Yet another K-pop audition program is on the way with Mnet's new competition show "Boys Planet," set to premiere Thursday.
Mnet, the nation's biggest K-pop channel, operated by the entertainment conglomerate CJ ENM, has introduced many aspiring artists through its countless survival shows in the past few years, and with "Boys Planet," the company and its producers aspire to uncover more of the industry's undiscovered talents.
A spinoff of the girl group debut program "Girls Planet 999" which aired in 2021, "Boys Planet" will follow the journey of 98 boys competing to make it into the final debut team. Thousands of trainees from 84 countries and 229 management agencies applied to take part in the program. Through three stages of auditions, Mnet put together a score of trainees to star on the show.
Taking the helm of the show are Mnet producers Kim Shin-young and Ko Jeong-kyung. Kim has led many survival shows to stardom, including the first season "Girls Planet 999," as well as "I-Land," through which the sensational boy band Enhypen was formed. Ko was the executive producer of the long-running hip-hop survival program "Show Me the Money 9."
On Thursday, Kim, Ko and five master trainers -- Lee Seok-hoon, Onestar, Solji, Choi Young-jun and Back Koo-young -- conducted a production presentation online to introduce the program to the local media ahead of its launch that evening.
Master Lip J and pH-1 could not take part in person due to scheduled activities overseas.
Standing out the most among the program's new attempts to differentiate itself from the slew of past audition shows is the 100 percent viewer-voted judging system incorporated for a fair competition.
"Unlike 'Girls Planet 999,' this time, the debut team will be decided 100 percent by viewers’ votes -- called 'star creators' here," Kim said, adding, "Also, the divisions between Korean, Chinese and Japanese trainees in voting has been removed for this season."
An impartial judging system is a sensitive issue that still haunts Mnet survival shows due to the channel's vote-rigging scandal in the past. In 2021, two producers of the channel's idol-singer audition series "Produce" were given prison terms for manipulating vote outcomes.
"We've introduced a verification process by an independent and external agency, Samil PwC, for the first time by an audition show with a voting system. This comes as part of our efforts to secure fairness by completely separating the voting procedure from the overall content production," Kim explained.
According to Kim, the 98 contestants will compete in two groups, the “K” (Korean) and “G” (global) groups. There will be four mission performances leading up to their debut, during which seven masters will tutor and train them. The voting count will be converted to 50 percent each for the Korean and global groups.
Viewers will be able to cast their votes for their favorite trainees at each mission through Mnet Plus, an online voting platform also used in Mnet's other voting programs, including "Queendom" and the "Mama Awards."
"We've incorporated a digital fingerprinting technology to block the voting abuse issue that came up during 'Girls Planet,'" Kim reassured, adding there will also be real-time monitoring on top of the external verification by Samil PwC.
Kim, a seasoned producer who has witnessed the development of K-pop over the past decade or so says "Boys Planet" also stands out in terms of the trainees it stars.
"I have never come in contact with so many Generation Zs. They really challenge and strive toward their dreams aggressively, trusting themselves. We haven't seen such an attitude in past trainees," Kim said.
Not only do the trainees’ personalities make them stand out. According to the producers and the masters, the contestants themselves seemed to represent the growth and evolution of the K-pop genre itself.
Group Exid's member Solji, who is featuring in the show as one of the vocal masters, says she was surprised by the leveled-up talents of K-pop artists and trainees. Solji debuted as a member of Exid in 2012.
"I was awed by their passion. I asked myself, 'Was I that intense?' And I felt that the average level of the idols has actually improved, which shows that K-pop is indeed receiving very heated attention," Solji said.
Choi Young-jun, a star choreographer who has worked with numerous global K-pop acts, including BTS, Seventeen and Twice, and has featured in Mnet's "Produce" series, spoke on a similar note.
"I agree that the trainees have leveled up. I know that there are already many great K-pop artists, and I wondered whether it would be possible for the trainees to shine even brighter. But it seems like yes, they can," Choi said, adding, "I'm just very honored to be able to train such talented kids."
The first episode is set to air at 8 p.m. Thursday, with singer-actor Hwang Min-hyun set to feature as the episode's star master. Instead of having a single emcee who hosts the show throughout the episodes, "Boys Planet" plans to introduce a different star master for every episode. Hwang is one of the members of Wanna One, a project boy band formed through "Produce 101" in 2017.
The producers saved their words on how many will be selected for the final debut team.
The show's co-producer Ko said, "the number of final winners will be unveiled during the program, so please find out through today's episode."
Ko added there is no concrete plan set for the debut team as of now.
"The activity period and their directions have not been decided. Who will debut will be finalized solely through voting results, and everything will be decided based on the winners and their colors and talents. The producing staff is also looking forward to what kind of group will result from the show," the producer said.
In a pre-taped video, pH-1, the show's rapping master, shared his excitement at the 98 boys’ growth on their journey to their dream.
"They improve with every episode, and this in return has inspired me as a master (trainer). There are many boys with huge potential, and they seem to stimulate and drive each other to improve faster in this ever-competitive system," the rapper said, adding, "The fun in the show will be following the drama of the boys’ growth as they mature with the guidance of the masters. If you watch the first episode, you won't be able to miss the next one."