Idol Survival shows might have taken a beating in Korea, but in China they’re thriving. Youth With You Season 2 (also known as the Han Dong/Aurora Exchange Program) is a show I have often talked about tangentially, but now I have the chance to recap the show’s 3rd season as it goes along. A mix of survival show once-again’ers, Tik-Tok stars, big company trainees and dark horses again vie for the chance to debut in a group.
You can watch the show from the beginning w/ English subtitles here at iQiyi: https://www.iq.com/play/ao5v2gegss
**Note: The show has some Xtreme firewalling going on, lemme know if these videos work for you or not in the comments.
Rival show (and the legitimate licensee of the Produce 101 property) CHUANG2021 is also broadcasting their latest season concurrently. However, the wide gulf of quality between the two shows from last season has biased me towards YWY. For curiosity’s sake I’ve seen a little bit of the the new season, and while at least their editing issues have been fixed, they’ve already stirred up controversy featuring a swath of European and Caucasian contestants (think Lana times 10). So while CHUANG continues to search for a brand identity, YWY3 is only building on the success of last season, and is just a smoother experience at this point in time. I won’t be covering CHUANG (unless there’s a huge outcry for me to talk about Ukranian balladeers in C-Pop) (and I guess Amber Liu as well).
So, without further ado, lets go on a journey, with some beautiful, bald boys.
Because of the trend of having like, five Episode 0’s, Episode 1 dispenses with the formalities, hustling in our boys and introducing the judges.
Chris Lee is a well-established pop star, famous for her androgyny and her edge-of-mainstream career path. I still remember when she did the single with PC Music, it was a huge deal at the time.
BLACKPINK’s Lisa is also back, this time doing her tutoring remotely. While it’s great to see her back and she is of course a major draw especially for K-Pop fans, her best moments in season 2 were her in-person sessions with the trainees. So muted expectations from me.
Li Ronghao is no stranger to Idol Survival, mentoring on both prior male-trainee seasons of Idol Producer/YWY, as well as The Voice. He’s definitely figured out his cool, quiet persona, compared to his genteel awkwardness ever-present in the first season.
Wilbur Pan is so gleefully corny; every facet of his stage presence screams “Hey There Fellow Kids”. It’s kind of charming. Veteran of The Rap of China series, he probably fits better in an idol context than trying to keep it street.
And oh yeah breakout star and 2nd place winner from season 2 Esther Yu is back in all her love-her-or-hate-her glory. I’m pretty sure the judges already hate her.
Cut to the trainees already in the auditorium. The first challenge is presented: Instead of meeting the judges, they will first be grilled by a collection of “media” based on the dossiers they filled out for the show. Those with interesting dossiers/looks/gimmicks get tossed a few hardball questions; those without are asked to awkwardly stand on stage until time is up. Youth With You’s selling point has always been it’s ability to play to its trainees’ personalities and this mini-challenge emphasizes this trend will continue.
Some trainees handle the stage like pros, some buckle under the stress of public speaking. Some charm the reporters through witty retorts, some push back with brash masculinity, some are relentlessly honest and direct. And some are just so darn cute they don’t need to do anything. Throughout the entire affair, screams of “加油!!!!” erupt from the trainees still waiting. These bro’s are broing the f- out already.
Rimiko shaking and screaming like a scared kitten is pretty incredible. Both IKELILI and Hosky sassing back at the reporters gave me Song DongPyo vibes. In fact, there’s maybe a dozen Song DongPyo’s in this lot. Ayu is an absolute terror.
And then finally we get our first taste of Liang Sen.
The Malaysian actor/singer just crushes the whole show with his cueball head and choice of pearl necklace. His answers are somehow equal parts confident and anxious, it’s an absolute spectacle and I’m loving every second of it.
After all this is over, the trainees are sent to the dorm to unpack and get a good night’s (morning?) sleep.
The next day the trainees are finally introduced to the judges, each entering with a performance and a quote conveying their expectations for the trainees. Even Esther gets a solo stage, which isn’t half bad.
Immediately after introductions, the show goes right into the Grading Performances. They’ve stripped down the ranks, with just A, B, C and N (newbie) levels.
First up are the big boys, Produce Pandas, going up against HKBX Entertainment. Lisa is asked which group catches her eye and she says the paunchy Pandas are incredibly intriguing to her. Poor HKBX, set up to fail as an example of a typical, unremarkable boy group. The Pandas impress with their surprisingly agile stage performance, tacking on a dance cover of “Kill This Love” for Lisa. We can probably expect a lot of this type of pandering all season. HKBX follow and elicit a round of “not bad’s” from the judges. The entire lot of them get C grades, except Zheng Xingyuan from HKBX who snags a B.
Astro Entertainment’s Tony is included in the next duel. You might remember Tony from Produce X 101, where he stumbled his way into 20th place. More notably, his final vote total became the base number which was used to manipulate the rest of the results. We can most likely expect a redemption arc here, now that he can actually speak the show’s native language. And before we get his rank…. Episode over.
So even in just the first episode, Youth With You S3 is dead set on doing what they do best, emphasizing the unique personalities of as many of their trainees as possible. And it’s precisely this formula that makes YWY one of the best Idol Survival shows to exist.