November 2, 2011 / 9:50 AM / 7 years ago

Cancer-suffering Korean song contestant rivets nation

SEOUL (Reuters) - Lim Yoon-taek sings in a quartet battling for the crown in the third season of the South Korean equivalent of “American Idol,” with the semifinals looming this Friday.

Leader of the group Ulala Session, Lim Yoon-taek (2nd R), performs with team mates during a cable television competition programme Superstar K in Seoul, October 8, 2011. REUTERS/Mnet/Handout

But the slight, bespectacled Lim is also fighting stage four stomach cancer, and his plight has captured the attention and sympathy of the nation.

The 32-year-old leader of the group Ulala Session shocked viewers and judges alike in September by revealing his illness when asked why his hair was so short. He said he had had his stomach and duodenum removed in June, during the preliminary rounds of the hit Superstar K program.

“I think that how one lives is more important than how long one lives. So I don’t feel too bad,” Lim said on the show.

Lim’s group is one of three remaining since the final, on-air rounds began in August. If they make it through Friday’s show they’ll be headed for the finals next week.

Their song last week, “Western Sky”, was the soundtrack of a film starring an actress who later died of stomach cancer. It subsequently became the single most downloaded song on Naver, the Korean equivalent of Google.

Signs have emerged that Lim is struggling. He has lost 7 kg (15 lb) since July, along with his hair and eyebrows, and missed the rehearsal for last week’s show.

But his determination has drawn the admiration of many across the nation, where celebrities tend to conceal their illness if they have cancer.

“No words are necessary. All of the judges are applauding with gratitude and respect for your enthusiasm for music and display of your fighting spirit on stage,” said judge Lee Seung-chul after one show in October.

Lim’s fellow band members, who are also friends of long standing, said that if they scooped the top prize of 500 million won ($450,000) — minus costs for recording an album — they would use it for Lim’s medical costs.

“Of course he will recover soon, but before he gets worse, we want to show the world everything we have as if this is the last time,” Park Gwang-sun, one member of the band, said on the show’s website.

For many fans, Lim has already done enough.

“The show’s slogan is ‘Sing the Miracle’, but I think he is already a miracle,” said Park Hong-joo, a 26-year-old office worker.

($1 = 1113.900 Korean Won)

Editing by Elaine Lies

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