Here’s How Each EXO Member Was Discovered, And Signed To SM Entertainment

EXO members may not actually come from EXO Planet, but these are their origin stories.

In January of 2011, SM Entertainment‘s Lee Soo Man announced his plan to debut a new boy group. By December of that same year, SM Entertainment revealed the soon-to-debut idol group would be EXO, from the Exo Planet. EXO debuted April of 2012. While the boys’ out-of-this-world visuals could lead anyone to believe they are in fact from another planet, each member brings an interesting story on how he became one of the nine most beloved K-Pop teammates.


1. Xiumin

Xiumin was discovered through a singing contest, which he later revealed that he entered because of a friend.

In 2008, he sang Emerald Castle‘s “Footsteps” for the “Every-sing Contest”, held by the agency’s affiliate karaoke company. He won second place in this contest, receiving a $1,000 USD prize and a trainee contract at SM Entertainment.

It wasn’t that Xiumin always wanted to become a singer though. On an episode of Life Bar, he shared that he wanted to go to a sports university. Singing had been a hobby of his, until the friend inspired him to test his potential at the contest.


Xiumin also tried out for the 2nd JYP Entertainment Open Audition in 2008 as well. He didn’t pass this audition.

During his training period, Xiumin lost weight as part of the idol prep. He stated through an interview, “Training itself was not difficult. I love eating though, so the weight loss was a struggle.”

Xiumin got through little over three years of training and debuted with EXO in 2012. He is now out and about enchanting the world with his squirrel fairy magic.


2. Suho

Suho always wanted to become a singer, ever since he was an elementary school student. Unfortunately, his parents opposed the idea and so Suho thought to pursue the dream after he entered college.

Luckily, when the middle school student Suho was out doing community service at a park, he was discovered by an SM Entertainment casting manager who was there to check out a club contest.

Suho auditioned, passed, and convinced his parents to let him train with the agency. He was signed into his traineeship at the end of 2005, making him the longest training member from EXO. On a TV program, Suho mentioned, “I had the chance to speak with Yoon Jong Shin before I entered SM Entertainment. He told me to go for it if singing is something I really want to do. So I decided to give it one last try by auditioning.”

During the training period, Suho couldn’t dance for a year because he injured his leg and had to go through rehabilitation. This made him worry he may not be able to debut after all, so Suho devoted quite a bit of time to studying as well. He was accepted to Korea National University of Arts, from which he withdrew after debuting.

Since the group’s debut in 2012, Suho has been a good leader and a mother-figure to the members.


3. Lay

Lay had known he wanted to perform since he was very young.

He has been singing, dancing, and acting since he was a little boy. He had tons of TV coverage because viewers already saw the potential Lay had even as a kid! Even when he was a little boy, Lay knew how to charm his fans with his pure talent and a heart of gold.

SM Entertainment’s casting associate discovered Lay in China while he was participating in a contest. By October 2008, Lay was in Korea to begin training to debut as a K-Pop idol.

Prior to debut, at SHINee‘s concert in January of 2011, Lay substituted for SHINee’s Jonghyun who had an ankle injury and got to perform on stage.

Lay debuted in 2012 as a part of EXO and EXO’s Chinese unit, EXO-M, but with some of the EXO-M members quitting the group, he remains the only Chinese member of EXO since 2015.


4. Baekhyun

Baekhyun was born with it. He took four months to make his way into the soon-to-debut group of trainees, seven months to train with this group for debut, meaning it only took him eleven months as a trainee to prove himself 100% idol material.

This is not pure luck though. Baekhyun dreamed of becoming a celebrity since he was young. Throughout his school years, Baekhyun was filmed performing on stage or spotted on camera while singing. A lot of Baekhyun’s pre-debut videos show his uncontrollable amount of spunk, potential, and talent.


Baekhyun auditioned around but never received any offers, until he was discovered by a SM Entertainment casting associate. Baekhyun explained by the time he got to high school, he began preparing to apply to Seoul Institute of the Arts. He was warming up for his admission audition when he was approached by the agency.

Six months after the audition, in 2011, SM Entertainment called Baekhyun back and signed him into traineeship. Baekhyun was on the fast track, and he had the talent and the visual to secure his spot in the debuting group. With his friendly and sociable personality, Baekhyun quickly adapted to the group of trainees preparing to debut together!

Baekhyun successfully debuted with EXO in 2012. Now, there is no stopping Baekhyun when he’s on stage. Fans love how versatile he is, able to pull off any and every concept thrown at him.


5. Chen

Chen trained for eleven months before debuting with EXO and EXO-M. This is relatively short, compared to the other members, but Chen came prepared with some amazing vocal skills that immediately placed him as the group’s leading vocalist.

When Chen was in high school, he used to take singing classes at a music academy. When his vocal instructor suggested he audition for an agency, Chen decided to give it a try.

Chen was a senior in high school when he auditioned for SM Entertainment. Baekhyun was his competition at this audition. By May 2011, Chen was officially signed as a trainee.

During his training period, Chen grew closer to the Chinese members which was why he volunteered to be a part of EXO-M, not EXO-K. Fans adore past pictures of Chen with his Chinese EXO-M friends.

Four months before debut, Chen appeared on the 2011 SBS Song Festival and wowed the audience with his chilling live.

Successfully debuted in 2012, Chen has since been a beloved vocalist in and outside EXO, EXO-M, and EXO-CBX.


6. Chanyeol

Chanyeol wasn’t quite pursuing an idol career, to be exact. He was, with his tall height and slim shape, hoping to become a model.

In fact, after he graduated middle school, he entered the Smart Model Contest, a school uniform modeling competition, and won second place. He mentioned this on a TV program, stating it “opened doors for him to start working in the entertainment business.”

By 2008, the high school sophomore Chanyeol was street cast by SM Entertainment. He mentioned that he signed the traineeship thinking he could debut as a band like TRAX, but realized SM Entertainment was not an agency cut out for rock bands.

Same year, Chanyeol appeared in a short K-Drama called Things We Do Anyway When We Know We Will Regret taking the role of one of the three high school students who smoke on the street.

In 2010 and 2012, during his training days, Chanyeol appeared in two of Girls’ Generation’s (“Genie” and “Twinkle”) music videos. With his large facial features, like his eyes and his ears, Chanyeol’s visual left an impression with the viewers who grew curious about him.

When Chanyeol debuted with EXO in 2012, fans fell in love with his deep voice and his good looks.


7. D.O.

The thing is, D.O. didn’t tell anyone when he became a trainee at SM Entertainment.

Yet he has always wanted to become a singer. Since his early childhood days, D.O. wrote in his yearbooks that he wants to sing. The boy grew up honing his skills so that he could chase his dreams and succeed.

In high school, D.O. practiced his hobby of beatboxing. He rapped in school performances too. He joined a vocalist club at school, along with his high school classmate BTOB‘s Hyunsik, where he continued to build up his dream to become a singer.

So by 2010, D.O. entered and won a street singing competition. On his way home from this competition, he was approached by SM Entertainment and got offered a chance to audition. After passing the audition and signing his trainee contract with the agency, he continued to go to school without letting his friends know about it.

D.O. trained around two years with SM Entertainment before debuting with EXO in 2012. He is now not only one of the most successful K-Pop boy group members, but also a praised actor in the making.


8. Kai

Kai started off as a dancer. When Kai was a child, his father signed him up for different after-school classes. Of them all, Kai showed the most interest and talent in jazz dance.

So, since second grade, Kai took dance classes. In fourth grade, after watching the Nutcracker, he realized he wanted to dance like the people on the stage. He began taking ballet lessons, inspired by this classic ballet performance. The original K-Pop group Shinhwa had a big influence over Kai’s decision to pursue a career as a singer.

Kai auditioned for SM Entertainment when he was in 6th grade. In the past, Kai mentioned his father on an episode of Knowing Bros, explaining his father is the reason he is an EXO member now.

My father promised to buy me a Nintendo game if I passed the audition. That’s why I auditioned in the first place.

— Kai

Unfortunately, SM Entertainment decided Kai was too young at the time and turned him away, asking him to come back in a year or two if he still wished to become a singer. From this point on, Kai started learning street and urban dances too, all as an effort to become a singer.

Kai finally joined SM Entertainment in 8th grade, in 2007, after winning the best dancer and the most popular award in the agency’s 10th SM Best Teen Contest.

Kai trained five years before debuting with EXO in 2012. Fans now love Kai for his beautiful voice and of course, his graceful dance moves on stage.


9. Sehun

Sehun was literally picked up from the street. His discovery story is so interesting that he has shared it on numerous TV shows and interviews.

Sehun was a clueless elementary school student having “Tteokbokki (떡볶이, spicy rice cakes)” for a quick snack after school, when an SM Entertainment casting associate approached him to hand him a business card.

I was young at the time. I was taught by my parents that I should avoid interaction and run away if a stranger approaches. So I ran away from the casting manager for 30 minutes.

— Sehun

He trained four years with SM Entertainment before debuting as the “Maknae (막내, youngest)” member of the group EXO.

Over the years, Sehun has made a man of himself, now making fans fall in love with not only his beautiful voice, but also his amazing physique.


10. Luhan (Former member)

Luhan used to be an athlete who dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. He also enjoyed singing and dancing, so much that he performed in front of his school classmates whenever there was a campus event. Luhan’s parents opposed the idea of him becoming a soccer player, but supported his pursuit of an entertainer career.

Since he was in elementary school, Luhan was interested in K-Pop, especially the group H.O.T and TVXQ!. He dropped out of high school and flew to Korea to chase his dreams. Luhan began attending the Yonsei University Language School to learn the Korean language.

Korea was like a dream to me. That’s why I left China and flew to Korea, even though I didn’t have a plan.

— Luhan

In 2008, when he went out shopping in Myeong-dong, Seoul, a popular tourist destination, he was noticed by an SM Entertainment casting associate. Luhan confirmed in different interviews that he was street cast. Luhan waited two years before signing his traineeship contract in 2010.

Luhan trained three years prior to his debut with EXO and EXO-M. His decision to leave the group and sue the agency in 2014 shocked a lot of fans. After countless legal battles, Luhan still remains under the management of SM Entertainment but is no longer a part of EXO.


11. Kris (Former member)

Kris wasn’t quite interested in becoming a celebrity, until K-Pop found him.

In fact, he was an avid basketball player, with a leadership that made him captain of his school team in Canada, but he quit playing after he hurt his leg.

When his friend who was highly interested in K-Pop signed up for the 2007 SM Global Audition held in Canada, Kris also tagged along. He passed the audition, flew to Korea by 2008, and began his traineeship with SM Entertainment.

During his training period, Kris featured in Girls’ Generation’s Tour VCR for the girl group’s concert in Taiwan.

Kris trained five years prior to his debut with EXO and EXO-M in 2012. Two years later, in 2014, Kris also went against SM Entertainment in legal battles to nullify his contract. He still remains under the management of SM Entertainment but is no longer a part of EXO.


12. Tao (Former EXO)

Tao is said to have been discovered from a contest held in Qingdao, China.

Tao did not train long with SM Entertainment before debuting with EXO. He began his traineeship in 2011 and only a year later, in 2012, he debuted as a part of EXO and EXO-M. For the duration of his training with the agency, Tao was often spotted with Kris.

In 2015, fans were speechless in shock when Tao announced he is quitting the group. Tao was the last Chinese member to leave EXO following a lawsuit against the agency regarding his contract. He is no longer associated with EXO, but as he lost the case to nullify the contract, he is still under SM Entertainment’s management.


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