Meet Isaac Voo, Malaysia's first-ever K-pop star
Hailing from Sabah, the 27-year-old debuted as part of a six-member (originally eight) South Korean boy band, IN2IT, consisting of Yoo Ji-ahn, Jung Yeon-tae, Hwang In-ho, Han Hyun-uk, and Lee In-pyo, along with Voo himself.
The band was first formed in 2017 through the survival show, BOYS24. As of last year, it was reported that the members reached a mutual agreement to part ways with their agency.
Having returned to Malaysia since then, Voo speaks with SAYS about how his journey has been, from eating Inkigayo sandwiches to meeting BTS, and what he's been up to lately
At 15, the singer had his first taste of the K-pop world.
"I used to be a kid just like others, go to school and study like a usual kid. One day, when I got back home and turned on the TV, there was this music video by a boy band and I was so impressed because I hadn't watched any music video like it before."
"At first, I didn't even know who they were and I couldn't understand what they were singing at all, so I asked my friends the next day. The music video that was shown on TV was TVXQ's Mirotic. From that day onwards, I became a fan of K-pop and my dream was to be like them."
Without any prior professional training, Voo began to learn dance steps on YouTube repeatedly, eventually leading him to become a K-pop dance instructor after graduating
He later joined a K-pop competition with his dance crew, which gave him the chance to represent Malaysia on a larger scale against other countries in South Korea. However, after it was over, he decided to extend his stay in South Korea while the rest of his group headed back.
"I stayed in Korea by myself with zero plans. So, I found a very small rental room (gosiwon) and joined auditions every week but I failed every time," he discloses.
Realising that he still wasn't good enough or confident in his singing, he began to practise every single day in his room by watching lots of dance videos and YouTube singing tutorials, as well as seeking advice from those around him.
I thought that after I debut, I need to show people who looked down on me before, (who thought) that I'm not certified to become a K-pop star.
Growing up in a family of singers, he reveals that his dad had taught him a lot when he was young but he had refused to learn because he was too shy.
The singer says that he spent most of his time improving his vocals and dance skills on his own. All that hard work eventually paid off when made his debut as part of IN2IT.
As a new artiste in a foreign country, the biggest culture shock he experienced when he moved to South Korea was the inability to smile at random strangers
"In Malaysia, I smiled a lot with strangers when our eyes met. But the first time I smiled at a stranger in Korea in the lift, she looked back at me with a scary face because there were only two of us and she might have thought that I'm a bad guy? Hahaha."
"[When] I went back to the dorm and asked the members, they suggested that I refrain from doing that next time for my safety."
Another culture shock was discovering that South Koreans always bring their tubes of toothpaste and toothbrushes everywhere they go because they brush their teeth often!
He also shares that Inkigayo sandwiches, a South Korean fluffy sandwich that is especially popular among K-pop artistes, really do taste as amazing as everyone raves.
"When we arrive at Inkigayo, the first thing that our manager will do is to buy around 20 Inkigayo sandwiches... [The] taste is just so wonderful. One of our members (Hyunuk) eats a lot of those sandwiches and he even hid some in his bag so that he could bring them back to the dorm!"
Voo's rise to fame led him to meet with his favourite K-pop idols, BTS, whose songs he had danced to long before becoming an artiste himself
"They are very humble even though they are very famous," he says, adding that he admires them not for their fame, but for proving that hard work can change one's future.
"Because of the way they treated us and talked to us, despite us being a rookie in the industry, J-Hope mentioned that he remembered me from a reaction video of IDOL that I did. I was so happy that I felt like I was flying in the clouds!"
"I've always wanted to stand on the same stage as them and let them know they gave me a huge motivation to move on, [to] thank them for being there, and [to] tell them it's because of them that I'm here today."
His advice for those who want to enter the K-pop industry is to not be afraid of failing.
"Please make the first step of trying without any expectations. A small tip for all foreigners: it's an advantage if you can speak Korean well. Vocal, dance, rap – either of one of these – you need to at least master one of it."
"Ability is important but luck is very important as well. And also show your full confidence in front of those judges or by taking videos of your performances. Lastly, practise your facial expressions in front of the mirror no matter if you are singing or dancing. Keep on repeating until you found your best angle."
Although performing is still his dream, Voo shares that he currently has other plans lined up
"I just started my YouTube account (Isaac Vkm) because I felt so sad that I didn't have a platform to share my life and experiences. I'll talk about my K-pop idol life and do the things I like, such as dancing, singing, and some fashion-related stuff."
"[I'm] a person who forgets things easily so I want to make more memories on my YouTube so after a few years when I look back on those videos I can remember what I've done before."
With an interest in fashion, the artiste hopes to release his own brand in the future and to open his own entertainment company, along with making more music.