NOTE: So I am 10 (or 11) weeks behind on this show. Sadly real life got in the way of me actually viewing this in relative real time as it was broadcast. I’m sure there are a few who in the same boat as I am and these articles will probably be of benefit to those viewers. If you have watched the entire season to date already then consider this a point of view from a fresh set of eyes.
The first episode of the third season of Produce 101 (a.k.a. Produce 48) started with an opening of all the trainees writing what practice means to them on a giant wall. There were many inspirational quotes from the trainees that can be used as motivational tag lines somewhere in fitness commercial or to fire up an athlete after a devastating loss.
Once that montage ended Lee Seung Gi made the formal introduction to the show and gave a quick breakdown of how this survival music show works. Voting for members is immediate. This is different from some American shows where you have to wait until the end of the show to start getting your votes in.
An empty stage was shown with rows of chairs numbered 96 to 1. 1 of course being the queen bitch chair that every trainee in this show covets even if they don’t want to openly admit it.
The participants from the Korean agencies were the first to arrive. I am not as fully aware of all of the various Korean idol agencies besides some of the bigger ones, so I trusted that when the trainees freaked out over someone it might be worth paying attention to who was coming out.
As more and more Korean trainees arrived I could not help but notice that there was a certain look that the majority of them had. I don’t know if that was intentional or just coincidence that but there were a lot of pretty girls sitting there. Not that I’m complaining, the eye candy on the Korean side was wonderful.
CUBE Entertainment sent their trainee in the form of a gangster looking girl (Han Cho Won) who looked intimidating to the others as she scanned the room. Pledis Entertainment had two trainees, one (Lee Ka Eun) is a current member of the Korean idol group After School.
She has been on hiatus since 2013 and has returned to show business through this show to get another shot at being an active singer. Many in the trainee pool recognized her as she entered and there was a lot of focus put on her back story as this program progressed. So it is a given that she is positioned to make it all the way to end right?
For some reason the most anticipated group of trainees everyone wanted to see were from Starship. The three they sent were loud and goofy but knew how to get down to business when it came to perform as seen later in this episode.
When it came to the 48’s there seemed to be a stunned response to them as the entered the set. The main AKB48 group members came in first and looked just as stunned being on the Produce 101 stage. After looking around for a bit the members found some spots to sit next to their fellow trainees.
Takahashi Juri in particular seemed to get friendly right away with the girls sitting next to her. She appeared to pick up the Korean language well enough to chat people up easily.
The other 48 sister groups followed shortly after with the primary focus being on Matsui Jurina and Miyawaki Sakura. The interview with her was pretty blunt where she pretty much explained that AKB48 is not exactly popular for their singing or dancing skills but for intangibles such as charisma and charm. That would start to haunt the 48 members with the critique of their performances later in the show.
With all 96 girls present the two main producers of the show were introduced to them. Jeon So Mi and Kang Daniel. Both were former contestants of the Produce 101 program. They explained the rules to those in attendance emphasizing that all results of voting are final.
The trainers for this season are then introduced. They are:
- Lee Hong Ki – Vocal Trainer
- Soyou – Vocal Trainer
- Choi Young Jun – Dance Trainer
- Bae Yoon Jung – Dance Trainer
- May J Lee – Dance Trainer
- Cheetah – Rap Trainer
With all the formal introductions out of the way the time to get harshly judged or lovingly praised began. The performances were organized by agency rather than by individual via agency. After each performance the trainees are divided into groups based on their skill level with “A” being the top class and “F” being the bottom feeders.
The highlights of these performances came from mostly the Korean agencies. The Woolim girls had incredible dance chemistry leading Bae Yoon Jung to ask why they have not debuted yet. WM also had a strong group with their lead dancer (Lee Chae Yeon) being far superior to her counterparts in the dance department. FNC had a strong vocalist (Park Hae Yoon) as did RBW. (Na Go Eun)
The HOW agency girls were a surprise putting on a very entertaining stage of Celeb Five despite not having as much experience as some of their fellow competitors. Lastly the Pledis girls were scary good. Unfortunately the Lee Ka Eun overshadowed her fellow trainee in every aspect. You had to feel bad for Heo Yun Jin just a little after their rankings were announced.
What about the performances that were not up to par for the trainers? Well, there were plenty of those as well. The two pretty soloists featured on the program did not fare so well. Kang Hye Won got a hard F for lacking any redeemable qualities other than purity. Kim Min Ju got off a little better with a slightly higher grade of D.
The 48’s also failed to impress the trainers in this episode with a few exceptions. Nakano Ikumi was criticized for her lack of control in her dance moves. The entire HKT contingent (minus Miyawaki Sakura) was asked why they even managed to pass to be performers in Japan. After much debate it was agreed that there are cultural differences between the expectations for Japanese idols compared to Korean idols. Still, they left the stage crying.
After the judges thrashed the HKT48 membership a short video package of 48 idols crying was shown. Those who were interviewed were determined to show that they were able to keep up with their Korean counterparts and be competitive.
It was not all doom and gloom for the 48’s. For some reason the trainers really liked Yamada Noe and compared her Momoland’s Joo Yi. I guess her free styling to Ricky Martin’s Living La Vida Loca and her carefree nature warmed the trainers to her and she got the ranking of C because of that.
Seeing her convulse to that song was probably the best thing about this entire episode for the 48 members.
The trio of Takeuchi Miyu, Goto Moe and Iwatate Saho performed the same song the HOW agency but had a different arrangement.
Takeuchi and Iwatate managed to get A and B rankings respectively. However, due to Goe not being able to sing because of losing her voice received an F rank. The trainers explained to her that they liked her dancing but they could not fairly judge her without hearing her sing so that was the reason she was put in that grouping.
The episode ended with a cliffhanger of sorts with Matsui Jurina and Miyawaki set to perform their solos. How will they rank? Well that is for the next episode of Produce 48.
This was an interesting start to the Produce 48 series. It’s painfully obvious that the majority of the Korean trainees outclass the 48’s in regards to training. The show seems edited to emphasize that exact fact with the way they cut to the Japanese members reacting to the performances they were watching and/or the trainer’s comments. I can’t say that I’m the least bit surprised that the Japanese idols participating in this were very much owned hard. It will be intriguing to see them go through a Korean idol training system. It will probably feel like a labor camp compared to what they are used to in Japan.
The other thing I got from this first episode is that it feels like some of the members who will make the final 12 are already pre-determined and the rest of the episodes will just be to see who will fill out the other seats. I dunno. I could be wrong.