I experienced depression and despair without it. Music was my only friend.”
Desperate to learn more about music and improve his situation, Choi sought out former opera and music teacher Jeong-So Park and asked for a lesson. His raw talent and willingness to work hard impressed Jeong-So, who agreed to mentor him for free.
“His situation was unbelievably harsh, but his passion for music, for wanting to learn, to sing, was very strong,” the teacher said. “I couldn’t charge him for lessons when I knew what he’d been through.”
With Jeong-So’s help, Choi was able to get off the streets and into a government-subsidized apartment when he was 16. The music teacher also helped him pass his qualifying exams so he could enter Dae-Jeon Art High School — making it the first time he’d ever gone to school in his life!
A charitable group called ChildFund Korea stepped in to help him get by. To this day, Choi remains active in the charity organization so he can repay their kindness to him all those years ago.
Choi had already been through so much by the time he made it to his “KGT” audition, and he was determined to give the song his all. His impressively deep singing voice came as shock as he performed Ennio Morricone’s “Nella Fantasia.” His performance, along with his moving backstory, had the judges and audience in tears!
Judges Kolleen Park, Jang Jin, and Song Yun-ah gave Choi a heartfelt “yes,” sending him on to the next round of the competition. In the end, he made it all the way to the finals before coming in second place. He lost by just 280 votes, but his career was only getting started!
Choi’s story and performance earned him an international spotlight, with many people on the internet calling him “the Korean Susan Boyle.” To date, his audition video has been viewed more than 4.2 million times on YouTube.
“I know that gratitude in words cannot fully convey my gratitude to those who support me, and your encouragement and support messages reminded me of my reason to live,” Choi said at the time.
He continues to make music today and maintains a hopeful outlook even through his health battle with cancer this year. “I think there is work to be done, and I want to deliver a message of hope to more people around the world through my own voice and song,” he said.
We can’t wait to see what this incredible man does next. Watch the audition that lifted him out of poverty in the video below, and don’t forget to share this powerful story.
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