New pan-Asian girl group looks to stand out

  • Published : Aug 25, 2010 - 18:02
  • Updated : Aug 25, 2010 - 18:02

The Korean press got the latest on pan-Asian girl group enterprise “Project Lotus” at a press conference on Wednesday, where they were promised a televised documentary and album on a five-member posse the likes of which they had never seen before.

“This is not an Asian girl group that is just about following Westerners,” said rock celebrity Yoon Do-hyun as he explained why he signed on to be a mentor-judge for the project. “They want to make an unusual girl group. And I think they will be very different from existing girl and boy bands.”

Indeed, “Project Lotus” is unusual ― be it good or bad. While Korean entertainment companies and agencies like JYP Entertainment and S.M. Entertainment have brought in talent from China and Thailand to round out their bands, rarely, it seems, has anyone put members from five different Asian countries into one group. Furthermore, this group will not be restricted to an Asian audience. Its target is global.

Former Walt Disney Company (Asia Pacific) president Jon Niermann’s FarWest Entertainment and team propose to cull talent from Korea, Japan, China, India and the Philippines; a move that could either prove to be pure genius or pure disaster. 
From left to right: “Project Lotus” creative director-producer Eliot Kennedy, producer-television director Brian Grant, judge-mentor and rock vocalist Yoon Do-hyun and FarWest Entertainment CEO Jon Niermann speak at a press conference in Seoul on Wednesday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

FarWest Entertainment CEO Niermann, “Project Lotus” creative director-producer Eliot Kennedy, and producer-television director Brian Grant clearly believe in the former.

“We believe we’ve got a business model that is going to work,” said Niermann. “It really is Asia’s time.”

The model Niermann referred to is part documentary, part making-of-the-band, where after two rounds of auditions, five finalists from each country will fly out to Hong Kong for a six-week training program.

Finalists will face a weekly elimination process, where one girl from each country will be sent packing until a five-member band is formed. The resulting footage of the whole process is set to air in February and March with an album due for release in April.

“First and foremost, it isn’t a talent show, it is a talent search,” said Grant, emphasizing that this would not be a reality show like “The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll” or “The X Factor.” “It doesn’t involve any kind of voting.”

“Those sort of talent shows seem to celebrate the bad side of their characters (as well) as the good side,” he added. “We will only celebrate the good side.”

But will it be easy to celebrate the good side when 25 girls from five vastly different cultures go head-to-head in a competition for a final spot on a global-scale band?

“What is going to be interesting to see in this documentary is that very quickly, the Korean girls, Japanese girls, Chinese girls, etc. are very quickly going to have to start relying on each other,” Kennedy said. “They have to work as a team from day one.”

“(It will be) interesting to see those very conventional cultural borders fall away,” he added.

While the girls may have no choice but to bridge any cultural gaps they may face, how well will an international audience respond to a pan-Asian girl group?

“The music is what will speak the universal language,” said Kennedy.

According to Kennedy, 'what is a hit in the West will be a hit in the East,' but “Project Lotus” looks to reverse the flow, with the East influencing the West.

Niermann also voiced his desire to “really showcase the tremendous talent that comes out of here,” a talent that “doesn’t carry across enough.”

Breaking into the global entertainment market from Korea, for example, has not proven easy, said Korea producing partner Won Lee, but “we’ve seen the challenges that have occurred” and “we are very confident.”

It is hard to tell whether or not “Project Lotus” will succeed at this juncture. To date, the second round of auditions for contestants from Korea was held on Tuesday. The five finalists are yet to be unveiled.

“We did see a very strong group of girls,” Niermann said of Tuesday’s auditions. “I think we’ve identified five girls.”

Yoon, who also judged at the auditions, said: “Very charming people were picked.”

As mentor and judge, Yoon of the 13-year-old YB band (formerly known as the Yoon Do-Hyun Band) will be flying out to Hong Kong for two days to mentor and judge contestants and will take part in the project continuously, said Lee.

Other judge-mentors include the Spice Girls (Lee said a few are signed on, other agreements are pending), Hong Kong star-and-singer Karen Mok and former GRAMMY Foundation Chair Steve Schnur.

A majority of the songs, 16 to date, have already been composed by a songwriting camp featuring prominent song writers like Take That’s Gary Barlow. Grammy Award-winning producers Eliot Kennedy and Brian Grant will also be joined by three-time Olympic figure skating competitor and choreographer David Liu.

By Jean Oh (oh_jean@heraldcorp.com)