The following exchange between Tahara and AkiP about Maeda Atsuko is an excerpt from their recent book about AKB48's business strategy.
- Auditions are for filtering out the "already made" girls
T: Here I want to hear about members. About Maeda Atsuko, who was center and graduated. Why was she center? There were girls who sang and danced better, but why did you pick her?
A: Because I thought she was the least suitable for center. Fans are looking for Cinderella stories, where an unfortunate, often bullied girl with only rags to wear turn into a princess.
We want fans to experience and see for themselves how a girl with absolutely nothing can become something because of their support. This is why we can't start with beautiful girls or princesses.
It is quite unfortunate, but the type that I eliminate the most from auditions is the "already made" type.
T: Ah I see, so you drop those that are "already made".
A: It's not hard to imagine how girls with production experiences will turn out here. Not just me, but even the fans would think that the girls are talented and can improve without their support. For my production, I think it's boring and we don't need that in AKB48.
And then you have Maeda Atsuko, who screamed "No!" and cried when I told her that she will sing as the center of AKB48. Everyone else wanted to be the center and perform solo songs. If I produce those girls and let them be complacent at the center position, there would be no drama. That's why we had to have Maeda Atsuko.
T: But the audience didn't know that she didn't want it and cried, right?
A: That's not true, fans always notice these minor nuances. This is why we have stage performances every day at the theater.
Fans that come every day might notice something and think, "Seemed like Acchan was in a bad mood today. That was kind of weird and maybe something happened." They would blog about it and forums would be abuzz with discussions. After a week, maybe someone would catch something about how she cried when we told her about being center and recording songs. This would then spread and fuel more discussions. Fans are somehow able to cross the line between the stage and the seats. They are very sensitive to information that is not directly divulged on stage.
- Maeda Atsuko has an aura of genius
T: She was not a talker. Not suitable for center, right?
A: She couldn't talk at all. But we made her center anyway because we think she has an aura of genius.
T: What exactly is an aura?
A: Aura. I don't think I can explain it very well. Maybe it's like amino acids. When you go have a bowl of ramen at a street stall or a cart, you think "Why is this ramen so good?" But you don't feel that way when you go to a 5-star hotel and have the ramen that's on the menu there. I don't know if it's amino acids or inosonic acid, but it sure has something special.
Maeda Atsuko has that "something special". No one told her what to say, but she came up with "I only have one wish. You may hate me, but please don't hate AKB". She has that kind of stroke of genius.
T: "You may hate me", that was what she said when her antis started chanting her name during the announcement of second place. She said that even though she was pretty much told that she should just be in second place. It reminds me of Nagashima Shigeo when I said "Giants are Forever". Did you teach her to say tha?
A: No way (laughs). If I were to write a script, it wouldn't have been that realistic. When members ask me what they should say, I usually just say, "Don't think too much and decide on one thing. Thank the fans, or say you're not satisfied with your place, just say one thing that's on your mind.". I never tell them "say exactly this."
And the members caught this, too. Like Shinoda Mariko's "Younger members, please come at me." Just wow, I mean, you can't make this stuff up, it's realistic and very interesting. As for Maeda's aura, the "plus alpha" that only she has, it's not so different from what the celebrities say when they describe someone with an unique aura.