These days, Chinese American student Kathy Lee is just a normal girl studying economics at Vanderbilt University in the United States. Back in 2016, however, she was a contestant on Mnet‘s famous idol survival show, Produce 101. However, Kathy doesn’t necessarily look back on her K-Pop days fondly. In a new interview with BuzzFeed News, the former Produce contestant revealed how fake the industry really was.
When Kathy (formerly known as Katherine Lee) was around 13 or 14 years old, she was a huge fan of the boy group EXO. Even though she didn’t have any experience in singing and dancing, her love for K-Pop compelled her to try out for an audition while vacationing in South Korea for Christmas. To Kathy’s surprise, her Chinese American background actually earned her a trainee contract at MIDAS Entertainment.
However, since leaving the industry, Kathy says her enthusiasm for K-Pop has waned—and she says it’s all because of the artificiality. “After the trainee process,” Kathy explained, “I realized that everything is fake.”
After 10 months of training, Kathy auditioned for Produce 101. However, she’s pretty sure her company had secured herself and her fellow trainees spots on the show regardless of how well she did. Once she joined the show, Kathy says she started realizing “just how disingenuous and scripted it all is.”
Kathy went on to bring up how a lot of news broke out that the Produce series is rigged. Indeed, in 2019, Mnet became embroiled in scandal after it was revealed that votes were manipulated on Produce 48, Produce X 101, and Idol School, leading several trainees who earned spots in the final lineups to lose their places unfairly.
On top of that, Kathy says that trainees themselves would behave disingenuously during filming. For example, “People would cry in front of the cameras to gain screentime because everyone loves a Cinderella story.” Alternatively, she says others would fake-bully fellow contestants to gain attention as a “villain.” Earlier this year, soloist Somi (who ranked no.1 on Produce 101) revealed that she faked an infamous fight scene to draw in more views for the show.
I was just there like, whaaat? I thought reality shows were at least real!
— Kathy Lee
As such, the former Produce 101 contestant says she stopped watching K-Dramas and listening to K-Pop for a long time after departing South Korea in 2016 and returning home to normal life. Now, she says she does consume some content, but she’s stopped keeping up with groups as a fan. “ I know the company really packages you and markets you in a specific way,” she explained.
I feel like fans get really caught up in that—I really got caught up in that—but once I saw the other side, it kind of changed me.
— Kathy Lee