The position evaluation is probably my favorite part of the competition. It’s the point where many potential favorites start to shine. We start to have a sense of who these trainees are and who we want in the final group. Up until now, I haven’t had my own version of the Top 11. I had about four trainees I definitely wanted in the group, but that was it. After watching the position evaluation, I have a much clearer idea about who I think – and hope – will make the cut.
*Warning! This recap contains spoilers for Episode 6!*
Trainees choose one of three positions: vocal, rap, and dance. Once they pick a song, they work with their team to create a performance for a live audience of 1,000 people. The challenge doesn’t just test their skills in their chosen specialty; it also tests their creativity. Vocalists will self-compose their own arrangement, rappers will write their own lyrics, and dancers will make their own choreography. Because there are limited spaces, trainees choose their song by rank, meaning that lower ranked trainees probably won’t get the category they want. There’s an elaborate maze set up so that they don’t know who already chose their song. This sets up a lot of a fun surprises.
In this round, the audience can vote for all of the trainees they support (instead of choosing the one they prefer from each group). Therefore, it’s also a competition within the team. They’re working together to put on a great performance, but they’re also working hard to stand out. The trainee who gains the most votes for each song will receive a 10,000 vote benefit. Plus, the top ranked trainee in each category gets an additional 100,000 votes!
NOTE: All rankings listed are from Episode 5. MNET shows us the onsite voting results after each performance, but we only know who comes in first. The official amount of votes that each trainee receives will be revealed in the next episode.
1) “IF IT WAS YOU,” Jung Seunghwan (an OST from popular drama Another Oh Hae-young)
Members: Kim Yongguk (#34, Chun), Kim Yehyun (#40, Widmay), Joo Jinwoo (#45, MMO), Kim Seonglee (#46, C2K),
Leader: Joo Jinwoo
Center: Kim Seonglee
The Prep: This team has two strong vocals in Jinwoo and Seonglee, and Yehyun is re-arranging the song. The only one who feels left out is Yongguk, who’s been lonely ever since the other trainee from his agency left. He’s naturally shy and has such low self-confidence that he’s even thought about quitting. His teammates give him a significant part, and he trusts them in spite of his nerves. Which is a good thing, because his voice is stunning. Lee Seokhoon compliments him on his pretty and innocent sound, and BoA also praises him when she checks on the trainees. With his newfound confidence, he continues to kill it in rehearsals and rack up the compliments.
I’ve said many times that I’m not one for ballads, but this performance is absolutely captivating. I don’t have a lot of vocal training, and unfortunately I don’t know enough Korean to understand. So, I’m really looking to feel the heart and soul they put into their singing. Though I have no idea what the song is about, I hear the emotion in their voices and it’s beautiful. I’m also a sucker for harmonization, and the harmonies that come in halfway through the song really elevate it. I empathize with Yongguk a lot because I’ve had a lot of self-doubt in the past as well. He should be happy to know that he does indeed have an amazing voice.
#1: Yongguk. His win isn’t a surprise after all that attention MNET gave him, but he’s humble and grateful to his teammates who helped him along the way. Hopefully we’ll see a brighter and more confident side of him in the future !
2) “RIGHT ROUND,” Flo Rida
Members: Joo Haknyeon (#10, Cre.Ker), Hong Eunki (#36, Gon), Yeo Hwanwoong (#49, RBW), Byun Hyunmin (#52, K-Tigers), Kim Namhyung (#54, S.How), Yoo Hoeseung (#56, FNC)
Leader: Hong Eunki
Center: Yeo Hwanwoong
The Prep: Here we go with the center drama again! High-ranking Haknyeon specifically chose “Right Round” to be the center. Because he’s a little green, he argues that expressions are more important than dancing. (He chose a dancing challenge…but okay) The lower-ranked team members agree, thinking his popularity will benefit the group. However, their leader Eunki (who is a dancer) wants someone who is qualified for the job. When he suggests Hwanwoong, the others follow his lead.
This leaves Haknyeon quite put out, and it’s not pretty. He constantly leaves practice constantly, doesn’t pay attention, and then makes a bunch of mistakes. He also bugs Eunki for more parts, and then passive-aggressively complains when he doesn’t get them. (“I didn’t want to say anything then because you were working hard, but…”) During choreography check, he messes up at least five times and just awkwardly laughs it off. When Kahi questions his incompetency, he implies that he’s unhappy with the choreography – which is why he hasn’t bothered to learn it.
After Kahi scolds the team, Haknyeon confesses to Eunki that he’s been acting out because he’s worried about his rank dropping. Which I get, but he’s also currently #10. Everyone else on his team is in danger of elimination, so he needs to get some perspective. I’ve been in Haknyeon’s situation many times before, so I know exactly how he feels. But copping an attitude and refusing to cooperate with others is not a good solution, and I think it will ultimately hurt him in the long run.
This feels very much like a K-pop routine. There’s a lot of emphasis on formations and placements, and the moves are a little simplistic compared to what we’ll see from the teams filled with strong dancers. However, it’s a very fun dance that’s very engaging. “Right Round” was very popular in my college days, so I was definitely grooving along. They rely a little heavily on Byunmin‘s martial arts skills for a wow factor, but I don’t think it’s too overdone. I like how Eunki really made sure each member got their time to shine. Haknyeon definitely has the parts he was asking for, but I think making Hwanwoong the center was a good choice. He definitely does the most with the choreography and has awesome expressions.
#1: Haknyeon. Once again, I’m not overly surprised. He’s incredibly popular, and the audience knows nothing about his drama at this point in time. But I predict his rank will fall over the next coming weeks, especially if he doesn’t correct his attitude.
3) “BOYS AND GIRLS,” Block B’s Zico
Members: Lim Youngmin (#27, Brand New Music), Kim Dongbin (#33, Kiwi Media Group), Kim Donghyun (#39, Brand New Music)
Leader: Kim Donghyun
Center: Lim Youngmin
The Prep: Youngmin is apparently the trainee to watch when it comes to rap. However, he’s somehow found himself with non-rapper teammates. Donghyun is more of a vocal, but at least he’s also from Brand New Music and knows the ropes. But Dongbin is a complete rap newbie, so it’s pretty much a struggle from the get-go. Youngmin tries really hard to teach Dongbin without coddling or admonishing him, which is admirable. But however kind he and Donghyun are, they’re nervous because of their agency’s reputation as a hip hop powerhouse. Dongbin is definitely one of the weaker trainees. He falls hard during rehearsals, and he can’t even read the words coherently. Cheetah says that she can’t teach him anything. He slips up in front of BoA, too (though she’ s much nicer about it). It’s safe to say that his messing up is a genuine concern.
No matter how you look at it, Dongbin is very different from the Brand New Music boys (even though he ends up doing fine). So I think it’s very clever how they naturally accommodate that in the staging. Having him be the cute little brother to the cooler older ones is a good idea, and it highlights the playfulness of the song. Donghyun in particular looks very at ease and well-suited to the concept. Youngmin definitely holds the whole thing together, trading lines easily with Donghyun on the first verse and good-naturedly backing up Dongbin on the second. “Boys and Girls” isn’t my favorite song, but it’s definitely a lot of fun.
#1. Youngmin. He makes a slight mistake, but recovers very quickly. Sometimes mistakes happen, and the way you react afterwards shows how professional you are. Youngmin just smiles and keeps going; his quick thinking and professionalism probably earn him a lot of those votes . That and his solid rap skills make him very worthy of first place.
4) “SHAPE OF YOU,” Ed Sheeran (the Major Lazer remix)
Members: Park Sungwoo (#22, HIM), Kim Taedong (#25, The Vibe Label), Noh Taehyun (#26, Ardor & Able), Justin (#31, Yuehua), Kim Donghan (#37, OUI), Lee Junwoo (#41, FENT)
Leader and Center: Noh Taehyun
The Prep: The team quickly elects Taehyun as leader and center. He’s perfectly capable of doing both, but it’s a little worrisome. Being solely responsible for everything can cause problems, and it does when the whole team flounders during the dance check. Everyone is all over the place, and Kahi says the dance doesn’t match the music. Fortunately, Taehyun seems to be someone that works well under pressure. Instead of taking time to feel bad about the criticisms, he quickly rearranges things for a better performance. It’s a less dramatic segment, because I can tell it will end up well, but at least it’s some nice screen time for Taehyun.
I have no idea what the first version of this looked like, because this performance is near perfect. The audience even shouts for an encore afterwards! The choreography is very dynamic, with formations that use the members well and add dimension to the stage. It also has very clear sections like the staggered movement and the scarf dancing that make it very memorable. The one drawback is that I find myself only watching Taehyun. He just stands out so much. I doubt that was done on purpose, since there are clear moments for the other members and he’s not always in the middle. But I think his skills are so next level that he ends up overshadowing everyone else.
#1: Taehyun. Not a surprise at all, and definitely well deserved!
5) “FEAR,” Winner’s MINO
Members: Kim Jonghyun (#8, Pledis), Lai Guanlin (#9, Cube), Jang Moonbok (#14, ONO), Kim Taemin (#32, Han Areum)
Leader: Kim Jonghyun
Center: Lai Guanlin
Guanlin volunteers to be the center, which Jonghyun and Taemin support. This leaves Moonbok feeling awkward and a little upset at a missed opportunity, but he ultimately lets it slide. Guanlin proves to be a very capable center, and I’m actually quite impressed. He’s full of ideas for lyrics and suggests many things for the performance. He does better in front of the trainers and practices diligently (with a little pronunciation help from Jonghyun). Everyone says they can understand his diction, so I guess he really is making progress. I don’t think the letter rankings from the first couple of episodes matter at this point in the competition, but it’s always nice to see someone with a low grade work hard to improve.
I feel that this particular rap performance is more special than the others, and that’s because they’re talking about things that are weighing on their minds: Guanlin’s want to debut, Moonbok’s need to succeed, Taemin’s regrets to his mother, and Jonghyun’s complicated feelings about NU’EST being on the show. The lyrics that they wrote are honest and raw. It’s hard to voice your inner fears to a crowd of strangers, and it’s moving how open they are. These kind of lyrics are double edged swords because it can turn into a pity party, but I can really feel these boys’ desire to make it as idols.
Jonghyun’s part makes me tear up, and it doesn’t help that the camera lingers on each NU’EST member. He seems like someone keeps his feelings under wraps, so this moment feels deeply personal. On the flip side, it’s too bad that Moonbok gets overemotional. It’s great to channel what you’re feeling into a performance, but you also have to keep control over them. I definitely feel for him, though. Given his ever-dropping ranking and all the nasty online comments about him, I get the sense he’s having a hard time.
My reaction (while watching Jonghyun):
#1: Jonghyun. The poor guy is beating himself up because he made two mistakes. Once he gets first place, he can’t help but feel like he took away something from his teammates. So even as they surround him and reassure him with hugs, he cries out of guilt. I know I’m supposed to be looking at the trainees for their skills – and he is skilled! – but I just can’t help noticing his good heart. Seriously, what a beautiful human being.
6) “PLAYING WITH FIRE,” Blackpink
Members:Lee Daehwi (#7, Brand New Music), Jung Sewoon (#13, Starship), Choi Minki (#19, Pledis), Kang Dongho (#20, Pledis)
Leader: Jung Sewoon
Center: Kang Dongho
The Prep: According to the other trainees, this team will dominate the competition. All of them are high-ranking, and they have three members who are well-known for composing music. Unfortunately, things might not go as smoothly as expected. Daehwi is visibly nervous around Dongho, who to be fair seems like a super intimidating person. His time as a NU’EST member makes him more experienced than Daehwi – and more importantly, the leader Sewoon. Although they distribute the parts calmly enough, they almost immediately butt heads about how to arrange the song.
Things get super awkward during a meeting with music directors. I don’t completely understand what happens, but I think that Sewoon veers off script and asks questions about things he hadn’t discussed with the team. Which angers Dongho because it makes them look organized. Things continue to get worse as they argue over arrangement, with Daehwi and Minki acting as uncomfortable bystanders. This “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation continues until the performance check. The trainers aren’t really feeling the proposed arrangement, until Sewoon asks to play his acoustic guitar. Seokhoon really likes it, which makes me worried about Dongho’s reaction. Luckily, Dongho starts to soften and everyone stops walking on eggshells around each other.
I actually don’t have much to say on this one! In my opinion, this performance is pretty much perfect. All four members are clearly strong vocalists, and the way they distributed the parts makes fits each one well. I wasn’t sure how well they’d match because they all have really different vocal tones, but it all works. Sewoon playing the guitar is definitely the defining touch, but all of the other things that the team discussed for the arrangement are there. And the harmonies? After listening to this version, I’m convinced that’s what Blackpink should have done in the first place.
#1: Sewoon. I like all of them, so I would have been happy if any of them got first. But I think that this is fair for Sewoon. Dongho and Minki have NU’EST notoriety, and Daehwi got plenty of attention as the “Pick Me” center. Sewoon saw this evaluation as his chance to make put himself out there, and it worked.
ONLINE VOTER RANKINGS
1. Kim Jonghyun, Pledis
2. Kang Daniel, MMO
3. Park Jihoon, Maroo
4. Hwang Minhyun, Pledis
5. Lai Guanlin, Cube
6. Ong Sungwoo, Fantagio
7. Kim Jaehwan, individual trainee
8. Kang Dongho, Pledis
9. Joo Haknyeon, Cre.ker
10. Lee Daehwi, Brand New Music
11. Yoo Seonho, Cube
The rankings this week are pretty interesting. A lot of the Top 11 are the same, just shifted around. As you can probably bet, I’m very pleased about Jonghyun being first. It’s nice that other people were touched by his kindness and his strong leadership skills. I’m a little surprised that Samuel and Hyeongseob aren’t there anymore, Samuel especially. But since their highly anticipated “Get Ugly” performance is coming up next week, I imagine that this will change.
NOTE: All GIFs and clips are taken from MNET’s Produce 101 Season 2 Episode 5