The situation of a girl group that debuted through vote manipulation

fromis_9 was formed through Mnet’s Idol School. The survival show’s producer was later jailed for rigging and manipulating the results.

fromis_9 consists of 9 members with even visuals and talents. The lineup was voted by the Korean public through Mnet’s 2017 survival show Idol School. With pretty looks and decent skills, fromis_9 was expected to hit big once they debuted. However, after years of promotions, the group has not been able to rise to the top, even suffering from criticism because of the controversy over Idol School’s vote manipulation.

3 out of 9 members debuted through rigged votes 

fromis_9 was launched by CJ E&M after Idol School wrapped up in 2017. The group has 9 members: Roh Ji Sun, Song Ha Young, Lee Sae Rom, Lee Chae Young, Lee Na Kyung, Park Ji Won, Lee Seo  Yeon, Baek Ji Heon and Jang Gyu Ri.

In Idol School, the trainees competed in different rounds and showcased their vocal and dance talents… The 9 girls with the most votes won and got to debut in fromis_9. The show was broadcast on Mnet – the channel that gave birth to popular survival shows like Produce 101, Produce 48… However, fromis_9 has failed to become as famous as girl groups that came out of the Produce series like I.O.I or IZ*ONE.

In 2019, the PDs of Idol School and Produce were investigated for manipulation of votes. Idol School’s PD Kim Tae Eun was indicted for vote rigging in July 2020. Kim was also accused of collecting 15 million won in profits from the votes of 69,000 viewers, thereby committing financial fraud and obstructing business operations.

On June 10, 2021, the Seoul Central District Court sentenced PD Kim Tae Eun – to 1 year in prison for the crime of business obstruction and fraud.

According to the show 12th Subcommittee to Broadcast Deliberation aired in September 2021, from episode 2 to episode 11, PD of Idol School manipulated the voting results 233 times. In the 4th elimination round, 10 contestants were unjustly eliminated. That means the 10 contestants with the lowest ranks, who should have been eliminated, managed to continue in the show.

Notably, in the finale of Idol School, Lee Haein earned the highest number of votes and was supposed to debut in fromis_9 as the center. However, Lee Haein was removed from the final lineup by the production crew and was replaced by another contestant. The explanation as to why Lee Haein was taken out was that she did not match the future direction and concept of fromis_9. 3 out of the 9 current members of fromis_9 were confirmed to have debuted through rigged votes.

In the broadcast of MBC’s PD Note in 2019, Lee Haein revealed that the PD of Idol School had decided the fromis_9‘s debut lineup early on, regardless of the voting results. Haein and her father said that CJ ENM asked her to sign a contract with them. The company promised to let her debut in another group called Idol School Class 1 by the end of 2017. However, this turned out to be a lie.

Lee Hae In was eliminated despite having the highest number of votes.
Lee Hae In was eliminated despite having the highest number of votes.

In a December 2020 interview with Olympic Idol, Lee Hae In confessed she was heartbroken because she had no money. She worked many part-time jobs just to survive, including working as a coffee shop attendant, a helper on film sets and as a model.

Since then, fromis_9 has been associated with the title “cheating group”. The incident caused the public to lose sympathy on fromis_9. According to the public, fromis_9 members did not commit fraud but they benefited from it. Meanwhile, the victim of the incident is Lee Haein who lost her chance to debut from being the winner.

The fuel to the fire

Originally not noticed by the Korean public, fromis_9 caused controversy many times. Most recently, in an online chat with fans, Sae Rom, fromis_9‘s team leader, expressed her frustration and faced criticism. Not knowing the conversation had already begun, Sae Rom said, “I’m sick of this. I want to come home now.”

Then a few othis members realized the live broadcast had started and said, “Hello”. Ha Young whispered to Sae Rom that they’re on live.

The case is controversial on social networks. “If you don’t want to be an idol, then give up. It can’t be done that easily”, “If I was in an idol group and my group couldn’t be as popular after 5 years as them, I’d be furious”, “They’re such unknowns that this happened almost a day ago and it hasn’t caused much trouble”, “This can’t be called a simple mistake because that’s how she feels. She’s just expressing her true feelings”, the audience commented.

Sae Rom
Team leader Sae Rom had a controversial statement.

Some viewers even predicted fromis_9 to disband after the incident. One user commented: “So fromis_9 will disband after this? HYBE gave them one last album before splitting up”.

Previously, two members Jang Gyu Ri and Lee Chae Young also caused a stir when participating in Mnet’s TMI News program. When the MC of the program mentioned HYBE, the corporation of Big Hit Entertainment (BTS‘s management company), the two members continuously exclaimed that it was their company.

“That’s our company. Our company is impressive, isn’t it?”, the two girls said, even calling Bang Si Hyuk “our president”. It is worth mentioning that fromis_9 is under Pledis Entertainment. Pledis Entertainment was acquired as a subsidiary by HYBE, but still operates independently. The public thinks that it is hard to accept a group continuing to be proud of the company and even claiming themselves to be artists of HYBE.

The audience criticized, “This group debuted through cheating and without outstanding talent. Why can they continue to promote and even receive such good treatment?”

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