How do idols break onto the K-pop scene? For some, it’s a straightforward process of auditioning for an agency, training, and making a debut. But many K-pop idols owe their career starts to more serendipitous events, from encounters with agency scouts to risky career-change decisions. The casting process for these stars can be riddled with surprises that make for some great stories; so without further ado, here are 14 of the best casting tales we’ve heard, featuring some hilariously awkward auditions, random strokes of inspiration, fake phone numbers, and surprising displays of athleticism.

1. EXO’s Sehun

You may be familiar with Sehun’s casting story; after all, this tale of spicy street food and excessive cardio is the stuff of K-pop legend. Thirteen-year-old Sehun was eating ddeokbokki (Korean spicy rice cakes) from a street vendor with some friends, when something about his look caught the eye of an SM scout.

Mistrusting of the stranger, Sehun did what any self-respecting mischievous-maknae-to-be would: he ran for it. Luckily, the casting agent was persistent, chasing after Sehun for an impressive 30 minutes before the two managed to come to an agreement that Sehun would audition for SM. We can only hope the EXO star is now able to enjoy ddeokbokki in peace!

2. Suzy

Suzy was simply looking for a bathroom when she landed herself a spot in JYP Entertainment. The singer-actress was auditioning for Mnet’s “Superstar K” when she took a bathroom break and was approached by a JYP recruiter on the way. The agent, who had recognized Suzy’s talent among the show’s other contestants, had her sing right there outside the restroom, a scene which we like to imagine looked something like this one from her hit drama “While You Were Sleeping“:

Following this short audition, Suzy was offered a place at JYP, where she continues to enjoy success today!

3. VIXX’s Hongbin

This story has a touch of fate that will give you shivers! Hongbin first resolved to pursue his dream of becoming a singer after watching a non-celebrity perform at his school. After eventually signing with Jellyfish Entertainment, Hongbin later debuted as a member of VIXX — alongside, as fate would have it, the very non-celebrity who had originally inspired him: his now-groupmate Ken. It’s as if Starlights’ favorite group was written in the stars!

4. Highlight’s Yoon Doojoon

Another tale with a funny twist of fate, Yoon Doojoon’s casting story begins with a scene that sounds suspiciously like my Friday nights: sitting at home in his underwear eating pork cutlets while watching a BIGBANG documentary.

The documentary inspired Doojoon, who was in his second year of high school, to pursue singing. He scrapped his former plan of becoming a Physical Education teacher, began auditioning, and eventually became a trainee under JYP Entertainment. Doojoon later left JYP to join Cube, where he debuted as a member of B2ST with, coincidentally, Jang Hyunseung, who had been a member on the very BIGBANG documentary that had sparked Doojoon to pursue singing in the first place.

5. TWICE’s Sana

TWICE’s “shy shy shy” sweetheart was shopping with a friend in Japan when a scout from JYP Entertainment spotted her. Try as he could to convince her, Sana remained skeptical of the JYP recruiter until he dropped one game-changing fact: Suzy and 2PM’s Wooyoung were both under the agency. As a huge fan of the KBS drama “Dream High,” which starred both Suzy and Wooyoung, Sana was instantly sold!

6. 2PM’s Wooyoung

Speaking of Wooyoung, the 2PM member has one of the most hilarious — and oddly inspiring — casting stories out there. Wooyoung had his heart set on joining JYP Entertainment, and only JYP Entertainment. When JYP held auditions for the Wonder Girls, Wooyoung knew that there was only one thing to do: he seized the opportunity and auditioned for the girl group. Needless to say, Wooyoung was not quite eligible to be a Wonder Girl, but JYP did at least see his potential; after he attended another audition, the agency welcomed him as a trainee.

What could have been!

7. GOT7’s Jackson

“Multitalented” doesn’t even begin to describe Jackson Wang, who was originally slated to be a member of the Hong Kong national fencing team. Ranked 11th in the world at the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics, the now-GOT7 member was on track to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. When JYP expressed interest in Jackson, his parents were naturally skeptical — why throw away years of athletic achievements for the unlikely dream of becoming a K-pop singer? As parents do, they agreed to let him train under the agency on one condition: he bring home gold at his next fencing competition. Jackson, undaunted and determined, did just that, earning gold at the Asian Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships in 2011, and bidding the sport goodbye to follow his dreams.

Turning down Olympic glory to pursue the uncertain life of an idol was no easy decision, and you can listen to Jackson talk about the difficulties of choosing his path below:

8. SHINee’s Minho

Another idol who once held athletic aspirations, SHINee’s Minho had dreamed of becoming a soccer player, following in the footsteps of his professional footballer father. His father, however, wanted Minho to have a less strenuous and difficult life than that of a pro athlete… or of an idol. But when agents from SM set their sights on Minho, they were persistent, until Minho’s parents finally relented and allowed him to go in for an audition. Minho, for his part, was woefully unprepared.

Suddenly unable to remember a single song, Minho auditioned with the only tune that came to his mind: the Korean national anthem. When asked to sing again, all he could think of was his school’s song! Miraculously (or perhaps not, given the idol’s unmistakable charisma), Minho passed the audition, and we can confirm that he has since added a host of SHINee songs to his musical repertoire.

And as it turns out, Minho is not alone: SEVENTEEN’s Mingyu also passed his audition for Pledis Entertainment with the national anthem!

9. TVXQ’s Changmin

An SM casting manager initially spotted Changmin playing badminton during school and waited until after school to convince him to audition. Changmin, (rightfully) put off by the agent’s persistence, later brought it up to his mother. But instead of being concerned, his mom was excited when she learned which agency the manager was from. A huge BoA fan, she took young Changmin right to the SM audition herself, hoping for the chance to meet BoA! We don’t know if Changmin’s mom ever got her wish, but we’re sure her son’s debut as a member of the wildly successful TVXQ was a suitable consolation prize.

10. BoA

BoA herself has a rather amusing audition story: her older brother brought her along to a dance competition he was participating in, but it was 11-year-old BoA, and not her brother, who caught the eye of the scouts and judges when she took to the stage. How’s that for sibling rivalry? After some convincing (after all, she was only 11), BoA’s parents allowed her to train under SM Entertainment, where she grew into the K-pop queen that she is today.

11. NCT’s WinWin

WinWin was street cast near his school, and, understandably, was a bit wary of a strange adult asking him for his phone number. So the now-NCT member gave the agent a fake number and thought that would be the end of the matter. The recruiter, undeterred by WinWin’s playing hard to get, managed to find him a second time and convince WinWin that he was not a kidnapper/scammer/con artist. The agent walked away from this second meeting with WinWin’s real digits, and WinWin with an audition that would land him a spot in SM’s highly successful boy group.

12. BTS’s Jin

With his god-like visuals, it’s no surprise that BTS’s Jin also drew the attention of SM Entertainment: the agency cast him during his middle school years, but Jin was too afraid to go to the audition! But it seems as though the worldwide handsome star was destined to be a celebrity, because he got a second chance during his freshman year at university, when he was scouted by Big Hit Entertainment. This time, of course, Jin made it to his audition and debuted as the eldest member of BTS. And he has been blessing us all with his visuals and talent ever since!

13. EXO’s Baekhyun

EXO’s versatile vocalist had actually given up on his dream of becoming an idol when he was discovered by SM: after putting himself through multiple fruitless auditions, Baekhyun had stopped trying out for agencies and begun studying to enter Seoul Institute of the Arts. As luck would have it, Baekhyun was tapped by an SM manager while he was warming up for his university audition! No stranger to scammers, Baekhyun was rather blunt with the agent, demanding to know who she was and which agency she represented. But luckily, she saw past his testy manners and insisted that he audition for SM. And it’s a good thing, too, because it would be hard to imagine an EXO lineup that doesn’t include Baekhyun’s silky vocals!

14. INFINITE’s Sunggyu

We’ve saved the most heartwarming for the last, as Sunggyu’s casting story is equal parts serendipitous and inspiring. After finishing high school, Sunggyu moved from his native Jeonju up to Seoul, where he lived alone and worked part-time jobs to support himself as he pursued his dream of becoming a singer. After several unsuccessful auditions, a regular customer at the cafe Sunggyu worked at asked him what music he liked. When Sunggyu responded that he liked the band Nell, he was shocked to discover that the customer happened to be Nell’s manager.

The manager recommended that Sunggyu audition for a new group that Woollim Entertainment was forming, and Sunggyu jumped at the opportunity. On the day of his audition, though, he found himself with stomach pains. So Sunggyu carried out his audition, told the judges “if you don’t pick me, you’re going to regret it” for good measure, and then rushed straight to the hospital to get his appendix removed. Upon his release, he learned that he had passed, and he eventually debuted as INFINITE’s leader. Sometimes all you need is a little luck, and some serious guts!

Hey Soompiers, which casting story is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

hgordon stays up way too late on weeknights marathoning K-dramas and trying to keep up with the latest K-pop releases.