The one who is called the ace of Morning Musume '14 is the 9th generation member, Sayashi Riho. Her delicately adorable appearance belies the high quality of her dance skills, which has drawn attention to her ever since the auditions. She is the one who most often takes the center position in Morning Musume '14 now.
Sayashi Riho is a hard worker. She may have picked up her dance skills at Actors School Hiroshima, but she has had to grind her singing ability from level zero like everyone else.
Even so, from the moment she joined, she has had more lines than her fellow generation-mates, and following the graduation of Niigaki Risa and Mitsui Aika, the next new single under the leadership of Michishige Sayumi, "One Two Three", saw her share center with 6th generation member Tanaka Reina, taking a large share of the singing parts. In the following autumn concert tour right after, her singing parts were also abruptly increased.
The parts that had once belonged to her seniors, she was now made to sing them all. Even though the fans themselves had been looking forward to see who would inherit the lines of those who had graduated, the gaps left by Takahashi Ai and Niigaki Risa, who had been the vocal mainstay of Morning Musume for so many years, were probably too huge to fill immediately.
She may not have inherited all their parts, but what she did inherit would prove a serious challenge to her abilities at the time. It might have been a basic requirement for idols to be able to sing while dancing, but keeping up with the intensive dancing Morning Musume required while singing unfamiliar and challenging new parts could not have been an easy task, be it skill-wise or even mentally and emotionally.
Around that time, her voice would often grow hoarse towards the end of a concert, high notes would often spiral out of control, and you could see how she seemed high-strung and unsettled.
However, as she gained more experience with every performance, she seems to have learned from those and begun to change. Even Tanaka has this to say: "Sayashi studies how I sing, and adopts the techniques for her own".
And yet, she chooses not to demonstrate evidence of her working hard, and has said that she has never considered all the hard work to be too harsh on her. Even if it had been too harsh on her, it is possible that she would never show it to others around her. It is entirely likely that for her, giving her all in order to produce the best possible performance was just a normal thing she had to do. It may also have led others to believe that she could do anything, but I believe that she simply works at it until she can do it. This may seem like just a simple, everyday thing, but actually putting it in practice is far more difficult.
There has always been a stiffness to her expression as she continued her struggle onstage. Obviously she has to be smiling while on stage, but one could still spot the nervousnessness and tense determination on her face. But that has started to shift slightly from somewhere around last year.
The expressions she projects towards the fans, as well as the eye contact she exchanges with the other members have all softened somehow, and it shows how she has come to enjoy the performances for themselves. Her expressions we are able to see live on stage have now come to be filled with both pride and joy.
It is possible that her trust and composure in her surroundings, as well as her own growing confidence in her performance ability, has projected itself through her aura. If you were to watch her now, you can truly feel that she is having fun, and in a way, that is truly moving.
Just a few years ago, the little Sayashi that was still so young was trying her best to look as mature as possible in order to catch up to her seniors. While that had been interesting in its own way, watching her now after she has accumulated all that experience with each new stage, and seeing her grow in confidence and ability from all the hard work she has put in, that famously smug expression of hers suddenly evokes a deeper emotion.
With the addition of the 12th generation members come 2015, it is possible that other members apart from Sayashi may take the center spot, but this is precisely what makes Morning Musume interesting. Even if she is no longer standing in the center of the formation, she has already become a strong pillar of support within the group, the steady presence that will draw them all onward.
While she has overcome many challenges ever since joining the group, the upcoming graduation of Michishige Sayumi on November 26 will prove to be the greatest trial, not only for her, but for the group as well. And then there is also the wall known as the "Golden Era", or in other words, the Morning Musume of the past.
Even so, though she has her worries and doubts, it is clear that she has already found the conviction within herself to shoulder the burden of Morning Musume and its future. In inheriting the soul and legacy of the group, while striving to lead them to their next revival and also aiming to head to even greater heights for herself, surely she will continue working even harder from now on.
However, while the cool Sayashi on stage is indeed impressive, the fact that she managed to grow mold instead of mint, or the fact that she is said to be too shy to communicate properly with others -- all these things just serve to enhance the gap between her stage persona and herself as a normal girl, which is why I will secretly hope that she continues being awkward like this forever