|Song Ji-ah from Netflix’s “Single’s Inferno” / Courtesy of Netflix|
By Kwak Yeon-soo
In the past, non-celebrities who possessed unique skills and expertise could become celebrities by showing off their talents in the media. However, that trend has been increasingly discarded, and “ordinary” individuals who came out of nowhere have started to take center stage, pushing aside celebrities to serve now as panel judges or observers, merely commenting on them.
From cooking competitions to dating shows in which the contestants were often put into survival situations, reality shows featuring non-celebrities have seen high ratings, as viewers have grown tired of the same old TV personalities.
Celebrity chefs like Paik Jong-won, Lee Yeon-bok and Lee Won-il shot to fame after showing off both their culinary skills and sense of humor in cooking shows like SBS’ “Alley Restaurant” (2018-2021) and JTBC’s “Chef & My Fridge” (2014-2019).
Military training shows like “Fake Men” and Channel A’s “The Iron Squad,” starring judges or contestants from Korea’s top Special Forces, were the biggest hits in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Yuk Jun-seo, who was part of South Korean Underwater Demolition Team, recently signed with an entertainment agency to embark on a new chapter in his career after his appearance on “The Iron Squad.”
Another non-celebrity show that has been creating a buzz is Netflix’s “Single’s Inferno,” where the cast members rose quickly in popularity. One of them, Song Ji-ah, has seen more than 1.9 million YouTube followers.
|Star chef Jung Chang-wook / Korea Times file|
Critics say it is a simultaneous mix of fantasy and escapism that attracts viewers to fall for faux reality stars. Non-celebrities exist in a slightly heightened reality, but they seem more accessible than high-profile, professional actors or entertainers.
“Compared to celebrities who are already well-known and over-consumed, fresh-faced ordinary stars and their natural behaviors come out as something interesting for the audience,” culture critic Kim Sung-soo said.
However, their rising popularity has been accompanied by some controversies. Although production houses undergo a verification process to prevent any controversies surrounding the cast members, many have been embroiled in misconduct, including assault scandals or the violation of intellectual property rights.
Producer Kim Jae-won of “Single’s Inferno” revealed that they recruited contestants for the show as long as they fit the purpose of the show and were honest people. They underwent a fairly strict verification process and tested to see if the cast could withstand the stress by consulting with a psychiatrist.
“I was not worried about slander or unjustified attacks because we completed the verification process,” producer Kim said during a press conference for the show.
Soon after the show aired and garnered international popularity, however, Song came under fire for wearing counterfeit luxury brands on the media. The fashion influencer announced she will halt all her activities on social media after apologizing for damaging the value of brands.
Meanwhile, star chef Jung Chang-wook, who rose to fame through cooking show “Chef & My Fridge,” has been accused of assaulting an acquaintance and threatening them with a knife.
“As reality shows have become mainstream media, attractive young contestants are gaining popularity. However, those fast-rising stars are unable to get their problems sorted out before their screen debuts, compared to celebrities who (usually) clear up any personal issues before showing up,” another culture critic, Ha Jae-keun, said.
Critic Kim noted that ordinary stars should have job-specific skills and professionalism if they want to continue gaining a following. “If an ordinary person wants to become famous, he or she needs to have strong self-confidence and specific skills to show off diverse content on the air,” he said.
Original posted at www.koreatimes.co.kr