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SEOUL (Reuters) - Sung-Bong Choi, South Korea's manual worker-turned-international singing sensation, ended his months-long reality show journey on Sunday with a second-place finish to a female dancing competitor in the final round of the "Korea's Got Talent" TV audition show.
Dubbed Korea's "Susan Boyle," who shot to fame on a British TV talent show, Choi's episode has hit the headlines of news media at home and abroad, pulling at the heart strings of millions around the world.
Choi, 22, who ascended to the top-two position with his powerful baritone, was defeated by a 17-year-old high school girl student, Ju Min-jeong, who has already been branded "Poppin' Dance Empress" among her fan groups here.
Top ten final qualifiers, comprising singers, dancers, harmonica players and magicians, competed on the stage of the finals show, the Korean equivalent of "Britain's Got Talent."
The show, which lasted for two and a half hours, was aired live on the host cable TV channel and YouTube and began at 11 p.m. (10 a.m. ET), in an apparent bid to attract more attention from overseas viewers.
"I am grateful to all who have helped me make it onto this position. I will show you better of me by trying far harder," Choi said of the final outcome, which was determined by public vote through mobile telephone messaging systems.
Choi suddenly became an international singing sensation after his first performing "Nella Fantasia (in My Fantasy)," an Italian classical crossover song composed by world-famed Ennio Morricone, which was reprised for the final.
His inspirational life story has also impressed many.
Choi has confessed that he was left in an orphanage at age of three but he ran away two years later after he was abused by people there.
He then lived on the streets in a provincial city, selling gum and energy drinks to survive, before a woman from a snack bar at the city helped him enter an evening-course school at 14 and teachers discovered his talent for singing.
To earn money to continue the singing, he had a job as a part-time construction worker.
During the finals performance, Choi looked polished, dressed up in a full tuxedo instead of blue jeans and a checked shirt he wore for the first audition round in May.
In a country which has spawned countless K-pop boy and girl bands which have churned out hit after hit across Asia, even some parts of Europe, after careful grooming and rigorous training. Choi's rise to fame is even more phenomenal than his choice of song.
Reporting by Sung-Won Shim; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa