Blind five-year-old Korean pianist is internet sensation

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Listeners are often moved to tears when the Korean pianist Yoo Ye-eun sits at a grand piano and plays Beethoven's "Für Elise". First, though, the five-year-old has to be helped up on to the piano seat by an adult.

Still in nursery school and blind since birth, Ye-eun has stunned audiences in Korea with a repertoire that includes Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven and the latest pop hits. To cap her performances, she plays along with local singers after hearing their songs for the first time.

"How can this be," asked the host of the talent show Star King, which introduced her to television audiences last year. "It's unbelievable."

The show earned Ye-eun her first prize money – one million won (£500) – and a nickname that has stuck, "the five-year-old genius Mozart".

"She can play the piano after listening to a song once," said her adoptive mother, Park Jung Soon. Mrs Park says she discovered her daughter's talent two years ago when she was singing a pop tune and Ye-eun began playing along on a borrowed piano. "She has perfect pitch even though she has never learnt to play. We never taught her."

Until recently Ye-eun's talent was a well-kept secret,but her fame is beginning to spread, largely through the internet. A clip of her performance on Star King uploaded to the Korean website Pandora TV has received more than 27 million hits, and another two million on YouTube.

Watch Yoo-Ye-eun play

She performed in Los Angeles last September as part of Korea Day celebrations and a Tokyo TV station has sent an invitation. She even has a sponsor – the boss of a Dubai construction company who saw the Star King clip.

Last week, she performed Chopin in front of Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, having demonstrated her piano skills earlier at a school by playing along to a local folk song that she'd never heard before. Like the US musical prodigies Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, who both overcame traumatic childhoods, Ye-eun has had her share of tragedy. Abandoned at birth, she was adopted by Yoo Chang Joo, who was wheelchair-bound following a car accident, and his infertile wife. "We never felt it was difficult to bring her up," they told the Korean magazine Woman Donga.

Mrs Park took her daughter on to Star King because she wanted "to play for more people", but nobody could have predicted the impact. As she was introduced, a squeaky voice could be heard asking "where's the piano" and the camera panned down to reveal the doll-like Ye-eun searching for her seat. Audience members, including the Korean boy band Super Junior, were reduced to tears as Ye-eun's stubby fingers groped for the right keys and she sang "You Were Born to be Loved".

A star was born, but Mrs Park, who only reluctantly went along with her daughter's first TV appearance, initially resisted. "We will end it here and let this be a beautiful memory. We are very grateful to Star King," she told the disappointed audience. News of the performance spread, however, and offers of money and help flooded in. Doctors offered, but failed, to restore her sight. In May, she was back on Star King singing "You Raise me Up" with the seven-year-old British singer Connie Talbot. Ye-eun practises every day on a piano donated by the Super Junior boys while listening to music on the internet. Asked by Reuters what she wants to be when she grows up she replied: "A pianist. A great pianist."