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Homeless Boy Steals The Talent Show!
By JOOHEE CHO (@jooheecho)
Aug. 21, 2011, SEOUL, South Korea
He sings of a fantasy where everyone lives in peace, honesty, free-spirit, and full of humanity.
That's something Choi Sung-Bong never imagined to have even existed before signing up for the "Korea's Got Talent" show hosted by TVN, an entertainment cable channel, in South Korea.
The 22-year-old manual worker has been living like a "dayfly," as he calls it, barely making a living enough for a day.
But his baritone challenge at the finals on Saturday pulling out a powerful rendition of "Nella Fantasia," marked him first runner up following Joo Min-Jung, an 18-year-old popping dancer by only 280 votes.
It was the same song he had stunned the world with in the pre-trials in June when he told the judges of his tragic childhood story.
The video instantly became an international sensation, attracting almost 12 million YouTube and Facebook fan page hits and has been dubbed a Korean version of Susan Boyle from "Britain's Got Talent."
Even world-class pop singers like Justin Bieber uploaded Choi's video on his Twitter and Facebook fanpage, with praises and support.
Bieber tweeted "This is awesome. NEVER SAY NEVER and good luck to this kid. great story. WATCH THIS."
"Frankly, I wanted to win. But what meant the most is that I felt love and genuine interest in me," said Choi, immediately after the show was over. "There are people out there who really care. I felt it. And I'm proud to have come this far."
He sings of a fantasy where everyone lives in... View Full Size
An Uphill Battle
But Choi's life has been an uphill battle, a very steep one.
Choi was abandoned at an orphanage at age three.
To run away from frequent beatings there, he got on a bus when he turned 5-years-old and ended up in a red-light district full of nightclubs and bars in Daejeon, about 100 miles south of Seoul.
Choi sold gum and energy drinks with fake Viagra to make a living.
He slept crouched in public bathrooms to avoid frosty winters.
"If lucky and when I was in good terms with the gangsters, I got to sleep stretched on one of these staircases," he said as he pointed at cheap red-carpet covered stairs in an old rundown building. "But of course, that's after the club closes just before sunrise."
Choi shivers when describing the "gang brothers" who he claimed would often rob him of his little earnings.
He confesses with a bit of shame that he did "many bad things" such as giving in to their demands to rob, steal, or punch others for money.
With a horrible childhood with no one protecting him or taking care, even when run over by a car, fallen from an overpass, and stabbed by a gang, he was never taken to a hospital.
"I went to the pharmacy and plastered bandages around it, just waited to heal. I didn't know what a hospital was nor did," explains Choi without a hint of emotion.
When asked what was the most difficult part of his past, he bluntly said, "having had to talk to people."
Alone at age 5 before fully learning how to make a conversation in a full-sentence language, he had to rely on senses and instincts to communicate with intoxicated adults.
Some gave nasty responses and some gave him money. He couldn't figure out what caused the different reactions.
"I just had to do anything to sell my stuff and not starve. Like faking a smile or making a fool out of myself," he said.
Human contact alone was simply torturous Choi quietly confesses.
"But I never let my pride down. Often fought against those who looked at me with pity, I think I wanted to deny where I was... and did it through violence," he said.
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