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Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011
Japan's wildly popular all-girl idol franchise starts to expand overseas
Indonesian girls vie to join AKB48 overseas sister group
By CHRISTINE T. TJANDRANINGSIH
JAKARTA — An AKB48 song blares from a hall in central Jakarta, as 44 girls inside wearing colorful gym clothes and cute sport shoes follow the instructions and movements of their performance instructor.
The song, "Heavy Rotation," is the 17th single by all-girl group AKB48, one of Japan's most popular idol groups. The girls in the park are auditioning for JKT48, which by the end of the year will be formed in Jakarta and become the teen idols' first official overseas sister group.
Billed as a "unique idol group with Indonesian culture," the auditions for JKT48 have attracted hundreds of girls, some as young as 13, while others are in their 20s.
Ayana Shahab, 14, whose mother is Japanese and father Indonesian of Arab descent, has been a fan of AKB48 for years.
"AKB48 are my idols, because they are cool . . . and nice to their fans," Shahab, one of the finalists for JKT48, said during a break in her training.
"I want to be like them and that's why I applied to become a member of JKT48," said Shahab, a junior high school student.
Delima Rizki, 14, and Pamela Chelsea Taroreh, 13, hadn't heard of AKB48 before the sister group plan was announced, but saw the auditions as an opportunity to experience new things and make new friends.
"Actually, I had no knowledge of AKB48, so I thank God a lot that I was selected to be one of the finalists," Rizki said.
Her friend, Taroreh, laughed and echoed the same view, saying: "I didn't know the group was very popular around the world. I only learned it was popular when I joined the auditions."
After exhaustive auditions that included singing, dancing and interviews, 48 applicants were chosen as finalists in late September.
Four of the finalists dropped out soon after, but the remaining 44 girls have to take gym and performance classes from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, before the final audition in early November.
"It sounds tiring, but as I love singing and dancing, I enjoy it," said Zipora, 21, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name.
She had also never heard of AKB48 until her elder brother told her about the group and encouraged her to audition for JKT48.
"I often go to Singapore, to the AKB48 Official Cafe, to see their concerts," said her 26-year-old brother, Audi. "I really love their songs and especially how they dance and entertain the audience. I've collected their CDs and everything about them."
The AKB48 cafe in Singapore is the first overseas site where the group's fans can get together for a drink or a meal, and, if they're lucky, even get to meet their idols. Since opening in July, the cafe has attracted fans from across Asia.
"When I heard they were going to launch JKT48, I immediately encouraged my sister to join because she's a talented dancer and singer," Audi said.
He is a founder of the AKB48 Indonesia Fans Club, which has about 500 — mostly male — members, ranging from about 10 to 30 years old.
When AKB48 member Minami Takahashi participated in a publicity event at a Jakarta shopping mall in early October, the audience was made up of mostly boys and young men.
"I hope JKT48 can create new, real Indonesian idols who will be internationally recognized like AKB48," said Agus Suryadi, a 20-year-old university student and a fan of AKB48 since 2009.
At the event in the shopping mall, he danced wildly and joined the other fans in singing the lyrics to the group's latest song: "I feel you! I touch you! I hold you!"
AKB48 was formed in 2005 by TV and music producer Yasushi Akimoto, based on the concept of "idols you can meet every day."
AKB48 consists of more than 60 girls who perform in three separate teams, and the group stages almost daily shows at its own theater in Tokyo's Akihabara district. AKB48 has also performed around the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Moscow, Singapore and Shanghai.
Three domestic sister groups have alerady been formed — SKE48 in Nagoya, NMB48 in Osaka and HKT48 in Fukuoka.
The first JKT48 team, comprising 16 girls, is expected to debut around the end of the year, with Akimoto as producer.
A second overseas sister group, to be formed in Taiwan and dubbed TPE48, is expected to start performing next summer.