Korean "street boy" wows world with voice and courage

Wed Jul 13, 2011 10:52pm EDT
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By Seongbin Kang

SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - Dressed in blue jeans, a checked shirt and sneakers, the soft-spoken young contestant 40272 on "Korea's Got Talent" seemed a far cry from a typical opera singer.

But Sung-bong Choi's powerful baritone and his inspirational life story have now pulled at the heart strings of millions around the world thanks to the Internet, a story rivalling that of Susan Boyle.

On Saturday he goes before the judges again in a semifinal round of the popular talent contest. But Choi, 22, now has as many fans from outside South Korea as at home and has been lauded by the likes of Justin Bieber.

"For me, singing is a wide bridge that links me to the people and the world," he said in an email to Reuters.

In May, in the first round, when a judge said she couldn't tell his occupation from the way he looked, Choi gave a nervous smile and said he was a manual laborer, to audience laughter.

"You mean, early in the morning and things like that?" the judge said, laughing.

A moment later, Choi hesitated when asked about his leaving the "family" portion of the application blank, then revealed in a soft voice that he'd been left in an orphanage at age three.

He said he ran away two years later after he was beaten by people there, and then lived on the streets in the city of Daejon, south of Seoul. He survived by selling gum and energy drinks, and sleeping "on the stairs or in public toilets."   Continued...