Soju surprise leads to Korean TV gig

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 23, 2013

Not being able to sing or dance, by her own admission, did not stop blogger Mae Tan from emerging tops at an audition and becoming the star of a South Korean television series.

Miss Korea: I'm Mae is a travelogue featuring the 18-year-old's colourful escapades in that country, which includes visiting the scenic Jeju Island and queuing at the crack of dawn to get into the filming set of popular music variety show M Countdown. It is airing on Channel M (StarHub TV Channel 824 and SingTel mio TV Channel 518).

While taking a gap-year break from her studies this year, she never expected to score a dream deal that would make K-pop fans green with envy.

At the auditions held in June this year, many of the 90 hopefuls sang and danced.

Tan did something else altogether.

"I don't dance, I don't sing. I'm really good at drinking, so I decided to bring a bottle of soju (Korean spirit) and show the organisers that I know how to drink the Korean way," says Tan, who is signed with Gushcloud, a social media marketing start-up that manages YouTube personalities and bloggers.

Her ingenuity and liveliness struck a chord with the judges.

A Channel M spokesman said: "She was a natural in front of the camera and blogs very frequently. Her candour and energetic personality won the judges over, especially when she brought a prop to the audition - a bottle of Korean soju."

Her reward: a two-month all-expenses-paid stay in South Korea which started in July.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, such chances don't come by easily. I felt it was a very good experience for me to learn how to be on my own for two months," Tan tells Life!.

The middle child from a well-to-do family admits that the most challenging part of the trip was having to rely on herself.

Surviving on a one-time allowance of 1.5 million Korean won (S$1,790), she stayed in a backpackers' hostel, did her own laundry for the first time and had to navigate around the streets of Seoul with her limited Korean vocabulary.

Although her 53-year-old businessman father and 49-year-old housewife mother were concerned about their only daughter going solo in a foreign land, they gave her their blessings to go ahead as they felt that it was a good learning experience for her.

Miss Korea: I'm Mae is a collaboration between Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) and South Korea's Channel M, which is run by Korean media and entertainment company CJ E&M. The show's title refers to a miss or young woman going to Korea, and also to Mission: Korea.

Tan, who graduated from Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary School last year, was given a say in the itinerary, and also received suggestions from Koreans on the streets of Seoul.

It was launched as a 12-part Web series in October on CJ E&M's online content channel, Insite TV and started airing on Channel M earlier this month.

The producers were looking for an adventurous female, aged between 20 and 23 years old, and is an avid social media user.

Tan's blog, called marxmae, attracts an average of 3,500 unique views a day and her social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram each have a following of more than 25,000.

Since the first online episode was uploaded on Oct 3, it has garnered more than 290,000 views.

The once- or twice-a-week filming in Korea was not without its stressful moments, especially when Tan tried desperately to gain entry to the weekly M Countdown pop chart show.

She says: "I never knew people queued up at 3am to watch a concert that they can watch on TV. I was shocked. I was there at 5am, but I was told that I should have come earlier to queue. I was very frustrated, I hardly had any sleep the day before."

Tan, a fan of girl group 2NE1, boyband Beast and rock band FT Island, finally got into the show after the interventions of the producers. M Countdown is, after all, a show owned by CJ E&M.

"I felt very relieved when I managed to get into the show. I got to see acts such as 2NE1 and Crayon Pop. The atmosphere was great and the fans there were genuinely excited. They really wanted to be there."

The Singaporean lass, who recently started her own boutique at the *Scape building in Orchard, seems to have left her heart in Seoul.

"When I watched the last episode, I felt like crying. I was telling my mum that I need to go back to Korea."

The final two episodes of Miss Korea: I'm Mae will air on Friday, 9pm, on Channel M (StarHub TV Channel 824 and SingTel mio TV Channel 518). The series will be repeated until Jan 4. Also, catch the show on Insite TV's YouTube channel,

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 23, 2013

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