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Abandoned in an orphanage at the age of three, Choi claims that he ran away from the institution when he was 5 years old because of having been beaten. He lived in stairwells and public washrooms and sold chewing gum and energy drinks to survive. He also delivered milk and newspapers in addition to working as a laborer, beginning at age eight. Choi said that very bad things happened to him as a child and that he was sold to someone. However, he met a woman who ran a food cart outside a night club. She gave him the name “Ji-Sung”. She also encouraged Choi to take the Korean equivalent of a GED (General Educational Development) exam so that he could complete his elementary and junior high curricula in order to enter high school.
He graduated from Daejeon Arts High School. Choi stated during the audition that he had attended the high school. He also mentioned that there were no teachers to give him vocal training at the school since he did not have the financial resources to pay for master classes.
He work at a delivery service to earn tuition and money for lessons, but it resulted in a traumatic fall during his 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift. Choi subsequently received medical treatment at Kun Yang University Hospital. Prior to the fall, as a child, Choi had two car accidents for which he did not receive proper medical treatment for many years. When Choi got admitted at Kun Yang University Hospital due to other medical issues related to the earlier car accidents, he voluntarily performed a recital for four students who needed the financial aid for schools during his in-patient stay.
He initially considered dropping out of high school, and his high school music teacher noted that Choi was often absent from classes due to his difficult situation. Choi could not continue with post-secondary education due to his limited financial resources.Instead, he worked as a construction worker with the type of work similar to that of a day laborer.
Choi was able to track his official record with the name Sungbong Choi at the orphanage. However, this was not the name given to him by his parents. It was the name he was given by the orphanage; as a result, Choi preferred the name Ji-Sung over Sungbong.
Due to his immense TV exposure and popularity from Korea’s Got Talent, Choi’s background has been intensely searched and has been verified by Netizens and South Korean media .
Choi was inspired to pursue a career in music when he was 14 years old, after listening to a classical vocalist at the nightclub where he sold chewing gum. He later found a teacher, Park Jung-So, who agreed to teach him without charge and helped him get into an arts high school at age 16.
Choi mentioned during the Korea’s Got Talent audition that he was particularly fascinated by the sincerity of the vocalist. He became a musical autodidact and later pursued classical vocal training at the musical department of Daejeon Arts High School.Choi stated that his favorite vocalist is Andrea Bocelli.
Korea’s Got Talent
Appearance and Performance
On 6 June 2011, Choi’s performance of “Nella Fantasia” moved judges and audience members to tears. He introduced himself as a manual laborer who had made a living selling gum and energy drinks for ten years.
All the judges, including Kolleen Park, were impressed with his vocal talent. Choi advanced to the finals of the competition, finishing second by 280 votes.
During his first appearance in replying to a judge’s question on whether he had vocal training, Choi said he studied on his own, but took master classes whenever he had opportunities.
Choi’s performance clip made it to YouTube and triggered a worldwide Internet sensation. One version with English subtitles has triggered international press interest and a worldwide view that Choi was “the next Susan Boyle”.The video itself has more than 60 million views.