Among the many Korean audition programs of recent years, Produce 101 is surely the most influential. Launched by TV channel Mnet in 2016, the K-pop survival show gathers 101 trainees from different agencies to compete for the chance to debut in a specially created idol group. After multiple rounds of performance challenges and viewer voting, a limited-time group is formed with the top contestants. The first season created the girl group I.O.I, and the even bigger second season in 2017 created the boy band Wanna One.
Produce 101 has provided a springboard to stardom for new faces and a second chance for idols yet to hit it big. The franchise set off a trend of idol-making shows in Korea and even expanded its brand to China, where the official Chinese version of Produce 101 premiered on Tencent in April 2018.
Produce 101 reboots in June 2018 with its third season Produce 48, a collaboration with Japanese idol group franchise AKB48. As the new season starts, let's take a look at some of the most notable contestants from the past seasons who have made their debuts!
I.O.I was formed by the winners of Season 1: Jeon Somi, Kim Se Jeong, Choi Yoo Jung, Kim Chung Ha, Kim So Hye, Pinky Zhou Jieqiong (Kyul Kyung), Jung Chae Yeon, Kim Do Yeon, Kang Mi Na, Lim Na Young and Yoo Yeon Jung. The girls made a hot debut with the bubbly Dream Girls and underwent a mature transformation in their first subunit's Whatta Man (Good Man), which topped five major music charts. They also collaborated with JYP for the chart-topper "Very Very Very" from the Miss Me? mini-album. After sweeping rookie prizes at various music awards including the Golden Disc Awards, the group bade farewell to fans with the Woozi-produced "Downpour" and the Time Slip – I.O.I concert. I.O.I may have been a short-lived phenomenon but they were undeniably one of the most influential K-pop stars of 2016.
Kim Chung Ha effortlessly got an A grade at the beginning of the show for her impressive freestyle dance to Beyonce's Yoncé. The fierce performer also choreographed a powerful routine to Jessie J's bombastic jam Bang Bang on the show, and even received an enthusiastic encore request along with her "Avengers" teammates. After the disbandment of I.O.I, most of her bandmates opted for group activities but Chung Ha pursued a solo career. She found a fresh direction to develop her cool music and dancing styles through the successful Hands on Me and Offset, establishing herself as a new-generation dancing queen.
Despite an uncertain start in the first episode, Jung Chae Yeon continually scored high rankings for her stable performances. Following her victory on the show, Chae Yeon and her group DIA have seen a surge of popularity. Chae Yeon and fellow contestant Ki Hee Hyun returned to DIA for the group's EP Happy Ending, which was followed by two mini-albums and a full album. Besides singing, Chae Yeon challenged acting in the foodie drama series Drinking Solo and her silver screen debut Live Again, Love Again. The sought-after all-round idol's stylish image also earned her lucrative endorsement contracts with famous names like jewelry brand Lamucha and fashion label Jill Stuart.
During Produce 101, Cube Entertainment's Jeon So Yeon exhibited a strong girl crush style and frequently stole the show with her energetic and confident performances. After finishing in 20th place, she found a new stage on Unpretty Rapstar 3. Despite her young age, So Yeon emerged as an ace contestant with remarkable rapping skills that got her into the top four. After the competition, she launched her first self-produced single Jelly, which proved her songwriting talent. Instead of continuing solo, the rapper returned in 2018 as a member of rookie group (G)I-DLE, which debuted with the cool moombahton trap-style LATATA.
Before taking part in Season 1, Kim Se Jeong appeared on K-pop Star 2 at the age of 16. The well-liked contestant quickly rose in popularity for her skillful singing and humble personality. Coming in first multiple times during the show, she eventually ranked second and debuted as I.O.I's main vocalist. Labelmate Kang Mi Na was also voted into I.O.I for her charismatic dance performances. The two I.O.I members and Kim Na Young later formed the core of Jellyfish Entertainment's nine-member group Gugudan, and greeted fans again with various fairytale-themed releases. Less than a year after her debut, Se Jeong successfully developed her solo career with the chart-topper "Flower Way" produced by Zico, and made her first foray into acting in the coming-of-age romance School 2017, which earned her a Best New Actress nomination at the 54th Baeksang Arts Awards.
While they were still trainees under Pledis Entertainment, Pristin members began to make appearances in the music videos of After School, NU'EST and Seventeen. The girls – including Na Young, Jieqiong, Xi Yeon, Roa, Yu Ha, Eun Woo and Rena – announced their presence on Produce 101 with a powerful performance of After School's Bang! Jieqiong and Na Young made their way into the lineup of I.O.I, while the remaining members held weekly concerts under the name Pledis Girlz. The girls later came together as Pristin, which was named one of the most anticipated K-pop rookies of 2017 on Billboard. Just like Seventeen, Pristin members have taken part in the songwriting of their songs, including the energetic plugs Wee Woo and We Like.
Prior to the premiere of Season 1, Choi Yoo Jung quickly became one of the most talked-about contestants after her eye-catching performance as the center of the show's anthem Pick Me was revealed. Despite her initial timidity, the young rapper caught eyes with her charming dancing and facial expressions. Known for her natural beauty, Kim Do Yeon also received high rankings throughout the competition and the two eventually debuted as members of I.O.I. Yoo Jung, Do Yeon and other Fantagio trainees, including Elly and Seo Jung who also appeared on the show, returned as Weki Meki and established a free-spirited teen crush style through WEME and Lucky. Do Yeon, the new face of Maybelline in Korea, is currently a beauty show host. She also embarked into acting in the sports drama Short.
Yoo Yeon Jung didn't attract much attention until she performed Girls' Generation's "Into the New World" for the show's group battle. The young singer impressed audiences by effortlessly hitting the high notes and became one of the most promising competitors. Coming in 11th overall, Yeon Jung won a ticket into the lineup of I.O.I and served as the group's main vocalist. She also soon joined WJSN as the 13th member representing the zodiac sign Ophiuchus. With her incredibly wide vocal range, the singer played an important role in enriching the group's vocal layers. The Secret marked the new beginning of Yeon Jung's career and a mature turning point for Cosmic Girls. The group's newly discovered cosmic vibe was maintained in the refreshing synth-driven "I Wish" and the spacey "Dreams Come True." This year, WJSN's Chinese members Meiqi and Xuanyi joined the China version of Produce 101, and their consistently high rankings all but assure spots in the final lineup.
Season 2's winning group Wanna One took the world by storm upon their debut with 1x1=1 (To Be One), which brought the group to the top of local music charts. Members Kang Daniel, Park Ji Hoon, Lee Dae Hwi, Kim Jae Hwan, Ong Seong Woo, Park Woo Jin, Lai Guan Lin, Yoon Ji Seong, Hwang Min Hyun, Bae Jin Young and Ha Sung Woon continued their phenomenal success with the chart-topping EDM ballad "Beautiful" and electro trap jam Boomerang. Named the second most powerful Korean celebrity of 2018 on Forbes, the breakout sensation swept various Best New Artist titles and embark on their first world tour in June 2018. Though Wanna One is a temporary group, their immediate and overwhelming success will likely influence the K-pop industry for years to come as a model for how to catch lightning in a bottle.
As one of the biggest agencies participating in Season 2, Chinese juggernaut Yuehua Entertainment sent five trainees and among them, Ahn Hyeong Seop and Lee Eui Woong ranked the highest. Hyeong Seop, who remained in the top 20 throughout the show, charmed audiences early on with his bright appearances and attention-stealing performance of Pick Me in the second episode. Coolly determined rapper Eui Woong ranked as high as 9th in the first episode and finished 23rd. Besides appearing in variety programs and endorsements together, they released their first project single It Will Be Good as a duo in November 2017 and a mini-album this April. (P.S. Yuehua's Chinese Produce 101 trainees Justin and Zhu Zhengting competed in China's Idol Producer in 2018 and finished in the top nine to debut as Nine Percent.)
Jang Moon Bok first went viral back in 2010 for his confidently disastrous audition on Superstar K2. Only 15 at the time, the aspiring rapper turned into an internet meme overnight. He persisted through the derision and used the mocked moniker of "Hip Hop President" as the title of his 2016 debut single. A year later, he surprisingly joined Produce 101. While Jang Moon Bok and his long silky hair may have initially attracted curious viewers hoping for more meme fodder, he answered with a hardworking and positive attitude that affirmed his determination to keep doing his thing. Jang ranked as high as #2 at the show's start due to his notoriety, but eventually slipped to #27 as other trainees gained traction. He released his first mini-album Peeps earlier this year in March.
JBJ was originally an imaginary group created by fans. Shortly after the competition, fan imagination became reality when the six hidden gems – Hotshot's Roh Tae Hyun, Kim Dong Han, former Topp Dogg member Kim Sang Gyun, Kwon Hyun Bin, Takada Kenta from Japan and Jin Longguo from China – announced their unexpected collaboration with Fantasy. Different from their aggressive debut, their second mini-album features lively songs including the vibrant "My Flowers." Before their disbandment, the group bade a sentimental farewell with the bittersweet "Call Your Name."
Affectionately called "Ponyo" by fans, Jeong Se Woon first competed in the third season of K-pop Star in 2013 and made it all the way to the finals as part of the duo Something. Afterwards, he became a trainee under Starship Entertainment. Se Woon impressed from the start not only with his singing and songwriting talents, but also his clear-headed music ambitions: When asked on Produce 101 if he wanted to be an idol or singer, he answered seriously that his dream was to become the CEO of a label. Se Woon ended up placing 12th, just outside the cutoff for Wanna One. He debuted solo instead in August 2017 with his first mini-album Ever and followed this year with After. It's hard to argue that Se Woon is best suited to be a solo artist, but he also recently teamed up with fellow Produce alumni Im Young Min, Kim Dong Hyun and Lee Kwang Hyun for the project group YDPP.
During his busking days, Kim Dong Han often performed with his dance crew D.O.B in the Hongdae district. The young dancer soon gained a name for his astonishing dance covers, especially his viral version of BTS's "Dope." His fanbase grew continuously during the show and he hit his highest rank at #29. Though he failed to enter the top 11, the 19-year-old made his dream come true by debuting as a member of JBJ. Following the group's disbandment in April earlier this year, Dong Han moves forward to pursue his solo career with his first mini-album D-Day.
Choon Entertainment originally sent two trainees to Produce 101, Jin Longguo (Kim Yong Guk) and Kim Shi Hyun, but the latter dropped out early for health reasons. Meanwhile, the introverted Longguo gradually rose in the rankings as he garnered attention for his Tibetan fox-like features and emergence as a vocalist. A mere one and a half months after the show ended, Longguo and Shi Hyun became the first out of the gate with the unit project mini-album the.the.the. Since then, Shi Hyun has released a duet with Season 1's Kim So Hee and held a solo fan meeting. Longguo promoted as a member of JBJ until April, and he's releasing his first solo digital single Clover this month.
Im Young Min and Kim Dong Hyun delivered an impressive performance with labelmates Lee Dae Hwi and Park Woo Jin in their first evaluation on Produce 101. Young Min eventually broke into top 20 for his spirited rap performances. However, Dong Hyun, who held an ambiguous position somewhere in between vocalist and rapper, didn't have a chance to let his gentle vocals shine. They turned their loss into a new opportunity by forming MXM, which marks the first idol group produced by rapper Rhymer's Brand New Music. The duo played to their strengths and developed their songwriting talents in the mini-albums Unmix and Match Up.
Yoo Hoe Seung stood out early in the show as the sole representative from FNC Entertainment and one of the few trainees who dared to sit in the #1 seat in the first episode. Though he was eliminated in the second round, he made an impression with his strong vocals and variety-savvy sense of humor. Fittingly, he soon joined N.Flying and proved to be the perfect addition to the new-generation band's mischievous and energetic music and style. The five-member N.Flying was unveiled in August 2017 with THE REAL: N.Flying, and they have gained further attention this year with the infectiously fun "Hot Potato" and their latest How R U Today.
NU'EST's JR, Baek Ho, Min Hyun and Ren shocked the K-pop scene when they announced their participation in the survival show. Audience scrutiny and high expectations put them under great stress and the four members failed to stand out at first despite their considerable on-stage experience. However, they soon pulled themselves together and delivered many memorable performances that pushed all four to the top 20. Though only Min Hyun made the final 11, NU'EST experienced a resurgence of popularity and their past releases shot back up the charts. Apart from Min Hyun who is promoting with Wanna One, the remaining NU'EST members returned as NU'EST W with W,HERE, which sold over 300,000 copies. NU'EST's turnaround became one of the biggest storylines of Season 2 and an inspiration for other struggling idols seeking a second chance to shine.
Rainz is another fan-created group that gathers Season 2's contestants Kim Seong Ri, Joo Won Tak, Lee Ki Won, Jang Dae Hyun, Hong Eun Ki, Byun Hyun Min and Seo Sung Hyuk. The underrated talents again teamed up with producer Ryan Jhun, the creator of the show's theme song, for their debut release Sunshine, which made an interesting contrast with their group name. Following the upbeat retro plug Juliette, the boys underwent a startling transformation in the gritty Turn It Up.
From the beginning, Samuel was one of the most well-known and anticipated participants of Season 2. Despite being among the show's youngest – only 15 at the time – he had already gained some recognition as one-half of the short-lived duo One Punch and a former Pledis trainee who was part of Seventeen's pre-debut lineup. The teen phenom affirmed his dancing and all-round skills throughout the show and finished in the top 20. Samuel was one of the first to launch a post-Produce career, releasing his first mini-album in August 2017. His solo debut Sixteen silkily blended R&B, hip-hop and dance with age-appropriate themes. Samuel has been incredibly prolific in one short year, having already released one full album, two mini-albums, a repackage and two Japanese singles.
Ju Hak Nyeon showcased great b-boy skills on the first episode but his dance-focused performance also revealed his weakness in singing. Though he received a low grade from the trainers, he managed to stay within the top ten for weeks and was one of the most popular contestants. To prove that he can be a real idol, the dancer walked out of his comfort zone and showed his singing potential in the concept stage of "Knock." Six months after the competition, the sunny Jeju boy reappeared as a member of the rookie group The Boyz, which has enjoyed a successful start with the mini-albums The First and The Start.
At only age 14, Lee Woo Jin was the youngest trainee on the show and accordingly doted on by the other participants, but there was nothing green about his talent and potential. Little Woo Jin, who previously competed in Mnet's 2013 program The Voice Kids, received an A in the second evaluation and continuously impressed with his vocals. After finishing in the top 35, Woo Jin returned to his band TheEastLight., which had debuted in 2016. Right after the show ended, the band, whose six members are all in their teens, released their first mini-album Six Senses featuring the bright and youthful title song I Got You. This year, they have returned with a slightly more mature sound and image in a series of digital singles and their second mini-album.
As one of the youngest and least experienced contestants, Yoo Seon Ho was dubbed a "baby chick" trainee along with Cube Entertainment labelmate Lai Guan Lin. In the course of the show, the good-natured teen began to grow as an idol, displaying impressive improvement with each challenge and emerging as a crowd favorite. After finishing in the top 20, Seon Ho continued his rise to stardom with variety program appearances, commercial endorsements and his acting debut in the web drama Devil Inspector, which co-stars Ahn Hyeong Seop. He has even held an Asia fan meeting tour on his own. The 16-year-old made his debut in April 2018 with his first mini-album featuring the bright and airy spring song "Maybe Spring."