After a lengthy investigation into Mnet‘s multiple survival show vote manipulation scandals, the chief producer of Idol School has now been sentenced to one year in prison. However, while some justice has been served, one Idol School contestant will never get back what she lost: 26-year-old Lee Hae In.
From the very start of Idol School, Lee Hae In (who previously ranked 17th on Produce 101) was one of the most popular contestants. In episode one, she even ranked 1st overall, remaining in the top two for several weeks. However, from episode five onwards, Hae In’s position dropped suddenly and dramatically. By episode six, she was out of the top nine ranking completely, and she was ultimately eliminated from Idol School in the finale.
At the time, netizens launched a petition demanding the truth about why then-23-year-old Lee Hae In didn’t make it into fromis_9—and they were right to be suspicious. Back in a 2019 exposé, Hae In told MBC‘s PD Note that she was disqualified from the show because the producers had already decided fromis_9’s lineup regardless of the final votes. Now, the police investigation into Mnet’s vote manipulation has confirmed that Hae In was indeed eliminated unfairly.
When the Seoul Central District Court sentenced Idol School‘s chief producer Kim Tae Eun to one year of imprisonment yesterday, the judges also brought up the case of Lee Hae In. According to the investigation conducted into Mnet‘s fraud accusations, the chief producer decided to remove Lee Hae In from the show despite her no.1 ranking because “she did not fit in with the overall vibe of the debut group.”
The investigation went on to reveal that Kim Tae Eun had asked the show’s executive production director whether it would be “okay” to eliminate Hae In given her first-place position. The executive director agreed, and Kim went on to eliminate her from the show. Idol School‘s finale aired back in September 2017—so where is Lee Hae In now, almost four years later?
After her unfair elimination from Idol School, Lee Hae In wrote a letter to fans thanking them for their support and assuring them that she’d continue working towards her dream. Hae In and her father later revealed that CJ ENM told her to sign a contract with them and promised to debut her in another group called Idol School Class 1 later in the year. However, this turned out to be a lie. Since Hae In was tied into her CJ ENM contract for a year, she wasn’t even able to leverage her popularity to advance her career under another agency.
As such, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Lee Hae In’s career went quiet for several years. Aside from opening an Instagram account and attending a show at Seoul Fashion Week in 2018, fans didn’t hear much from her again until 2019, when Mnet finally came under investigation for vote manipulation. In her PD Note interview, Hae In made several shocking revelations about Idol School. The former contestant revealed that the members were subjected to unsafe living conditions that caused skin rashes, and that trainees as young as 12 years old were left crying due to hunger.
Hae In went on to divulge that the contestants were made to film at absurd hours, including at 4 a.m., and revealed that some trainees even broke a window to escape from the physical toll. The prosecution later requested Lee Hae-in to testify as a witness to the fraudulent goings on. Thankfully, from that point on, things began looking up somewhat.
In December 2019, Lee Hae In held her first fan meeting in Seoul, with all proceeds donated to charity. Then, in July 2020, she signed with a new agency: The Groove Company, which later became Big Ocean ENM in a merger.
After working hard to prepare, Lee Hae In was finally able to make her solo debut in November 2020 with her first single, “Santa Lullaby,” which she co-wrote the lyrics for herself.
However, that doesn’t mean she’s achieved the stardom she deserved just yet. In a December 2020 interview with Idol Olympic on YouTube, Lee Hae In made the heartbreaking confession that she has “zero money.” Hae In went on to reveal that she’d been working multiple part-time jobs just to survive, including at a café, on a set, and as a fitting model.
Ultimately, Lee Hae In hasn’t had an easy journey since being unfairly eliminated from first place on Idol School, and her life now would certainly be a lot different had she made it into fromis_9. That said, judging by her Idol Olympic interview, Hae In seems to have made peace with how she was treated. Now, fans can only hope she continues to rise and achieve everything she deserves.