Authors: Andrew Throdahl
(SEOUL) -- He sings of a fantasy where everyone lives in peace, honesty, free-spirit, and full of humanity.
That's something Choi Sung-Bong never imagined to have even existed before signing up for the "Korea's Got Talent" show hosted by TVN, an entertainment cable channel, in South Korea.
The 22-year-old manual worker has been living like a "dayfly," as he calls it, barely making a living enough for a day.
But his baritone challenge at the finals on Saturday pulling out a powerful rendition of "Nella Fantasia," marked him first runner up following Joo Min-Jung, an 18-year-old popping dancer by only 280 votes.
It was the same song he had stunned the world with in the pre-trials in June when he told the judges of his tragic childhood story.
The video instantly became an international sensation, attracting almost 12 million YouTube and Facebook fan page hits and has been dubbed a Korean version of Susan Boyle from "Britain's Got Talent."
But Choi's life has been an uphill battle, a very steep one. He was abandoned at an orphanage at age three. To run away from frequent beatings there, he got on a bus when he turned 5-years-old and ended up in a red-light district full of nightclubs and bars in Daejeon, about 100 miles south of Seoul.
When asked what was the most difficult part of his past, he bluntly said, "having had to talk to people."
Eventually, he found Park Jung-So, a then-college student who posted an ad online for vocal training.
Park started teaching basics of musical scales and codes from scratch and Choi reciprocated by doing chores. To Park's surprise, Choi's learning curve took on an incredible speed.
"Yes, he had talent. But if you teach him one step, he would go day and night until he masters it. I think Sung-bong knew that he had to try ten times harder than the other kids," Park said.
Park also helped his determined apprentice who had always wished to attend something called school.
"I got into an art high school," Choi told judges during the pre-trial.
But that comment was deliberately deleted by the producers in the initial broadcasted version of the show, drawing doubts and sharp criticism of sensationalizing his story.
It turned out that Choi could not afford the extra fees required for lessons in school no matter how many part-time or overnight jobs he worked.
He ended up barely going to classes but the teachers gave him a graduate diploma anyway out of pity.
"He's got an incredible range of emotions. I mean who, how many of us have gone through what he's gone through?" said Kolleen Park, one of the three judges at the show. "Us as artists, we learn to express, search inside ourselves. Well he's got a whole basket full of ingredients, so much more than anybody else so he needs to learn the technique, really study hard, learn actually music and voice."
That's exactly what Choi is hoping for. But as of now, he is back to reality seeking once again a safe roof and a music master to teach the passion of his newfound life.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio