X1 disbandment brings sad end to what could’ve been K-pop’s next mega group

By Nadine Kam I

After 4 agonizing months wondering about the fate of X1, the sad saga has come to a close with the group disbanding on Jan. 6, 2020, when members’ agencies released an official press release reading:

“Hello. This is Play M Entertainment, Yuehua Entertainment, TOP Media, OUI Entertainment, MBK Entertainment, Woollim Entertainment, DSP Media, Starship Entertainment, and Brand New Music. The X1 members and each of the agencies negotiated under the condition of unanimous agreement, but we could not come to an agreement, so we have decided on their disbandment.”

X1 on the cover of 1st Look magazine. Members, clockwise from left: Cho Seung Youn, Nam Do Hyon, Kang Min Hee, Han Seung Woo, Cha Jun Ho, Lee Eun Sang, Kim Woo Seok, Son Dong Pyo, Kim Yo Han, Song Hyeong Jun and Lee Han Gyul.

This came a week after happy news, when CJ ENM, the company that formed X1 through the K-pop survival show “Produce X 101,” announced it wanted to move forward and support X1 in resuming its activities. It was not purely altruistic, but one way they were going make up the money needed to pay back participants adversely affected by the rigged survival show.

But the individual companies could not come up with a unanimous agreement on how to move forward, so they had no choice but disband for the well-being of their trainees/artists, some of whom will continue to be suspected of getting into the group unfairly. Half the members are 17, too young to deal with a scandal that would continue to plague them for the term of the 5-year contract if it had been allowed to continue.

Although I’m sad this happened, I think it is best for the individuals to have a chance for a fresh start without the stigma of being part of what is now referred to in Korea as nothing but a rigged group that has already been shut out of lucrative brand deals as well as the Korean music awards shows, in spite of its popularity and record sales surpassing that of other artists.

There is some talk about members who want to continue as a group being managed by Swing Entertainment. It is too early to know who might be participating and who not, but here’s what I think of the members prospects:

Kim Yo Han: He doesn’t have a group to return to, but I think he wants to be a movie star anyway and maybe will have such offers coming his way. He got what he wanted out of X1 already, recognition of his talent outside the taekwondo circuit, and instant name and face recognition.

Kim Woo Seok: It has already come out that he was the rightful center of the group, a position that went to Yo Han because it was not good for the show’s storyline that a previously debuted individual took top honors in a program supposedly designed to discover new faces. At any rate, he has a group to return to, Up10tion, and perhaps they will benefit from his high profile and excellent performances with X1.

Han Seung Woo: The eldest of the group and leader of X1 also has a group to go back to, Victon. In his time away, the group achieved its first No. 1 music show win in three years on SBS’s “The Show,” even beating top rookies TXT. Like Woo Seok, his performances and persona won many new fans who will continue to follow him in Victon. At 25, he would need to enter the South Korean military in three years, before his X1 contract would have expired.

Cho Seung Youn: As an all-rounder known as a singer-songwriter, rapper and record producer who goes by the stage name WOODZ outside of X1, he will likely pursue solo projects and collaborations. He is also part of the group UNIQ, but I’m not sure how active they are.

Lee Han Gyul: I’m not sure about his prospects. He hadn’t been able to debut earlier and I suspect he might have been rigged into X1, which was promoted in “Produce X 101” to be an international group. His popularity just so happens to be outside of Korea. He’s a good dancer but doesn’t have a look or sound that’s trendy or desirable in South Korea.

Son Dong Pyo: Like Han Gyul, any popularity would lie outside of South Korea. His diva tendencies play well with an American audience, but he has been subject to a lot of reprimands by a South Korean community unamused by his seeming disrespectful behavior toward his seniors. Again, I suspect he was rigged into the group because he started as the show’s center, but was on a downward trajectory through the course of the show as Korean voters got to know him. Even so, he is talented and unique enough to perhaps find an audience outside of X1.

Cha Jun Ho: I have no idea how he got into X1 because he is so blah to me, with zero presence. It might have been on the strength of his looks, because he’s considered very handsome in South Korea. It was also revealed that his company Woollim Entertainment, one of three companies raided by investigators, was one with an employee sent to prison for bribing “Produce X 101” producers Ahn Joon Young and Kim Yong Bum. Fellow Woollim contestant Hwang Yun Seong told investigators he was told early on that only one person from Woollim would make it into the group. At any rate, he has a group of trainees to return to, including Yun Seong and Lee Hyeop, who would make a viable rookie group equal to TXT.

Song Hyeong Jun and Kang Min Hee: Their company, Starship Entertainment, had two of its executives sent to prison for bribing the producers as well. They have a trainee group to return to and I look forward to their reuniting with Ham Won Jin, Koo Jung Mo and Moon Hyun Bin. They are all stronger for having participated in “Produce.” It is not likely their company would want them to continue in X1 because of accusations raised against Min Hee, suspected to have been rigged into the group.

Lee Eun Sang: While he’s been away, his fellow trainees at Brand New Music Kim Si Hun, Yun Jung Hwan and Hong Seong Jun debuted as BDC (Boys De Capo). His sweet style is a perfect fit with this group. So far, they have had only small stages. Eun Sang deserves a bigger stage, and perhaps because of his X1 recognition, they will get that with his return.

Nam Do Hyon: Newly enrolled in high school, he has a bright future ahead as another all-rounder destined for a life on stage. A musician, rapper and dancer, he could go anywhere. I don’t worry about him. He has already shown maturity in his ability to endure rigorous training and schedules, and is young enough to rebound from all the negativity surrounding X1.

So, as always, stay tuned. One part of the story has ended, but another chapter has yet to be written.

Fall will be the battle ground for K-pop’s new supergroups

By Nadine Kam I

Because people know I listen to K-pop they often ask if I also watch K-dramas. I don’t because I’m afraid of getting hooked like I did with the music, because I really didn’t think that would happen.

My leanings were toward ’90s alt and metal so I actually didn’t find much to like on the American music scene in the post-grunge era. Since then I really only liked Jack White and … And You Will Know by the Trail of Dead. Not exactly precursors to K-pop.

I carried my anti stance into K-pop dance classes. Teachers were always curious to know which groups and songs we liked so they could tailor classes to our tastes.

“Whatever,” I’d always say. “I’m just here for exercise.” I didn’t know a single group or song. I found it odd that women my age would gush over groups of teenage boys. They were so fanatical and excitable. “Geez, K-pop lovers are a different breed,” I thought.

Then I became hooked and fell deep into the rabbit hole, so it’s not enough to know which groups are out there and which new song has been released. Now I follow trainees who have not even debuted, plus their companies, all the while trying to second guess their next moves and decisions, an endless chess game as companies strategize the optimal times to debut a group or release an album to beat the competition.

So, Korean dramas? I don’t need it. The world of K-pop is a living soap opera of real characters, raw emotions, heartbreak and immense tribulation, in other words, the kind of drama that hooks anyone who relates to these characters. I think I do because I sang in bands for about 5 years so I understand that strange desire to be on stage.

👁: X1 teaser

Anyway, the drama is really heating up as X1—the “nationally produced” group of 11 members voted in through the reality TV competition “Produce X 101″—prepares to debut Aug. 27 with a mini album, “Quantum Leap. “It’s exciting to see whether or not this band can top the accomplishments of
Wanna One, the last boy band produced in this series. Wanna One charted immediately and had several hits before disbanding when their contract ended after a year.

I was still fairly new to K-pop when they disbanded. I couldn’t believe that producers did not try to extend the contract for such a popular band. Now I realize that because of each member’s obligations to his own management company, such an extension is impossible. The different companies need their talent back to move forward with their own groups.

Because of Wanna One’s success, producers got smart and this time, members of X1 are signed for five years, 2-1/2 years promoting exclusively with X1, under Swing Entertainment management, and 2-1/2 years on joint basis when they will be able to promote with Swing plus their own management companies.

Their debut comes just as BTS is enjoying an expected two-month break from touring and media appearances. That clears the way for fans to cast their eyes elsewhere and X1 has a real mixed bag of types that different people will find appealing.

Usually groups have a uniform concept and members share a similar vibe. Because X1’s members were voted in (there’s continuing controversy over the legitimacy of the final tallies), half the members lean sexy and mature, the others are cute teens. All have their own charms, and fan bases built up through the show.

Interestingly, Billboard recently reported the group ranks at No. 6 on its social chart, without having released any music yet. Of course BTS has topped this chart for three years. Last year the group had competition from fellow Kpop groups GOT7 and EXO. Could it be time for a change, and could X1 be the group to topple the leaders? We’ll see!

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👁: Super M teaser

Not to be outdone, SM Entertainment is launching its own super group, Super M, comprising members of its already established male groups SHINee (Taemin), EXO (Baekhyun, Kai) and NCT (Taeyong, Mark, Ten and Lucas.

The group was formed in collaboration with Capitol Records, which likely eyed BTS’s success and wanted a shortcut to similar success. As I said in my previous post, K-pop is still a niche genre and it’s not likely for a typical group to gain the kind of following BTS amassed over six years. So Super M is counting on the combined fandom’s of SM’s three popular male bands to come together to support this supergroup.

Although there is negative feedback concerning SM’s overworking these members, I think they are all hard workers who love the limelight and would love a shot at winning over more Americans. Personally, I like the idea of these talented artists together and can’t wait to see what they will come up with to crack the U.S. market.

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Starship Enterprise has been promoting its star trainees Ham Won Jin and Koo Jung Mo with some timely back-to-school imagery.

Another result of the fervor behind the trainees featured in “Produce X 101” is fans calling for the formation of a second group, comprising the remaining nine of the Top 20 finalists, who did not make the X1 lineup.
Fans have dubbed this group Be Your Nine (BY9), and most of the agencies have responded positively about considering it.

If this were to happen, BY9 could have success rivaling that of the winning 11 contestants in X1. But I have doubts BY9 will debut with the nine expected, because Up10tion’s Lee Jin Hyuk is on the path to a solo career, and three of the Starship Entertainment trainees—Ham Won Jin (16th ranked), Koo Jung Mo (12th ranked) and Moon Hyun Bin (32nd ranked)—will likely debut in their own group early next year.

Woollim Entertainment will launch its W Project 4 Sept. 2. The lineup, from left, Kim Min Seo, Lee Sung Jun, Kim Dong Yun, Hwang Yunseong, Lee Hyeop and Joo Chang Uk.

Striking while they are at the height of their “Produce” popularity, several other companies involved are debuting project releases by their trainees. Another of the biggest is Woollim, whose Hwang Yunseong finished in 18th place in “Produce,” qualifying him for BY9. But Woollim already confirmed his participation in its latest W Project lineup, along with other Woollim “Produce” trainees Kim Min Seo, Lee Sung Jun, Kim Dong Yun, Lee Hyeop (signed after “Produce” ended), and Joo Chang Uk. Woollim’s W Project 4 will launch Sept. 2.

Whether this “project” encompasses only a few singles, albums and music video releases, or a full debut band is unknown. If it is just on a project basis, conceivably Yunseong could promote with BY9 as well.

Others moving on are MyTeen’s Song Yu Vin and Kim Kook Heon whose company Music Works broke fans hearts with the news that MyTeen would be disbanded and Yu Vin and Kook Heon would be performing now as as a duo.

It’s interesting to see where all this will lead, but clearly, “Produce X 101” has been a major catalyst for getting name recognition for these artists who otherwise might have only gone on to be another face in a crowded field. The one drawback from the show is the ongoing investigation into voting fraud. Already, X1 has lost some sponsors who don’t want to be connected to members whose popularity may be in question because of the voting irregularities.

‘Produce X 101’: A Cinderella story

By Nadine Kam I

Two weeks after the finale of “Produce X 101” I am still processing all that happened on the K-pop survival show.

Overall, I am happy about the final “audience-produced” lineup for X1, the group that emerged out of the competition that started with 101 male trainees, whittled down to the Top 10 plus the X-boy, the trainee outside the Top 10 who accumulated the most votes during the show’s 12-week run.

I’m surprised by how calm I was up until the finale. It’s not like “Treasure Box,” where I was appalled and in a state of anger all season long because of the way YG treated it’s top trainees, who should have received more respect.

This time around, I promised I would not become overly attached because it just leads to disappointment when my favorite trainees are ousted, and with 101 vying for 11 spots, disappointment was to be expected.

X1 debut members from left to right, top to bottom: Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Han Seung Woo, Song Hyeong Jun, Cho Seung Youn, Son Dong Pyo, Lee Han Gyul, Nam Do Hyun, Cha Jun Ho, Kang Min Hee and X boy Lee Eun Sang.

Fortunately, the ones I liked at the beginning of “Produce,” Kim Yo Han and Song Hyeong Jun, not only made it through the entire season but will debut with X1 on Aug. 27.

Yes there was upset along the way, like when Urban Works Kim Min Seo failed to crack the Top 60 because he was never given screen time. Even though he is very talented, I didn’t want to get attached because he is a little weird and I knew that the South Korean audience that was allowed to vote for the group members are not fond of behavior outside their norm. In Korean society, everyone must fall in line.

The biggest disappointment was the elimination of Lee Jin Hyuk, a talented rapper and dancer who had already debuted with fellow member Kim Woo Seok in Up10tion. He wasn’t originally one of my favorites because he initially seemed a little cold and arrogant. But as time passed, he was able to show leadership, plus the soft, playful and brighter side that earned him the nickname Baby Sun. Unfortunately, because the audience did not warm up to him until late in the season, he was not able to debut with X1, even after being in the Top 10 for the last few weeks.

👁 I made this vid because I was sad that Jin Hyuk didn’t make debut team. Click on the YouTube link at the end of the video for details about the EXO song “Don’t Go” that I used:

I really expected him to finish in third place as did many others who were heartbroken when he failed to place, and again when he failed to become the X boy, the trainee who had accumulated the most votes from throughout the season.

Another favorite of mine, Lee Eun Sang became the X boy. I had expected him to be in the Top 10 as well because he had finished there all season long. It’s just that in the last vote, when it mattered most, Lee Han Gyul and Cha Jun Ho came on strong, displacing others I thought were shoe-ins. Kang Min Hee also surprised people by finishing in 10th place when he had never been in the Top 10 before, but I totally expected him to debut. His star had been rising the previous three episodes. Even though he was not the most talented of his Starship family and has a way to go in developing that talent, he has the potential to be a star. His boyish looks and charm are sure to win fans over, and he does work hard to improve.

I really didn’t want Han Gyul or Jun Ho in the final lineup but I am OK with Jun Ho because even though he is devoid of presence, he has a beautiful voice.

But it still upsets me that Han Gyul is in the lineup because he is such a poor singer and when I look at the group now, I still hate that he’s there. I don’t even want to look at him because I feel that he took the spot that should have gone to Jin Hyuk, who would have been a perfect complement for this group in looks, talent and stage presence.

Through all this, I have to wonder if the audience is played into thinking they really had their say in the making of this group. Like, how is it that the producers put all their focus on Yo Han from the beginning, making us love him, and surprise, he finishes in the No. 1 spot, though he too has a way to go in becoming the perfect performer.

The more I study him, the more I feel that Yo Han is me. Don’t laugh, I really believe he is the quintessential everyman, someone who came in from outside the industry to rise to the top. He was a taekwondo champion who decided to try fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a K-pop idol. With only three months of music and dance training, he showed that he could compete with the best of them, including trainees that had already debuted and performed professionally for four years.

A lot of good songs came out of this season of “Produce,” but I thought “Boyness” was the best. I had other favorites during the run, but it’s been a different experience to see the songs performed and to now be listening to them in my car without bias and visuals. The song was written by Flow Blow with Pentagon’s Hui, the same team who wrote Wanna One’s debut hit ”Energetic.” I just wonder why Hui doesn’t keep the really good songs for Pentagon??!! I don’t feel that they’ve had a hit on the scale of “Energetic.” Unfortunately, the center here, Song Yu Vin didn’t make the X1 debut team either.

His was a Cinderella story, and everybody loves a Cinderella story, right? K-pop is full of them. In watching these trainees, I think everyone who dreams of a career on stage can feel that with dedicated practice, they can be standing there too. I am often shocked how poorly the trainees perform. I can sing better than 90 percent of them. I can’t dance, but in my advanced age I am trying to learn. I only dance two hours a week, but what if I danced 11 to 16 hours a day as they do? They make everything seem possible to every kid who wants to be on stage. I wonder whether this was MNET’s storyline from the start.

There was also focus on cute Hyeong Jun, and the person South Koreans considered most handsome, Kim Min Kyu. Whoever the cameras focused on became the top vote getters. Was this coincidence or contrived, as if producers were pointing a finger toward the desired outcome. I think most people expected Min Kyu to become the X boy, but he clearly needs a year or two of training to get up to par. I am so happy that Eun Sang got in. For once, talent won over visuals. Eun Sang is considered handsome as well, but not as much as Min Kyu. But Eun Sang has so much potential, at only 16, but able to hold his own against seasoned competition. He fit right in with sexy concepts, alongside trainees and debuted artists in their 20s.

My K-pop professor told our class not to believe anything we see because show business is an industry that relies on fantasy and manipulating audiences.

How was it that so many could not sleep and cried for weeks after Jin Hyuk lost? How did we end up caring so much for this person we didn’t initially support? Because I expected him to be in the Top 3, I was devastated to learn he would not debut, even though he wasn’t one of my biases in the show.

Some conspiracy theorists proceeded to take a look at the number of votes and found that the difference between many of the rankings was the same number 29,978 votes. That is so fishy and MNET refused to comment on the matter. In addition, the agencies involved all agreed they were satisfied with the outcome. But there may be a legal showdown coming, because Netizens are claiming fraud and are relentless when it comes to protecting the interest of their boys who may not have made it due to such manipulations. Stay tuned to this continuing story.

If deals were made behind closed doors, then the trainees are just pawns in the game. You could see from the looks on their faces, the elation and tears, that none knew what the outcome would be.

The proposed lineup for Be Your Nine (BY9), left to right from top to bottom: Lee Jin Hyuk, Kim Min Kyu, Koo Jung Mo, Keum Dong Hyun, Tony, Song Yu Vin, Ham Won Jin, Lee Se Jin and Hwang Yun Seong.

The trainees have since gone back to their lives. Fans are pushing to have a second group, Be Your Nine (BY9), comprising the top 12th to 20th finalists. That would be Jin Hyuk, Min Kyu, Keum Dong Hyun, Hwang Yun Seong, Koo Jung Mo, Ham Won Jin, Song Yu Vin, Tony and Lee Se Jin. Fans really want this to happen:https://www.instagram.com/p/B0usaL9FHw_/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

But I don’t think this will happen because Jin Hyuk is so popular he already has a number of commercial projects to consider, some have groups to return to, and the bigger agencies are able to debut their trainees with others in their companies. Jung Mo and Won Jin’s company Starship is rumored to have plans to debut a boy group early next year, and both are certain to be in the lineup if that happens.

Yet, fans continue to dream of what could be or could have been. As do I. That’s K-pop.

‘Produce X 101’ finale picks

By Nadine Kam I

That time has come. After 12 weeks, the finale of “Produce X 101” is upon us, airing on Vlive Thursday eve.

The top photo represents my attempt to guess who will win a slot on the debut group. The popular ones are already clustered at the top. It’s the ones on the bottom half of the list that makes predictions difficult, but I put Kan Min Hee on the list because his star has been on an upward trajectory over the past few weeks and I believe viewers have a soft spot for this boy who didn’t shine as much as his peer at the beginning of the broadcast, but put in the hard work to improve himself.

I’m thinking that Son Dong Pyo, the original center for the “X1-MA” theme song, will end up being the X boy 11th member because although he started off on a high note, the voting public never quite responded to propel him into the high ranks. But he has been a constant vote getter since the start of the competition.

The only other X boy would be the visual favorite Kim Min Kyu if he fails to place in the Top 10. But I don’t think his fans will let him down.

My personal list of faves is unlikely to become a reality on the lower end: From top, left to right, Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Lee Jin Hyuk, Han Seung Woo, Nam Do Hyun, Song Hyeong Jun, Lee Eun Sang, Kang Min Hee, Song Yu Vin and Lee Se Jin.

Photo 2 is the unlikely scenario of who I actually want to see win. Lee Eun Sang has been the biggest surprise to me. The ones I liked since the beginning, like Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Lee Jin Hyuk and Song Hyeong Jun have enough charisma to outshine all the rest so I didn’t notice Eun Sang at all until he joined the “U Got It” team, although in rewatching the earlier episodes to see trainees I’ve come to know but missed in the getting-to-know-you phase, he was there all along. He has turned out to be a real charmer in a low-key, goofy way … as well as talented of course. I stan talent! That’s why, even though he’s popular, I didn’t want Min Kyu on my personal list.

When Up10tion’s Kim Woo Seok and Lee Jin Hyuk walked in at 0:51 they have charisma and presence that couldn’t be ignored.
“U Got It” team: Eun Sang focus.
Imagine Eun Sang and Woo Seok’s chemistry when they debut together! It must happen!

All eyes on ‘Produce X 101’ for next K-pop sensation

By Nadine Kam I

For every K-pop success story like BTS there are dozens of groups that never make it.

Even BTS had a rocky start, struggling for years in South Korea, as a hybrid rap-idol group that drew criticism from both sides, being considered too glossy to be taken seriously in the rap underground, yet too ugly to be idols.

Lucky for them they were from a small start-up agency, Big Hit Entertainment, that had little to fall back on, and whose founder/producer had a bigger vision of redefining what an idol could be. A larger agency might have cut its losses after one or two years without giving the group a chance to prove themselves and grow an audience.

The large number of groups that never make it suggest that for all the scouting and training the entertainment companies do, they are at the whim of a fickle public, so one template for band creation is to simply let the public decide. If the public votes members into a group, the assumption is they will form a loyal fanbase around that group.

You can watch this concept in action with the latest “Produce 101,” this time with an “X” attached to denote that mysterious X-factor that eludes producers and talent managers, but captures an audience’s heart. The series started airing on MNET four weeks ago but don’t worry if you have to play catchup. The process of whittling down the 101 candidates to 11 to create the next big boy band is a slow one.

It was much more manageable on “YG Treasure Box,” when 29 candidates from YG Entertainment’s Korea and Japan training centers competed for spots on what would eventually become the 13-member group Treasure, and sub-unit Magnum.

It was fairly easy to get to know all 29 Treasure competitors within the first episode. This time it’s much harder to get to know them because not all of them have been getting screen time. It’s only now that they just completed their first group performance covering famous K-pop bands that I am beginning to see their individual talent and potential.

One of my early picks is Kim Yo Han, right, who has a look similar to Treasure’s Ha Yoon Bin. They are considered extremely handsome by South Korean idol fans. In the West they are probably considered ordinary. International fans and Korean fans are often at odds when it comes to survivor show outcomes.

Going into this, I knew I didn’t want to get overly invested in the candidates because I became super angry and agitated while watching “Treasure Box.” The sad part of these shows is that if you become attached to any of the trainees who don’t make it, you may never see them again. I didn’t want to feel that way again, but I was curious to see who is out there because past “Produce” shows have resulted in popular hit-making acts such as iZ*one and Wannaone.

Before the show even started airing, videos of all the competitors were placed online so that people could get to know the candidates and start picking their favorites, usually one or two. One of my friends went as far as picking his Top 10. I told him I would do the same, but after watching about six videos I realized that there was no way you could gauge their full talent. Some sang, some danced, and some just showcased their personalities; it wasn’t an even measure, so I stopped and waited for the season to begin.

Yun Seo Bin got the boot for high school bullying. Former classmates snitched and revealed photos of him smoking and drinking as well. That is not idol behavior. He was also kicked out of JYP because the agency set a strict code of conduct for its artists.

I knew only three of the candidates going into the series because they were part of “YG Treasure Box.” One of them, Lee Mi Dam, left that competition and company because the pressure was too intense for him, so I was shocked to see him back for another survival show with even more competition than from within his agency, which he left to join the Aap.y agency. The other two are from Japan and Taiwan, respectively Hidaka Mahiro and Wang Jyun Hao. I think both are too green to go very far although Jyun Hao has the brightest smile and that counts for something.

In the beginning, the other competitors were intimidated by the YG, SM and JYP presence, but they quickly found the SM candidates came from their modeling agency and didn’t have much musical ability, and JYP’s candidate Yun Seo Bin was not only kicked off the show but kicked out of the agency when he was found to have been a bully in high school, a character flaw unforgivable to the South Korean viewers. I didn’t like the way he challenged Mi Dam for the No. 1 chair so wasn’t surprised by the bullying accusation.

I’m still not overly invested in the competitors the way I was with Choi Hyun Suk and Keita Terazono in “Treasure Box.” It’s not wise to do so because in the process, I found out that my international taste and the South Korean taste in visual and ability really differs. The South Koreans prefer a really doughy, soft look in their idols. I prefer sexy cute. And when it comes to their behavior, I don’t know what it is but the people I like turn out to be the ones that the Koreans really hate!

In profile, Kim Min Seo’s look is similar to BTS’s Kim Taehyung.

That being said, during episode four I finally took note of a couple of people who stood out. One is Kim Min Seo from the Urban Works agency (note there is another Kim Minseo in the show), who went blond for “Produce.” His voice is amazing, clear as a bell and as pretty as an angel’s. From certain angles, his look reminds me of BTS’s Kim Taehyung. I think it was probably a mistake for him to go blond; I think he would have more appeal to the Koreans with dark hair. But he would stand out to an international audience as a blond. At any rate, I think he is a one-of-a-kind talent, but I’m not sure he will get enough votes to win because his visuals are so different from what the Koreans would vote for.

The second one who stood out is Kim Yo Han, a taekwondo elite student who gave up a scholarship and career in the martial arts for a chance at idol stardom. He considers himself a singer, but is turning out to also be a pretty good rapper. He actually stood out in audition as well, but his dancing ability was questioned. What also got my attention is that he is a ringer for YG’s Ha Yoon Bin, who I am well familiar with because he was the one the Koreans wanted in place of my Choi Hyun Suk in Treasure (both made it). 

Yo Han has the visuals that the South Korean fans love so I’m sure he’ll go far as long as he doesn’t mess up any performance.

👁 🎧 Watch: Kim Min Seo performs Nu’est’s “DejaVu” with his team

I will try to lock in my top 10 next week, although it’s just an exercise that doesn’t attempt to pick who will win. That would be a totally different list. I generally know my picks will be longshots because my international taste varies so much from the Korean point of view. But it’s fun to think what a band I would assemble would look like.

As for that 11th place in the show, it’s reserved for that person who might be overlooked by the judges throughout the season, but one who possesses that mysterious X-factor loved by the public. It’s the only way to explain how someone like Lee Eugene is already so popular with public voters, though he hasn’t shown any special skill. He is already recognized as an actor in South Korea, but has little talent for singing or dancing. Maybe the training they are getting will pay off. I don’t know whether voters really like him or are just familiar with his name.

The Koreans also love Jellyfish Entertainment’s Kim MinGyu because they think he is so handsome, but I don’t agree. On top of that, he has very little musical talent, but they are voting for him.

👁 🎧 Watch: Kim Yo Han performs NCT U’s “BOSS” with his team

The other 10 spaces will be decided by a mix of judges’ votes and viewer votes. New episodes air on MNET Friday nights (Thursdays in the United States).

👁 Watch: Kim Yo Han’s first ranking audition with judges

Top photo: Wannaone, top of page, was formed via “Produce 101.” The group had only a one-year contract under the show’s terms, and disbanded earlier this year.