"Hello, I'm Shim Changmin. I'm thirty-one this year … I'm a sous-chef. I love to cook, and I love to sing. I chased my dreams in the kitchen in my twenties. I'll like to try to do that for singing, in my thirties. Thank you."
-- SHIM Changmin (31), chef.
"Hi! Nice to meet you. My name is Jung Yunho. I'm a dance teacher and choreographer, and I'm thirty-three years old. I've always loved singing since I was young. I even tried out at SM Entertainment's auditions when I was a teenager, haha! I'll go as far in this journey as you'll allow me! Please do give me your support. Thank you so much!"
-- JUNG Yunho (33), choreographer.
Changmin shoves the edges of his mouth into a smile and bows again. "Thank you."
The assistant producer ("call me Jooyoung, let's talk comfortably") laughs, stepping back together with the cameraman assigned to him. "You're so nervous, Changmin. Loosen up! There's quite a distance to go."
He picks at the cuffs of the shirt he's been dressed in. "Er, yes. Thank you for the advice. I will try."
Jooyoung laughs again and apparently decides to take pity on him. "Come on, Jihwan. We'll be back later for some pick up shots later, Changmin! The head producers will come brief all of you then."
He's left alone again for the third time today and it isn't quite noon yet. It's educational, at least - before today, he didn't know that variety would involve so much waiting.
Taking a deep breath, he exhales. "What am I doing here?"
"Here" at the moment, physically was a pretty-ish sort of a garden 'round the back of a mansion that is his home for the next six months.
"Here" at the moment, metaphorically, feels more and more like a hole he has no idea how to crawl out from.
A hole that his mentor and boss, Hyunseok, personally shoved him into, barely two months ago.
"You're the one belting ONE OK ROCK in my kitchen, he said," Changmin mutters, meandering around a bend dotted with colourful flowers he doesn't know the name to. He spends too long a time in the kitchen indoors. "Just because you can make a mean cacio e pepe doesn't mean you shouldn't develop your other skillsets, he said."
He has arrived at the back door. Changmin lets himself in; it's a dinky little mudroom, which opens up quickly into a large kitchen. He looks at the counters longingly, but it's clearly designed to be TV rather than taste friendly. The stove consists of only electric burners.
It's pretty, though quite cold-looking. Out of place for what is positioned as a home, for a little while. Steel and chrome and a giant kitchen island made out of what looks like a continuous slab of black Italian marble.
He wonders if it's real, or maybe the production staff just have a very talented props department.
He dawdles, touching the edges of the cupboards absently, but the whole point of this not-quite-but-rapidly-approaching-a-nightmare was to push him out of his comfort zone, so he exits, heading to the public rooms.
Changmin skirts the game room and practice rooms. There are voices audible, so clearly some of the others are inside still recording their introductions.
He only took twenty minutes. But Changmin knows better than think he finished early because he's a hitherto undiscovered variety genius.
Jooyoung had actually burst out into laughter after his eighth take, "ah, I think that's enough, maybe. We'll be able to work something out of it."
Maybe he'll be so boring, the audience will hate him and he'll be asked to go home. And if it happens that way, maybe Hyunseok won't throw a fit and then an unripe avocado at his head.
Unripe avocados are quite effective as instruments of blunt force trauma. Changmin can attest to it from past experience.
His phone chirps. He pulls it out (he can't believe they'll all have to surrender their phones tomorrow, when actual training starts!) and blinks at the screen. "Is he psychic?"
Don't you dare get yourself disqualified before the competition actually starts, the text reads. I rang your mother that you've joined Sing! Idol.
Aa if on cue, his phone rings. He yelps, phone clattering onto the wooden floorboards with a few thuds.
Two rooms down, another assistant producer yanks a door open, a horrific scowl on her face. "Quiet on set!" She hisses. "We're rolling!"
"Sorry! Sorry," Changmin absolutely does not squeak, fingers fumbling to grip his phone. She scowls harder and pulls the door shut.
He looks down. It's still ringing.
Mother, the screen flashes.
"Shit shit oh shi-" Changmin whisper-shouts, scurrying to the foyer and up the central staircase, where the rooms are located on the first floor. He darts into the first empty one, pressing his back against the wall.
It looks like someone's already dropped off their luggage - there's a hoodie draped over the armchair, and a pair of trainers tucked carelessly under the desk. But Changmin just needs a quiet space for a short while.
He takes yet another deep breath and answers. "Mother. Good morning."
"You unfilial little bastard," his mother snaps.
"It's very good to hear your voice," Changmin says. "What lovely weather we are having."
"You're an oily little shit with no manners," his mother continues. "What a nasty boy you are."
"Yes, I'm doing well too, as you suspect," Changmin continues doggedly.
"As I suspect! Why do I have to hear from your boss that you are joining SM's new reality TV show!" His mother's voice is climbing registers that Changmin doubts even he can hit. "Do you know who is at SM!"
"Well, it appears that you know more than me," Changmin detached his phone from his ear and lowers the audio volume. Just in case. "I didn't even know SM Entertainment is the company behind this…. Can we not call it reality TV?"
"You need to get her autograph for me," his mother hisses. "You need to take a picture. A video!"
Changmin is starting to enjoy himself. "Sorry, Mother. That's not possible. We need to surrender our phones over tomorrow. The production team is very strict about potential risk for leaks."
"Infuriating child," her volume rises again, each consonant crisp and sharply enunciated. "I am disowning you and putting your sister as my firstborn on the family register. I hope you get disqualified in the preliminary rounds."
Changmin sniffs. "Well, I too hope your wish comes true. I may be allergic to cameras."
"You better end up in the top five." She growls. "Top three! I'm going to call the broadcast network hotline now. They should do a family visit segment! Those things bring the highest viewership ratings."
Changmin cocks a hip against the chair he's leaning against. "Since when are you a media strategy genius? Mother, listen to your only son. Save your energy. I'm coming home soon anyway."
"Home! What home! You haven't had dinner at my house for months! You're breaking your father's heart."
"You can blame yourself for that," he knows she can hear the smirk in his voice. "Who was it that dumped me to stage at La Cucina at the tender age of fourteen? You set me on that path, Mother."
"Well who was the horrid child who refused his chance to audition at SM Entertainment that year, just because he wanted to play with pots and pans!" His mother's voice is strident and shrill through the phone. Changmin's glad he lowered the volume. "Who was the one who denied me of getting to see Kwon BoA with my own eyes seventeen years ago! "
"Sooyeon?" Changmin suggests the sister closest to him in age, just to hear his mother screech. She doesn't disappoint.
"You invite me to visit when the producers ask you who you miss the most," she orders. "You are not taking this away from me. I am meeting Kwon BoA. Call me when you get your phone back. Eat more. I saw your picture on Hyunseok's Instagram. You look like a beanpole."
She hangs up.
Stifling a chuckle, Changmin pockets his phone. What a woman. Sometimes, he almost pities his father. But the man is very happily henpecked.
He turns to leave, but a strangled yelp leaves him at the sight of the smiling stranger leaning against the door frame. "Shit!"
"You know," the stranger says conversationally, arms crossed, "I have half a mind to report you to the producers for joining with such half-heartedness."
"You- what- I-" Wow, Changmin needs to get a grip on himself. His heart is absolutely not racing because of this (very rude!) stranger's truly fantastic looking biceps, bared in an artfully ragged top.
The smile widens to a full-blown grin. Okay, maybe Changmin is having a tiny heart attack from the shock and the sight of those white teeth.
"If you're not serious… Maybe quit now."
Changmin's heart rate is under control. What an asshole. His face is doing something that makes the other man's smile falter a little. "No one asked for your opinion. But thank you anyway, because I'm not going to sink to your level."
He doesn't expect the other man to chuckle. But that's what happens, as he pushes away from the door. Coming towards him with an outstretched hand, the asshole says, "I'm Jung Yunho."
Changmin straightens to his full height and doesn't take the hand. Good, he has about an inch on him. "Changmin."
Yunho-the-asshole lowers his hand slightly, and then he sticks it back in Changmin's face. "I'm just kidding! No need to give me the evil eye. You and your mum sound like you have a fun relationship."
Changmin blinks, and holds the waggling hand gingerly with two fingers and a thumb. Anything to stop it from flapping in his face. What an odd man. “Thank… you? Uh...”
Yunho’s smile wavers again, and then holds. “I mean, you’re kind of in my…”
“Oh.” It’s barely noon, but Changmin feels stupid for the umpeteenth time for the day. “I’m sorry! I needed a place to take the call. I’ll just- yeah-”
He wrenches open the door (since when was it shut?) and scurries out as fast as he can.
Not as fast as he likes, because Jung-whatever-is-his-name sticks his head out from the room he just left and hollers, “Nice meeting you, Changmin! See you later at the introductions!”
Changmin flees. What a nightmare.