These days, NCT‘s Jeno is known as a talented rapper, dancer, and vocalist—but how did he get there?

Lee Jeno was born on April 23, 2000 in Incheon, South Korea. His unusual name, which is often confused for a stage name, was given to him by his grandmother and roughly translates to “strong king” in Hanja.

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From a young age, Jeno was lively and mischievous. Once, he even slapped a stranger at a public bath after mistaking him for his dad! That said, he was so adorable that he probably got away with his antics. By the age of five, that cute face started earning him acting jobs in commercials.

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After being street cast on the subway, Jeno appeared in his first commercial for Enfant Milk.

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Soon after, his advertising career took off, and he appeared in ads for Pulmuone, SK Telecom, Dr. You, and more.

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Naturally, entering the industry at such a young age made Jeno lose his mischievous streak. As a child, he became more mature and preferred studying and reading to hanging out. In fact, he studied so hard, he was even on track to enter a science high school.

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While he was great at academic subjects (scoring the second-highest grades in his class), he also had a creative streak. He dreamed of becoming a car designer, but settled on the idea of majoring in architecture in college because he didn’t have enough faith in his drawing skills.

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Ever the all-rounder, Jeno was even great at sports. In his school, he was part of the track team and loved to play soccer too. But while he could’ve easily become a scientist, architect, or even athlete, life had other plans for Jeno.

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After looking over his work as an idol, SM Entertainment approached Jeno hoping to cast him. They wanted Jeno in their company so badly, they didn’t back down even when his mother turned them down. Eventually, Jeno and his mother agreed to give SM Entertainment a chance, and Jeno performed SHINee‘s “Beautiful” at his audition.

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If you’ve seen Jeno ace it on stage, you won’t be shocked to hear SM Entertainment snapped him up right away. The young starlet joined the company in June 2013, just hours before fellow member Jaemin arrived. Naturally, the two became fast friends and worked hard to debut.

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Coming from a background in acting, Jeno had to learn performance skills like dancing and rapping from scratch, but that didn’t stop him. By December that year, he’d already earned himself a highly coveted spot in SM Rookies—the company’s pre-debut team.

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There was still a long way to go from there, but with his talents, Jeno was a shoo-in for the debut team. Until then, he appeared on EXO‘s EXO 90:2014 reality show and Disney Channel‘s The Mickey Mouse Club.

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Finally, in 2016, he hit the stage as the main rapper and lead dancer of NCT Dream. With his wide eyes and gorgeous smile in “Chewing Gum”, fans fell for him instantly.

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| SM Entertainment

From there on out, Jeno’s success could only go up. After participating in the NCT 2018 project, Jeno became a new MC for SBS MTV‘s The Show.

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Later that year, he came back with NCT dream and featured in a collaboration with Red Velvet‘s Yeri for the Trolls x SM Station OST. Alongside performing, he began lending his songwriting skills to NCT Dream too.

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| SM Entertainment

Since then, he’s been killing it in NCT Dream, NCT U, NCT 2020, and in appearances on several television shows. With Jeno set to come back for NCT Dream’s first-ever studio album, Hot Sauce, next month, fans know he’s only going to get better from here!

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| SM Entertainment