For over a decade, vocal trainer Sol Lee has been teaching aspiring stars at companies like CJ E&M, YG Entertainment, Kakao Entertainment, and more. Joining well-known former K-Pop trainee Gina Maeng for a new video on YouTube, Sol Lee revealed the secrets of idol vocal training—including a few of the rules that make monthly trainee evaluations particularly difficult.
1. No skipping evaluations
As many K-Pop fans may know, the vast majority of agencies make all trainees go through monthly evaluations where they show off their performance skills. If they can’t impress the company heads with their singing, dancing, or rapping, they risk losing their chance at debuting as an idol. With that in mind, Sol Lee revealed one of the first rules that makes monthly evaluations so difficult: trainees can’t skip a single monthly evaluation, even when they first join the company.
Although aspiring idols have to pass auditions to receive a trainee contract (including those who are street-cast) the veteran vocal trainer explained that she “very, very rarely” comes across a trainee who joins the company with good foundational knowledge in singing. In fact, she often hast to start at the absolute beginning when teaching them, starting with basics like correct breathing and how to vocalize sounds properly.
However, even though trainees start off with little singing knowledge, they’re not exempt from monthly evaluations when they first join the company. As such, Sol Lee says she has to begin preparing trainees for their first evaluation as soon as she meets them. To help them pass and cement their place at the company, the vocal trainer revealed she tends to start by teaching trainees to memorize songs well rather than teaching them how to sing properly.
2. You must sing in English
Since K-Pop trainees are preparing to debut in South Korea first and foremost, it stands to reason that they’d perform Korean songs in their monthly evaluations. However, this is not usually the case. Sol Lee and Gina Maeng revealed that typically, only companies that produce ballad singers allow trainees to sing in Korean for their evaluation.
The majority of agencies, on the other hand, all mandate that trainees sing English pop songs when they’re being evaluated. This includes YG Entertainment, Kakao Entertainment (home to labels like Starship Entertainment and Play M Entertainment), and CJ E&M (home to labels like BE:LIFT Lab and Swing Entertainment). Some artists whose songs were recently popular for monthly evaluations include Camila Cabello (“Havana,” “Señorita”) and Hailee Steinfeld (“Love Myself,” “Starving”) according to Sol Lee.
On one hand, there is an advantage to singing in English. Gina Maeng explained that when you sing songs by well-known Korean artists, the monthly evaluation judges will compare you to them immediately, which means you’ll need to outsing veteran vocalists to impress them. However, given that young trainees aren’t typically fluent in English, singing in the language can be very difficult.
For example, Sol Lee recalls training aspiring idols as young as seven or eight years old who didn’t know English at all. In these cases, she helps them out by writing the lyrics in Korean phonetically. The trainees then have to memorize those lyrics as well as sing them well.