'National Singing Contest': Can latest host bring back show's glory days?

Nam Hee-seok, the newest host of KBS's long-standing music program ″National Singing Contest″ [KBS]

KBS's weekly music show "National Singing Contest," which began in 1980, changed its previous host from 40-year-old comedian Kim Shin-young to 52-year-old comedian Nam Hee-seok this March, 17 months since Kim was appointed after the death of Song Hae.

Song, one of the most esteemed figures in Korean entertainment, ran the show from 1988 to 2022 and died on June 8, 2022.

Kim shot her last episode on March 9. The broadcaster explained that the replacement was made "to resolve a drop in viewership ratings" that had come after some viewers commented that the host did not match the show.

Song Hae, the longest running host of the show. [NEWS1]

As opposed to most weekly music shows featuring young K-pop artists, "National Singing Contest" became popular for touring the nation to find talented singers among ordinary citizens. Regular people take part in the show's audition format and show off their vocal skills.

The latest episode of the show recorded 5.1 percent in viewership ratings on April 28, according to Nielsen Korea. Ratings have fallen since March 31, when it recorded 5.5 percent, and even more when compared to the 6.8 percent on April 21.

The show has been seeing a 5.8 percent viewership rating on average so far with Nam at the helm. Nam’s average rating is slightly higher than Kim’s, which was 4.9 percent. Still, it has not fully returned to the average of 9.4 percent during Song Hae's 34-year run.

Kim Shin-young was the follow-up host to Song Hae. [YONHAP NEWS]

KBS initially said that the decision to replace Kim with Nam was because the show had been losing viewers and receiving complaints, citing a large drop in ratings among the demographic of people aged 50 and older in particular.

“The replacement in show hosts was a solution to the crisis the 44-year-old ‘National Singing Contest’ has been facing, including a drop in ratings,” KBS said to reporters. The network said it received 616 complaints out of all viewers’ opinions regarding show host Kim Shin-young between early October last year to early March this year."

"The production team communicated the process of replacing the hosts to Kim and she also understood the situation and expressed her intention to support the long-standing ‘National Singing Contest’ to remain a program loved by many people," KBS said.

KBS further explained that its communication with Kim was not a "one-sided notice." The broadcaster was criticized after Kim and the show’s production team revealed that they were notified of her release only a week before shooting her last episode, according to Kim’s agency CJeS Studios.

Nam Hee-seok participating in a rehearsal for his first episode of ″National Singing Contest,″ March 12, 2024 [NEWS1]

Viewers remain divided over the new host of the show.

Multiple posts have been uploaded to an online bulletin board for "National Singing Contest," with messages of both support and criticism.

One user reacted positively saying, "This is better than the last episode." Others criticized the show's new leader, with one comment reading, "I laughed a lot when Kim did it [but not Nam]," and another saying, "It's not much fun, and the way he hosts is so awkward."

Some say that it is still too early to judge. "It still needs more work because he hasn't settled down yet, but I expect it to get better as the episodes continue," said one user.