Ahead of this weekend’s finale of Top Class, I’ve finally caught up with the Filipino audition program aiming to form the next hit P-pop group. And it’s been pretty good. Both on its own as a TV show and competition as well as a sign of P-pop’s rapid rise. Far from perfect, to be sure. But a solid production.
Now a few years ago, I put together a pitch for a potential Produce 101 Philippines. At the time, the modern P-pop movement was still very much in its infancy with SB19 starting to make a name for themselves in the Philippines and abroad. But the PD101 brand (and imitations) produced immediate successes in its home country of South Korea and has since also done the same in Japan and China. So a Philippine iteration was a no-brainer. Even more so now in 2022.
So when Top Class was first announced, I was happy to see it. It wasn’t Produce 101, but an audition program nonetheless. And really, the only reason I’d probably prefer a full-on local adaptation of Produce 101 is its global name-recognition which in turn would help the potential winning group quickly gain fans not just in the Philippines, but abroad as well.
Still, it was great to hear about Top Class and I was excited to eventually watch it.
Before we get to the show and competition itself, I definitely want to talk about the lead-up to the series’ premiere. So, Top Class would air episodes on TV5 every Saturday at 5pm. Not the most marquee timeslot on TV5’s schedule. But it would become clear that TV5 was not necessarily the main platform for the series.
Being a Filipino-American and not in the Philippines, my hope, as always, was that episodes would be made available somewhere. Preferably on YouTube.
For my Amazing Race Philippines, Big Brother Philippines, and yes, Produce 101 Philippines pitches, one major element shared by all is to make each show as accessible as possible to as wide an audience as possible. That includes, but is not limited to, putting full, unrestricted episodes on YouTube as well as maintaining an active social media presence on featuring highlights and extra content.
Ahead of Top Class‘ premiere, there didn’t seem to be any indication that episodes would be made available after their initial Saturday afternoon airing on TV5. But then there was a confusing moment when it was announced that episodes would replay on Kumu, iWantTFC and the international (not local) MYX channel. And no, not be available on demand. But streaming in specific timeslots.
It was really inexplicable at the time. Why limit the show’s reach instead of making the show as accessible as possible. Many people were already commenting that they wouldn’t be able to watch the episodes live on TV5 or Kumu. How would people then be able to catch the replays at odd times on streaming platforms that, let’s be blunt, aren’t the most accessible or widely available either.
Having such a restrictive roll-out really almost defeats the purpose of the show. Which is to launch a new P-pop boy group and giving them the best and widest exposure possible. Basically, try to replicate even a fraction of the immediate success of such shows like Produce 101 and others.
Thankfully, within a day or two, the producers of Top Class (which include Cornerstone Entertainment, Kumu and Cignal/TV5) listened to the potential fans and promised to upload full episodes onto an official YouTube channel. Originally, almost five days after the original Saturday airing. But eventually, the more reasonable Monday and later Sunday after the initial airing.
I’m definitely not in the business, nor have any insight or personal experience. But for me, maximizing your potential audience can only be a good thing. More people able to watch means more people able to engage with the show. The more people who talk about the show, the more potential new viewers that may be reached. And the more people who watch the show, the bigger chance for the winning group and other trainees have for post-show success.
Initially, the Kumu component of Top Class was also a bit confusing. Admittedly, I’m not very familiar with Kumu in the first place. And from what little experience I had with Kumu before this year, it essentially felt like a mobile-friendly Filipino version of a Twitch or something like that.
But as Top Class progressed, Kumu’s part in the competition as well as part of the trainees’ journeys became clear. Aside from Kumu being a co-producer of course, Top Class maintained what was essentially a 24/7 feed of content. A mixture of replay episodes, discussions and chit-chat from Kumu influencers about happenings on the Top Class campus and actual look-ins at the trainees on campus, Big Brother live feeds-style. Kumu was also the voting platform for fans to support their favorite trainees via gifts and the like.
I was not expecting that live feed aspect of the competition though. But it was a solid addition to the format and something that sets it apart from other similar competitions locally and abroad.
Having a diverse platform approach is good, however. The series maintained a TikTok account too, featuring some clips from the Kumu livestream as well as the usual TikTok content of dance covers and trends.
But maybe, posting more polished and edited clips of things like classes and workshops that can’t make the TV airing and even little vlog-type videos would’ve added a lot as well.
Top Class Indeed
One of the series’ biggest positives is the actual “class” aspect of the competition. Seeing the trainees actually getting classes and workshops was very interesting to watch. And a welcome sight as well since fans and the audience rarely see that kind of behind-the-scenes preparation for pop groups.
The partnership with National University to turn one of its campuses into the Top Class campus for a few weeks was quite perfect. Not only did it give the visual feel of actual training, it was also practical as trainees and the production didn’t have to shuttle themselves over to studios and other facilities.
I assume National University needed their campus back before the show was over, so production was moved to a big mansion of some sort. But still, the overall training component of the competition was well thought-out and executed very well.
The TV show aspect of Top Class actually focused a lot more on that training rather than actual performances. And I’ll talk more about that lack of performances in a little bit.
I know Top Class aimed to be a multi-platform experience with heavy focus on Kumu. But again, when it comes to accessibility and exposure, I think maybe they should’ve put in a bigger effort on the TV broadcast. (And that TV broadcast refers to both its initial airing on TV5 and on demand replays on YouTube.)
Comparisons are unavoidable, so I’ll bring up two other competition shows that Top Class could’ve borrowed more from.
Most recently, TV5’s own POPinoy (co-produced with TAPE Inc.) featured already formed boy and girl groups competing to win P7.5 million worth of prizes, endorsement deals and talent contracts. And of course, ultimately getting to officially debut.
Aside from the weekly TV5 broadcast, the series also featured several daily shows of extra content on YouTube as well as on Cignal. Those extra hours included features getting to know the contestants as well as following their preparations for performances, workshops with various people in the industry and other behind the scenes content.
Very similar to what Top Class has done, though Top Class has been limited primarily to Kumu and on a streaming and not on demand basis. But POPinoy‘s bigger advantage was having their contestants performing weekly.
Having more opportunities for the contestants to showcase their talents is only a good thing. And certainly gives fans more opportunity to get to know what each contestant is capable of.
Maybe a more direct comparison would be to GMA Network’s To The Top. There can be a whole discussion about how GMA gave up on the eventual group that was formed, but also how the network pretty much gave up on the show itself midway through its run. One infamous incident was when the network pushed an episode’s airing to almost midnight one week, showing how little they actually cared about the success of the show and its eventual winners.
But To The Top‘s broadcast format may have been something Top Class could’ve adopted as well. If I remember correctly, To The Top aired on both Saturday and Sunday. Its Saturday episode was focused mostly on the week’s training activities and performance preparations. As well as of course the usual reality competition show drama. Then, the Sunday episode featured the contestants’ performances, the usual judges/mentor commentary and then the regular eliminations.
Not everyone will be able to follow along every day. So having two one hour shows that can be watched every week can help at least keep fans and the audience interested. While also encouraging them to consume more of that extra content.
Top Class‘s irregular elimination schedule kind of highlighted the competition’s maybe loose format. And a loose format is okay. But it’s also hard to follow along and really get a chance to know the trainees. Especially when there aren’t many actual performances/practical exams to judge them by.
Again, it was great to see the trainees actually get good workshops and training from the mentors and guests in all aspects of pop stardom. Not just the basics of singing, dancing and rapping, but also styling, image and branding among other things.
It’s basically a short course of what Korean talent agencies put their trainees through over many years. And it’s always fascinating to see a little bit of an inside look at the process. Especially as P-pop continues its rise.
But sometimes the heavier focus on that learning process held the series, and yes, the trainees, back from truly showing off their full potential.
Top Class came across many times as more of a docuseries instead of a competition. And again, there’s no problem with a documentary-style series following the formation of a P-pop group. But Top Class was billed as a competition with heavy fan engagement. And while they may have gotten lots of Kumu money (diamonds? I dunno lol), the actual competition aspect was a bit diluted.
Basically, I would’ve just liked to have seen more actual singing and dancing alongside the great, immersive look at the hard work that the trainees put into learning and performing off stage.
Also, I very much appreciated the focus on Filipino music rather than leaning on K-pop or even western music. But I also would’ve liked a bit more variety in music choices. I suppose there were limitations based on which companies are friendlier, so to speak, when it comes to music rights or cross-promotion. But with the lack of actual performances/practical exams, the lack of variety maybe stood out a bit more.
To be honest, Top Class started off very strong and very fast. But seemed to lose steam as it neared its finale. Ten weeks seemed both too short and too long, for some reason. I don’t know how else to describe it. But as the series progressed and especially when they moved out of National University, it seemed to lose a bit of its polish and even some of its excitement and energy.
Overall, Top Class has been a solid production. It might not be the big splash that a brand like Produce 101 would be. But it was a well-thought out and respectably executed homegrown production.
I was pretty late to the P-pop scene. Only really starting to check out this new rising crop of P-pop artists earlier this year. But it’s been great to watch how fast P-pop is rising not just at home, but abroad too. Seeing non-Filipinos enjoying and loving and even just appreciating Filipino talent in a way that’s maybe only been seen for Korean artists in the last couple of years is really wonderful.
Though many things could’ve been done differently, Top Class has nonetheless done a solid job to help further promote P-pop. And while the competition aspect is wrapping up, the journey for the trainees is only just beginning. And perhaps that will actually be much more exciting to watch moving forward.