Variety shows lift stars to greater heights
THE nicknames Haha, Giraffe and Sparta would probably not have rung a bell a few years back.
But today, legions of adoring fans across Asia know that the nicknames are those of the hosts of well-loved South Korean game show Running Man, in which celebrities team up to outlast each other in a series of tasks.
Such shows have boosted the fame of celebrities who used to be unknowns outside their native land, and some have even started holding fan meetings here.
Sparta (Kim Jong Kook, 37) and Haha (Ha Dong Hoon, 33) were in town for fan meetings in February and last Saturday, respectively, while Giraffe (Lee Kwang Soo, 28) will hold the first fan meeting in his entertainment career here on Aug 17.
Avid fan Nicole Song, 21, a sales and marketing executive, jumped at the chance to meet her favourite Running Man hosts here, snapping up tickets for all three fan meetings.
"I came to know these stars through Running Man. It's really addictive, and I watch the latest episode every week. I hope all the hosts can come together for a fan meet here," she said.
Branching out to variety shows is a route many Korean celebrities take to boost their exposure.
Girl-group member Fei (real name Wang Feifei) - often overshadowed by fellow Miss A member and advertisers' darling, Suzy - got some time in the spotlight on variety shows Masterchef Korea Celebrity and the Korean version of Dancing With The Stars earlier this year.
The 26-year-old emerged second on Masterchef and champion on Dancing With The Stars.
Fei's variety-show stints did her good - she clinched a rare endorsement deal with Korean casual-apparel brand Connie Colin in March.
Veteran Korean emcee Shin Dong Yup said that having K-pop stars as guests on his variety shows - Saturday Night Live Korea and Incarnation - has helped the programmes gain "international fans".
These new viewers subsequently follow the variety shows, the 42-year-old added.
The variety-show offerings on cable television here have increased, thanks to the launch of Korean channels such as Sony's One and Fox's M, with shows ranging from Taxi The Talk Show to virtual celebrity marriage reality show We Got Married.
Shin summed up the international appeal of variety shows featuring Korean personalities: "Variety shows make for a more informal setting for the stars to share and talk more about themselves. (This allows them to) showcase their fun personalities outside of their promotional work."