It is common for viewers of idol survival competition shows to cry foul and accuse the voting of being “rigged” when the results do not work out how they wanted. Usually, there is little actual evidence of tampering. However, the case of the 2017 Mnet series Idol School was much different — with admissions of vote tampering, fines being administered, and one person even serving a prison sentence! Nonetheless, despite unfairness in the voting, Idol School still ultimately delivered the highly respected K-pop girl group, fromis_9. Let’s take a look back at when exactly did Lee Saerom, Song Hayoung, Jang Gyuri, Park Jiwon, Roh Jisun, Lee Seoyeon, Lee Chaeyoung, Lee Nagyung, and Baek Jiheon debut as fromis_9 and the wholly separate fallout of the Idol School vote tampering.
Fromis_9 Debuted on January 24, 2018 with “To Heart”
Initially, fromis_9 predebuted on November 29, 2017 by performing “유리구두 (Glass Shoes)” at the 2017 MAMA Awards, held in Yokohama, Japan that year. The official release of the song and music video occurred on November 30, 2017. On December 15, 2017, fromis_9 performed the song on Music Bank for the first time.
Incidentally, the name fromis_ has the straightforward meaning of “from Idol School,” but in Korean, it also sounds like the English word “promise.” The nine final contestants remaining at the end of Idol School became the members of the group. Prior to predebut, the number “9” was added to the name of the group in reference to the then-nine members of the group. In the beginning, fromis_9 operated under CJ E&M sub-label Stone Music Entertainment, but then it (and, incidentally, Iz*One) would become managed by new agency Off the Record Entertainment in September 2018. Finally, in August 2021, management of fromis_9 would transfer to Pledis Entertainment, which is the home of boy group Seventeen and part of the broad HYBE family of labels.
Fromis_9 made their official debut on January 24, 2018 with the mini-album To. Heart and the lead single “To Heart,” which received a music video in tandem. To. Heart contains six tracks in total: “나에게로 오는 길 (Intro.),” “To Heart,” “환상속의 그대,” “피노키오,” “Be With You,” and “유리구두 (MAMA Ver.).” “To Heart” was composed by the duo of Iggy and Seo Yongbae, known for, among other things, composing several early GFriend hits, like “시간을 달려서 (Rough)” and “너 그리고 나 (Navillera).” Fromis_9 performed “To Heart” on television for the first time on M Countdown on January 25, 2018.
Mnet Idol School Vote Rigging Controversy
After their debut, fans would look forward to and enjoy many years of great fromis_9 music and comebacks — though Jang Gyuri would leave the group in July 2022 to focus on her acting career. However, the original series that created the group, Idol School, would receive increasing scrutiny and claims of sabotage regarding the fan voting that was at the core of the series. In September 2019, roughly two years after the series had ended, South Korean police began investigating Idol School for vote rigging. (This was spurred on by similar, legitimate claims of manipulation on the 2019 Mnet series Produce X 101.) In November 2020, the producer in charge of Idol School admitted that vote manipulation had occurred during the series, at least to the extent that they had changed the value of normal votes versus text votes without informing the public.
Ultimately, in June 2021, chief producer Kim Tae-eun was sentenced to one year in prison for charges of obstruction of business and fraud, while an Mnet business manager Kim had to pay a fine of 10 million won. Kim Tae-eun would only serve eight months in prison in total, and she ultimately ended up working for Mnet again, amid public controversy. The investigation into Idol School occurred amid a larger investigation of Mnet series vote rigging. Fortunately, fromis_9 itself largely avoided the fallout of this controversy, but boy group X1, created by Produce X 101, was tragically not so lucky.
In summary, fromis_9 made their debut on January 24, 2018 with the mini-album To. Heart, but the Mnet survival competition that created the group, Idol School, engaged in confirmed vote manipulation that resulted in fines and prison time. Fromis_9 has prospered despite the controversy, but their popularity faced undeserved challenges as a result of this scandal. For more about the group, check out how old the fromis_9 members currently are or who their leader is.