Japan teen girl group AKB48 invites mature applicants

TOKYO - Japanese commercial music juggernaut AKB48 is looking to build on its wildly successful all-girl group by adding a more mature member to its teen-dominated line-up, an advert released Wednesday said.

The collective, whose 90-plus singers and dancers are rotated in and out of the limelight according to their waxing and waning popularity, regularly pump out songs that sell more than a million copies.

But now the management group behind one of the most successful brands in showbiz is looking to branch out of the teen and early-20s demographic.

"AKB48 is inviting applicants for a project called 'Otona (adult) AKB48'," announced a full-page advertisement in the Yomiuri Shimbun, the world's biggest-selling newspaper, which shifts 10 million copies a day.

"The only condition for qualification is that the woman is over 30 years old, with no upper limit.

"Applicants can be entertainment professionals or amateurs, married or single, self-appointed or recommended -- none of these matter."

Applications are being accepted until March 28, and the winner will be selected on April 12.

The putative appointee -- dubbed "juku-doru" ("Ripe Idol") by Japan's tabloid press -- will have a limited run with the group and will be signed only until the summer.

AKB48, one of the most lucrative groups of all time, is part pop act, part talent show, where a member's time on the front line is determined by how much adoration they inspire from fans.

The most popular girls or young women remain a part of the core group that sings and dances their way through formulaic bubblegum tunes. Those who fall out of public favour are demoted to a sub-group in an organisation structured somewhat like a football league.

Much of the group's appeal lies in frequent opportunities for fans to meet them, chat with them or befriend them on social networking sites.

This strategy, combined with flesh-baring outfits, has also given them a huge following among Japanese businessmen.

The new member of the Otona AKB48 project will take part in hand-shaking events and live concerts as well as a television commercial for confectionary maker Glico, the advert said.

The pop collective has previously courted controversy in what commentators say is a brazen marketing strategy.

In one commercial, several attractive girls were shown passing bite-sized candies seductively from mouth-to-mouth, sparking criticism from conservative quarters that they were "encouraging homosexuality".

The group is in constant demand for advertising and has been involved in promotions for products as diverse as canned coffee and government bonds, while fronting a campaign aimed at reducing teenage suicide.

An annual "general election" determines who becomes leader of the group, with ballot slips only available to those who buy their latest single.