Singer Hui opens up about experience on ‘Boys Planet’
When Hui decided to challenge himself on Mnet’s audition show “Boys Planet” (2023), he was already seven years into his K-pop career.
The singer debuted as a member of the boy band Pentagon in 2016 and has also been known as a talented songwriter — not only for his group, but for other artists as well.
Naturally, many fans and K-pop listeners were shocked earlier this year when Hui announced he would be competing on TV as a contestant again.
Under his real name Lee Hoe-taek, the veteran idol star performed with everything he had on “Boys Planet” which aired from February 2 to April 20.
Although he finished 13th place and did not become one of the nine finalists to form the show’s final boy band ZeroBaseOne, Hui says the experience opened his eyes to how much he has to be thankful for.
“I went in thinking that I don’t have much,” he said during a press interview on Wednesday held at a café in southern Seoul’s Gangnam District. “But once the show started, I got a glimpse into how others view me, and what I already have. I’m so thankful for my fans who stuck with me and supported my journey on the show.”
But his decision was first met with concern and opposition from most people around him, including his bandmates.
“I talked to the members about competing [on ‘Boys Planet’] beforehand, and not everyone approved, of course,” he said. “Some supported my decision, but some members were sad about it.”
The news was especially surprising to Pentagon fans, Hui being the leader and recently discharged from mandatory military service last November. Fans were anticipating new music from Pentagon following his hiatus in the military.
Rumors ensued after Jinho unfollowed Hui on social media — later presumed to be upset with Hui’s decision. But Hui said his choice felt inevitable.
“The first reason was for Pentagon,” he said. “I thought we needed something different, considering how our albums have performed in past years. I felt like there’s not much I could do. My goal was to get more people to know about me through this show, and consequently make Pentagon more known as well. But it was also a challenge Hui, as an individual, needed in order to grow.”
His agency, Cube Entertainment, also expressed concern.
“The company was very opposed,” he said. “They worried that my previous career as a singer producer might be affected. At the time, I knew nothing I said would sound realistic, no matter how ambitious it was. So I kept it simple and just said, ‘I want to do this. I think we need a challenge.'”
“I knew it could seem like a sad and disappointing choice to my fans too, but that was more reason to tell myself that I have to create something positive out of this [audition]. I had to believe in myself, that I simply must do great.”
Hui went on set first thinking he didn’t have much to offer. But once the program started, he says he realized how much he has already achieved.
“On the first day of filming, other contestants [on ‘Boys Planet’] looked at me with awe-struck eyes,” he said. “I actually thought they would not recognize me, or might only know my name, but they already knew who I was. I watched some of them perform Pentagon’s ‘Shine’  for evaluation, and I burst into tears because it reminded me of back when the Pentagon members and I were trainees. The contestants followed me around and asked me many questions, but also gave me words of support. That made me realize I’ve been working hard, and I’m already so loved.”
As the most experienced contestant on “Boys Planet,” Hui says he was always cautious when giving advice to younger contestants.
“I don’t know how my advice would affect them and sway their decisions in the future,” he said. “I had to be careful with my words, and I couldn’t give them a definite answer to their questions. More than anything, I tried not to say anything negative in front of them, even when I was tired and struggling. I never wanted to give them that kind of influence. Instead, I tried to listen to them more than telling them what they should do. I think that’s why toward the end of the show, so many contestants relied on me as a trustworthy hyung [an affectionate term for an older male].
“One thing I did tell them all the time was, ‘Never give up, because as long as you keep going, your time will come,'” he continued. “People start noticing your hard work at one point. I realized that too on the show. My biggest gain from ‘Boys Planet’ is that I ended up loving myself more with confidence.”
Eventually, Pentagon members started supporting and monitoring Hui’s journey on the audition.
“Each member gave me feedback on different aspects, like how my performance was, but all of them told me that I’m doing great,” he said. “Of course, I don’t think all of them were completely happy to see me as Lee Hoe-taek the trainee again, but I felt so thankful to have them on my side. Jinho and I reconciled. I understood him [unfollowing my social media] at the time, because I knew I couldn’t convince everyone regarding my decision.”
Hui added that Choi Yu-jin, who was originally in girl group CLC under Cube Entertainment and re-debuted as the girl group Kep1er through “Girls Planet 999” (2021), gave him advice throughout the show as they were going through a similar path.
So after realizing all that he has, what is Hui’s idea of success now?
“It’s about becoming someone with a lot to share,” he said. “I want to have so much positive energy to share with other people and to protect the ones I love. That’s what made me go on ‘Boys Planet’ in the first place; because to do that, I need to continue creating some kind of change. I used to be someone always stuck between self-conviction and self-doubt, but the show made my dreams even bigger; to stand on bigger stages around the world and start dreaming of things I hadn’t even dreamed of before.”
With Hui fully back now, Pentagon is set for a fan concert in Japan on May 24 and 25, and Hui has been working on new music ever since the show ended.
“There’s going to be a lot of activities to come, and more challenges for Hui to make,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be on audition shows for a while, but I can’t say for sure. You never know what’s going to happen. What I do know is that I’ll do my best in every situation given to me.”
BY HALEY YANG [email@example.com]