Nowadays, A.C.E‘s Byeongkwan is growing as a well-known idol around the world. However, his journey to get there wasn’t easy. In a new interview with KPOP IDOL OLYMPIC, Byeongkwan opened up about his difficult path to stardom—from leaving a Big 3 company to busking on the streets.
The story starts back when Byeongkwan (formerly known as Jason) was in seventh grade, around 12 years old. The A.C.E main dancer says that’s when he first began to dream of becoming a singer after seeing superstar Rain on stage. After that, Byeongkwan asked his dad to register him at a dance academy. “Learning how to dance became so fun,” he recalled, “So I stopped studying and just concentrated on dancing.”
Several years later, when Byeongkwan was around 15 years old, he found out that SBS would be launching a survival audition show called K-Pop Star. Since representatives from all the Big 3 agencies would be there, Byeongkwan decided to apply. However, since he’d only been training for a few years at the time, he says he was “far from perfect.”
Plus, Byeongkwan had only been training in dance. “I also had to sing,” he revealed, “So I totally screwed up the performance.” However, JYP Entertainment founder J. Y. Park saw a spark in this. “You need more training in dancing, but there’s potential,” said Park according to Byeongkwan. J. Y. Park also thought Byeongkwan had a nice voice despite his lack of vocal training, so he told him, “I’ll bet on the 1% possibility.” And just like that, Byeongkwan says he “passed miraculously.”
Before he made it onto K-Pop Star, Byeongkwan’s parents were against him becoming an idol. Shockingly, he says they told him things like “You can’t become a star. You’re not remarkably good-looking. You’re not tall and your physique isn’t strong.” However, after K-Pop Star, they began to support him.
But sadly, K-Pop Star wasn’t the start of Byeongkwan’s idol career. Jamie ultimately won the first season, with stars like Baek A Yeon, WINNER‘s Seunghoon, and DAY6‘s Jae making it into the top 10. After that, JYP Entertainment held a private audition, but despite J. Y. Park originally seeing potential in Byeongkwan, he wasn’t able to pass.
Of course, he didn’t give up there. Byeongkwan went on to enroll at the renowned Hanlim Arts School, where he majored in practical dancing and auditioned a staggering 40 to 50 times for all the agencies he knew of. However, they all gave him the same criticism: “Your singing is not good enough.” As such, Byeongkwan decided to switch his focus to vocal practice.
And, after a year of training in singing, it finally paid off. At JYP Entertainment’s 11th open recruitment, Byeongkwan was able to pass the audition and begin his trainee life. “Winning first place there…” he recalled, “It was the happiest day of my life.”
Byeongkwan went on to train at JYP Entertainment for around two years—but things didn’t go according to plan. While he was a trainee, the company debuted star girl group TWICE. It was at that point they revealed they didn’t have plans to debut any new boy groups for a while. As such, many male trainees decided to leave—including Byeongkwan. Luckily, his vocal trainer was able to introduce him to the CEO of Beat Interactive, which was preparing to debut its first group: A.C.E.
These days, A.C.E is co-managed by Swing Entertainment—the same company that managed Produce groups like IZ*ONE, X1, and Wanna One. However, at the time, Beat Interactive was a small company with no previous groups. As such, the members started off busking in the streets of Hongdae, a Seoul district where aspiring stars often show off their skills.
They first began busking in 2016, and with their skills, they were soon able to reach 150,000 subscribers on their official YouTube channel. At the time, Byeongkwan recalls the company CEO saying, “Let’s try three times, and when it doesn’t work out, let’s drop it.” But, with their growing popularity, A.C.E was finally able to debut as a real K-Pop group in May 2017 with their debut single, “Cactus.”
Even then, Byeongkwan’s difficult journey didn’t end there. In late 2017, he joined the lineup of JTBC‘s MIXNINE, a reality show hosted by YG Entertainment founder Yang Hyun Suk to produce new girl and boy groups. “I worked really hard. You could say I was desperate for attention,” says the main dancer, revealing that he was then 23 years old and had trained for ten years.
Byeongkwan practiced two to three times more than often and felt, “This is great, I’m happy.” “Burning with passion,” Byeongkwan did remarkably well on the show and ultimately ranked 4th overall, making it into the MIXNINE boys’ debut team. However, as many K-Pop fans now know, after training together for several months, the debut team lineup was told they sadly wouldn’t be debuting after all.
“Since I was young,” says Byeongkwan, “My friends and the people around me said they were jealous of me.” He explained that people told him they envied his perseverance, sticking to his goals after going through hardships for years and years. “You’re an incredible guy,” he remembers his friend telling him, “You’re a man of perseverance so you’re going to succeed.” And, that friend was right. Today, A.C.E is only getting bigger and bigger, and Byeongkwan is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Hearing such words, I think I’m a strong-willed person.