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17 K-Pop Artists Discovered on Superstar K

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Now there are more K-pop audition and survival reality programs than you can shake a stick at, but the one that set off the trend in Korea is Superstar K, which started in 2009 on the music channel Mnet. Making a big splash in its first season, Superstar K's success, especially for a cable program, inspired major broadcast channels to come up with comparable programming of their own. Still going steadily after six years, the show has also launched far more K-pop careers than any other recent audition programs.

With Superstar K7 now well underway, let's catch up with some of the singers discovered by the show in previous seasons!

1. Seo In Guk (Season 1 Winner)
Perhaps now more well known as an actor, Seo In Guk is the original star birthed by Superstar K, the winner of the inaugural 2009 season and one of the most successful names to emerge from the show. Soon after his win, Seo released his debut mini-album Calling, and made modest but steady strides with his subsequent singles. The turning point in his career, though, would come not from singing but acting. In 2012, he landed the leading role in Answer Me 1997; the nineties-set coming-of-age series turned into a bona fide phenomenon and unprecedented ratings hit for cable. Since Answer, Seo has cemented his star status in a string of productions including Master's Sun, King of High School Manners, No Breathing and I Remember You. While his acting career has taken off, his music has comparably been set on the back burner as he has mostly put out soundtrack songs and Japanese releases in recent years.

All For You MV

2. Huh Gak (Season 2 Winner)
Turning the tables in a dramatic finish, Huh Gak showed that talent does come out on top. Soon after winning Superstar K2 in 2010, Huh Gak released a special mini-album, and then signed with Cube Entertainment to become one of the agency's few solo artists. Over the last five years, he has released three official mini-albums and one full album, establishing himself as one of the best ballad singers of his generation and a digital force to be reckoned with when it comes to heartbreaking ballads like Hello, "The Person Who Once Loved Me," "Snow of April." and "Tears Fallin' Like Today."

Snow of April MV

3. John Park (Season 2 Runner-Up)
With his clean-cut good looks, soulful voice and American Idol background, Korean-American contestant John Park was an immediate hot favorite to win it all. He ended up finishing second and signing with the small music-oriented label Music Farm, where he is in the good company of Lee Juck, Kim Dong Ryul and Cherry Filter. Taking his time with his music, he released his first mini-album Knock in 2012, over a year after the conclusion of K2. For his first album Inner Child, he rose to producer and songwriter status. Besides releasing a solid but infrequent repertoire of ballads, Britpop and rock, John Park has also shown a hilarious knack for variety, with his stint on Cool Kiz on the Block in particular winning him a Best Newcomer Award at the 2013 KBS Entertainment Awards.

Falling MV

4. Jang Jane (Season 2 Top 3)
When Jang Jane auditioned for Superstar K2, she pulled out a guitar, sat down cross-legged on the floor, and unleashed a powerful, low-pitched voice that contrasted starkly with her soft, high-pitched speaking tone. From that memorable start, the bright young singer-songwriter, a Hongdae regular, went on to lead online voting multiple times during the show and eventually finished third. She made her debut in 2011 with the album Day Breaker, followed by an EP in 2012, both of which were completely self-composed works in her earthy, guitar-driven style. She has returned with vigor this year with the mesmerizing "Auditory Hallucination" from the Kill Me, Heal Me soundtrack and Liquid, her first album since joining Mystic89.

Eat MV

5. Kang Seung Yoon (Season 2 Top 4)
Not even nearly three years in the YG basement and his current role as the leader of idol group Winner can make people forget that Kang Seung Yoon started out on Superstar K2. That was how memorable he was as the guitar-toting teen who sang "Instinctively." Despite being popular enough to land endorsements and contracts on his own, Kang Seung Yoon chose to go back into training to hone his skills. Though he was active during this trainee period with OST songs and a stint on the sitcom High Kick 3, he would not make his formal debut until 2013 with the single "It Rains," followed by the pop rock jam Wild and Young. In the midst of his solo debut, Kang Seung Yoon was also participating in the survival program WIN: Who is Next and impressing audiences anew with his songwriting and leadership skills. He and his bandmates eventually triumphed and debuted as Winner in 2014 with a largely self-produced album that topped charts and swept newcomer awards.

Instinctively on M Countdown

6. Park Bo Ram (Season 2 Top 8)
After finishing in the top eight on Superstar K2, the then 16-year-old Park Bo Ram became a trainee at Jellyfish Entertainment, during which time she blossomed from a teenager to a young woman. In 2014, she moved to MMO Entertainment and made a splash with her cute debut single "Beautiful" featuring Block B's Zico. This year, she finally released her first mini-album Celepretty, which continued with a bright and upbeat pop style. Having waited a long time for her debut, the 21-year-old has certainly earned her stripes as a rising star, and she's stayed busy this year, following Celepretty with two very different singles in peppy dance track "Super Body" and heartrending ballad "Sorry."

Beautiful MV

7. Ulala Session (Season 3 Winner)
Throughout Ulala Session's winning run on Superstar K3, the group never failed to touch audiences with their dynamic voices and funky performances, all while leader Lim Yoon Taek was battling cancer. Ulala Session's victory and 2012 debut album formed a moving story that fulfilled Lim Yoon Taek's musical dreams before his untimely passing in February 2013. The remaining members have carried on the mantle of poignant ballads and infectiously fun and danceable tracks. The group's youngest member Park Kwang Sun also made his acting debut earlier this year in the Mnet drama Sing Again, Hera Gu – in which he plays an aspiring singer who auditions for Superstar K.

Beautiful Night MV

8. Busker Busker (Season 3 Runner-Up)
The status of Busker Busker is uncertain with original lead singer and songwriter Jang Beom June having gone solo, but the band is unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon thanks to their hit "Cherry Blossom Ending," Korea's unofficial theme song for spring. After finishing second on K3 on the strength of their folksy, heart-fluttering, crowd-pleasing sound and Jang's distinct vocals, the band famously flouted the system by opting out of major label contracts and promotional activities. In 2012, they quietly released a self-titled album that would defy market trends to sell over 100,000 physical copies and spawn an iconic song that creeps back into the charts every spring. Busker Busker released only two albums before the members parted ways, but we'll always have "Cherry Blossom Ending."

Cherry Blossom Ending MV

9. Lim Kim (Season 3 Top 3)
At the age of 17, Lim Kim, or Kim Ye Rim, traveled from New Jersey to Seoul to participate in the third season of Superstar K as one half of the duo Togeworl (Two Months). After finishing third, the duo signed with their show mentor Yoon Jong Shin's Mystic89, but her bandmate Denny Do eventually had to return to the United States for school. With Togeworl on hiatus, Lim Kim made her solo debut in June 2013 with the EP A Voice and the catchy hit "All Right." Blessed with one of the most immediately recognizable voices in K-pop, the young and talented singer has since released two more mini-albums and a full album, emerging as one of Korea's most promising new-generation female artists.

All Right MV

10. Roy Kim (Season 4 Winner)
Roy Kim was already Georgetown-bound when he joined Superstar K4 in 2012. Though he was nearly eliminated in the audition round, the then 19-year-old with an enviable arsenal of looks, smarts and family background also had a beautifully warm voice that eventually propelled him to the top of the competition. His momentum continued with his debut single Bom Bom Bom, released in spring of 2013, topping the charts and establishing him as a singer-songwriter for the new generation. Balancing college and a music career, Roy has released two solid albums, Love Love Love and Home, filled with comforting folk-influenced guitar numbers and ballads, and he's a sure bet to improve any drama soundtrack.

Bom Bom Bom MV

11. DickPunks (Season 4 Runner-Up)
With a name like DickPunks, it's hard to not remember the band, but perhaps the most notable characteristic of the Hongdae-born ensemble is that their brand of rock is led by piano rather than guitar. Formed by vocalist Kim Tae Hyun, keyboardist Kim Hyun Woo, bassist Kim Jae Heung and drummer Park Ga Ram, DickPunks translated their indie popularity into mainstream appeal through lively arrangements and radio-friendly rock ballads. After finishing second on K4, the band released their first mini-album Viva Primavera the following spring, and further cemented their youthful, sprightly and piano-driven style that has carried right up to their most recent single We Young!

Viva Youth MV

12. Jung Joon Young (Season 4 Top 3)
With his rock vocals, ulzzang looks, quick wit and wild-child personality, Jung Joon Young grabbed attention from the moment he appeared on Superstar K4. While many contestants gradually grow into the limelight, Jung Joon Young belonged there from the very beginning while also being seemingly unhindered by the constraints of fame or general propriety. Active in both music and variety, he has stuck with a strong rock sound for his two solo mini-albums, and keeps audiences in stitches with his oddball antics on programs like We Got Married and 1 Night 2 Days. This year, the unpredictable singer threw another curveball with the formation of his own namesake band.

Teenager MV

13. Yoo Seung Woo (Season 4 Top 6)
Yoo Seung Woo was 15 – and looking even younger than that – when he charmed his way into audience hearts on Superstar K4. Armed with a wide smile and a sweet yet mature voice, the boyish-faced, guitar-strumming teen made his debut in 2013 with his first mini-album The First Picnic and the song "You and I." He has released two more albums of gentle ballads and pop rock since, while attending high school and growing as a singer and a songwriter. Now 18 years old, Yoo Seung Woo began a new page of his career this year by signing with Starship Entertainment.

You and I MV

14. Eddy Kim (Season 4 Top 6)
Dressed in army fatigues in the early rounds, Kim Jung Hwan, a soldier at the time, immediately stood out on Superstar K4. After returning to civilian status, he debuted in 2014 under the name Eddy Kim with the song 2 Years Apart, fittingly, an acoustic ballad about a soldier looking forward to reuniting with his other half. Part of Mystic89's talented roster, the young rising singer-songwriter was originally studying at the Berklee College of Music before returning to Korea for military service. He has released two self-composed albums thus far, following last year's The Manual with Sing Sing Sing this year, and won a Best New Artist award at the 2015 Seoul Music Awards.

The Manual MV

15. Parc Jae Jung (Season 5 Winner)
Winning over audiences and judges with his baritone voice and jazzy sensibilities, Parc Jae Jung was only 17 years old when he emerged as the champion of K5 and the show's youngest ever winner. He made his formal debut in July 2014 with the mini-album Step1 and the funky title song "Ice Ice Baby." Besides contributing a ballad to the My Spring Days OST, the budding teenaged singer has been mostly quiet since his debut album, but that won't be the case for long as he signed with Mystic89 earlier this year, joining fellow Superstar K graduates Lim Kim, Jang Jane and Eddy Kim.

Ice Ice Baby MV

16. Kwak Jin Eon (Season 6 Winner)
Last season's winner Kwak Jin Eon embodies the kind of inspiring story and soul-piercing vocals that makes for great television and great music. Raised in a humble family and homeschooled for many of his formative years, the singer-songwriter took a major step towards his musical dreams with a victory on Superstar K6. Though he has yet to release an album, he has contributed to several soundtracks (Misaeng, Love Forecast and Ode to My Father) and teamed up with runner-up Kim Feel for multiple commercials and songs.

Boast on Superstar K6

17. Kim Feel (Season 6 Runner-Up)
Every yin needs a yang, and for Superstar K6, Kim Feel would be Kwak Jin Eon's best rival and best partner, offering a similar yet different vibe with his distinctly husky voice. Hailing from a family with a rich musical background, he had already released several singles before participating on Superstar K6. As a testament of how much audiences liked K6's top 2 combo, Kwak Jin Eon and Kim Feel have continued to pair up often since the show's end, but the latter has the edge on the music releases. Kim Feel dropped his first post-K6 single Marry Me this past April, and then his first mini-album of self-composed tracks, Feel Free, in the summer.

Marry Me MV

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Published October 27, 2015

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