“I’m an artist. It doesn’t matter if it’s yoga or if it’s singing. We’re all telling a story, just in different ways. We all have stories.”
-- Luna PARK (26), yoga instructor.
“--I just-- kind of-- really miss my mum-- wanna sing--”
-- KIM Yeri (20), student.
It's been a very long day, and the sun is still high in the sky.
Changmin sits awkwardly in the room he's in, but the producers have said that there shouldn’t be any unpacking yet. He's at a bit of a loss.
He fiddles with his phone, and puts it aside.
He's thinking perhaps he should venture out to explore again- the garden is nice- when yet another producer pokes her head into the room.
"Shim Changmin? Hi, I'm Soyoung," she flashes a quick smile. "Good, you haven't unpacked. Come on down to the main living room for orientation!"
"Ah, okay-" he stands, but she's already flitted off. Before today, he had felt they had to move fast in the kitchen. He once spent 15 hours on his feet without sitting down and his spine felt like it died and was dragged kicking and screaming out of the grave.
But there is moving fast continuously, and there is monotonous stretches of watching paint dry, then trying to not have whiplash as you are suddenly expected to go from zero to a hundred-twenty.
He passes another crew member who goes "Changmin- main living room! Chop chop! Three minutes!"
Changmin picks up his pace and enters. Some of the contestants are milling around, and some seem to have already found cliques to bond in. Not everyone seems to be here yet.
Whoever that decorated the living room can't seem to decide if they should go for a modern, elegant aesthetic or just simply "cosy". It gives a bit of an unexpectedly whimsical effect. The colourful bean bags scattered around shouldn't work with linen sofas and Scandinavian decor, but it does.
Three of the sofas are taken, and there's a bloke half sprawled on a heap of the beanbags. He's either having a seizure or laughing while dancing semi-horizontally. Or both.
Changmin takes a seat at the fourth sofa, an austere white-and-wood love seat. No sooner has he made himself comfortable than someone sits down next to him quietly.
He looks over. "Hello."
It's a male contestant, and he looks so young that Changmin does a double take. Did Hyunseok sign him up for a show for teenagers? Changmin already went through this when he stupidly answered the military draft at the ripe old age of twenty four and ended up in a platoon-full of nineteen year olds. The "hey old man are you running or are you dying" jokes were stale in a matter of weeks.
The other does a half-bow in their seat. "Hello."
They don't speak.
After a while, the other shifts, eyes on the rapidly filling room. "I'm… I'm Kyungsoo."
His voice is deeper than expected.
"Changmin," Changmin returns easily, but doesn't elaborate. Kyungsoo gives him a grimace that could be a grateful half-smile if he squints.
The silence is easy until it gets interrupted. A girl squeezes in between them. "Hi," she chirps. "New friends!"
She gets almost matching twitches. "Ohhhhh. Are you both shy? I'm Stephanie, but I've decided my stage name is Tiffany. You can call me Fany."
"We are both sitting at the edge of the room," Changmin returns testily. "What do you think?"
She blinks, startled. Her head moves back an inch and she narrows her eyes at him. Next to her, Kyungsoo's eyes are wide. He doesn't seem to realise that his mouth is open.
Changmin stares at her.
Tiffany-Stephanie-whoever-Fany smiles slowly. "You're mean," she decides. "Shy but mean. I like you."
"I don't know you," he volleys to her widening grin. She doesn't answer him, choosing to turn to the wider room. Kyungsoo has half-squashed himself into the arm of the love seat.
"Amber, Henry, c'mere!" She calls, and yet two others come over. Changmin's head is already spinning from trying to remember all the different names and faces.
They peer at him and Kyungsoo, as Tiffany slings her arm around each of them. "Team USA," she introduces, to Changmin and Kyungsoo's rapid blinking and Henry's exasperated "technically I am Team Canada".
"Guys, these two are The Shy Boys - I haven't gotten their names yet-"
"We haven't introduced ourselves yet," Kyungsoo says slowly. Tiffany nods sagely, turning sotto voce to her companions, "the taller one is meaner-"
Changmin opens his mouth, but a shrill whistle and clap from the middle of the room attracts their attention. They all turn back.
"Hello beautiful folks! Can I have your attention please!" It's the producer from earlier, Soyoung. Team USA flops down at his and Kyungsoo's feet like overgrown American-bred puppies.
Changmin looks around. Aside from the row of TV people in front and the frankly terrifying wall of cameras pointed at them, the people scattered over the furniture in the room number eight- ten- fourteen- eighteen- Jesus, twenty.
Soyoung claps her hands together. Several of the camera men shift and do… things? to their equipment.
"Hello, hello! Welcome," she crows, "to the inaugural Sing! Idol. We're all very pleased to have all of you here."
There's a smattering of polite applause and Changmin notices the oddball from earlier- Jung Yunho- sitting on the sofa front and centre and nearest to the camera wall. His gaze is laser-sharp and fixed on Soyoung's face.
"I'm sure all of you are no stranger to talent competitions," I am, Changmin thinks faintly, Hyunseok only said I needed to go sing in that room with the panelists and nothing about this, "but we at Sing! Idol are doing this at a larger scale than normal-"
Changmin tunes her out and lets his gaze wander, distracted and just slightly overwhelmed.
"- have got talent from China, USA, Canada-"
Oh, the actual singing show isn't that closed door session , Hyunseok had said. That was the preliminary auditions. But you just need to go stay with them for about six months. It's like the military meets cooking school but with singing. You'll like it.
"- room, so ladies get their own rooms but gentlemen, you'll have to double up-"
Changmin hasn't even exchanged proper greetings with Amber yet, but he's pretty sure the sharp edge digging into the top of his right foot is her elbow.
"- meet the three judges tomorrow, but we should-"
He squints. One of the men -boy?- hugging the edge of the room has mauve hair. It's the precise shade of the yam reduction foam he invented for the autumn menu two years ago.
"-do some icebreakers now!"
Everyone stands. He blinks, and turns to his side.
Tiffany takes pity on him. "We're playing icebreaker games to get to know everyone! Come along, Shy Boy One."
Changmin feels like he's having a prolonged traumatic flashback to his first day at freshman orientation all those years ago at the university (when he was a puny roundsman and Hyunseok had agreed with his parents that education too was important, so off he went trying to juggle classes with twelve-hour work days). Either that, or the first day of Basic Training in the military.
They're in a giant circle, all twenty of them. The terrifying wall of cameras hasn't reduced. In fact, some of the cameramen have sprouted smaller, mobile cameras and are positioned closer to them.
"Right!" Yunho claps hands, eerily similar to the way Soyoung-the-producer did earlier. She's retreated to the foot of the camera wall now, cross-legged on the floor and whispering to a male staff member.
Changmin is sandwiched in between a really young girl who looks like she belongs more in middle school than this with a half-terrified, half-determined expression on her face; and another older girl with fully bleached blonde hair. Interestingly, Bleached Blonde Older Girl seems to be muttering curses to herself.
Oddball Yunho has appointed himself as de facto leader -crew? MC?- without any dissenting opinions. There are at least five cameras trained on him and he is unfazed. "Hello friends! Shall we just go 'round the circle and introduce ourselves? Maybe we can say our names, age and profession? As well as one fact about ourselves."
Changmin sees Soyoung nodding in approval and writing something down on a clipboard.
They start with Yunho, who does a complicated looking hip shimmy and then introduces himself as a urban ballet dance instructor and choreographer with a lifelong interest in singing. They also learn he’s an ardent fan of Michael Jackson.
"Donghae, thirty-three, I'm first reserve for FC Seoul. I can't drink, I’ll fall asleep."
"Hyukjae, thirty-three, hip hop dance instructor. I uh… my feet smell." Oh, so beanbag seizure bloke is called Hyukjae.
A few titters.
"Seohyun, twenty-eight, voice actress. I like Disney."
They really sound quite boring, so Changmin thinks not for the first time today, that editors are magic.
"Taemin, twenty-six, jazz dance instructor. I actually work with Hyukjae and Yunho, and all of us didn't know each other signed up for this! What are the odds, right?"
"Kyuhyun, thirty-one, lawyer. I'm also a pro-gamer and I like to do Starcraft marathons to the entire discography of Cho Youngpil."
More polite laughter. And on it goes - there is Victoria and Zhou Mi from China, Wendy from Canada whom Henry greeted with whoops of "O Canada!", Chanyeol who raps his introduction to warmer laughter and applause, Luna who performs some crazy bendy yoga and flowed into the dhanurasana pose whilst explaining breathing flow, Minho who gets up and starts to dance some intense military dance march exercise thing, Irene who stands up and bows very correctly before doing a popular girl group dance, and more.
The young girl next to him speaks up.
She's shaking. "I-I'm Yeri. I'm twenty and I r-really love to sing a-and to e-even b-be here a-and I-I-"
She bursts into tears.
There's a brief second of horrified silence. Minho, who is on her other side, doesn't seem to know if he should comfort her or stop her tears via sheer force of will alone.
Changmin pats his pockets and comes up with a packet of tissues. It's squashed, but it'll have to do. He says very fast and casually loud, "Shim Changmin, thirty-one, I cook. I'm here because my mother wants to meet Kwon BoA."
It does the trick, even though it’s not quite the truth. He slips the tissues into Yeri's shaking fingers and pretends not to see her tears and snot, while everyone else starts good-naturedly arguing about which of the three judges they want to meet more.
The general consensus is that Kwon BoA, beloved pop icon, one of South Korea's most valuable cultural exports, is The One everyone is madly -and loudly- eager to meet. But the contestants who are clearly more ballad-inclined (Kyuhyun being vehemently one of them) profess a preference for fellow judge Kim Jongkook, who is one of the few ballad belters in the industry with a successful parallel career in variety.
The dancers, perhaps more out of professional loyalty than anything else, declare themselves supremely pleased to be meeting Shim Jaewon, leading dance choreographer and SM producer, tomorrow. Hyukjae loudly insists to anyone who will listen -mainly Donghae- that him and Jaewon go way back when he had the fortune to intern in the dance practice rooms of SM Entertainment back in '05.
"Hey fuckers," a voice snaps next to Changmin, drawing a surprised lull in the chaos. It's Bleached Blonde Older Girl. "Shut the fuck up now. I haven't fucking done my introduction yet!"
Changmin is treated to the hilarious sight of the entire crew wincing as a collective. The resulting explosion of laughter shakes the rafters. Taeyeon -or Bleached Blonde Bitch as she will be called affectionately over the next few months- gets her hand shaken by almost everyone.
All twenty of them get shuffled to collect their luggage and sort out roommate matters not long after that. Changmin gazes enviously after the girls. They have the luxury of having single rooms each.
The crew makes the men do rock-paper-scissors, and the evening disappears in a whirlwind of shrieking laughter and antics hammed up for the Great Wall of Cameras.
Changmin finds himself in what will be his bedroom for the next six months with Kyuhyun, the self-professed lover of Starcraft, Cho Yongpil and Kim Jongkook. He reminds himself for the umpteenth time that if he gets himself disqualified, the daunting period of six months shrinks to a rather manageable matter of weeks.
He looks over at Kyuhyun. The other man look as shell-shocked as Changmin feels. Changmin checks the room for cameras before he opens his mouth, but Kyuhyun beats him to it.
"That was a lot, huh," he laughs weakly. Changmin joins him, and after a while they drift into silence.
He gestures awkwardly between the beds. They're identical, wooden-framed double beds separated by an elongated desk, with two chairs slotted neatly in. On the other sides of the beds are wooden bed stands in a matching wood stain. Clearly the decorator is less confused than they were in the living room, and has decided to go firmly Scandinavian hygge. A minimalist wardrobe (barely more than slats of pale wood) completes the look. "So which one…"
"I'm ok with either side of the room," Kyuhyun says, fast and simultaneous. They eye each other again.
"Sometimes I punch people in my sleep. I'm right handed."
"I smuggled in wine so the left side might be better since sunlight won't hit it." They say together again.
Changmin feels his eyebrow raise of his own accord. "Red or white…?"
"Cotê de Beaune, 2003."
"I assume you're referring to the red?"
Kyuhyun laughs. "Are you fond of Burgundy wines too?"
"I actually prefer the Catalonia reds this year. 2010 is particularly good," Changmin trails off. He can feel an answering smile on his face blossoming in parallel to the grin on Kyuhyun's face.
The other shifts to go to the left bed. His suitcase is a battered dusty blue Samsonite. "I believe, Shim Changmin, that this will be the start of a very beautiful friendship."
Changmin supposes this is when their training montage starts.
They meet the three judges the next day, but it's relatively quick (only an hour) and firmly chaperoned by cameras and crew. There’s barely enough time for everyone to gape in awe at BoA, who seems to be warm and beautiful without makeup and utterly terrifying; and be comforted by Kim Jongkook, who is brilliant singing live, and less abrasive whilst more articulate than his belligerent muscle-man variety personality suggests. The dancers have a field day with Shim Jaewon, as Yunho leads them in an impromptu Michael Jackson dance off to the tune of Billie Jean , which quickly segues into a messy rendition of Oppa Oppa, one of the latest hits Shim Jaewon choreographed for two ubiquitous boyband members under SM who decided they wanted to form a dance sub-unit.
Then the three judges are whisked away.
They need material for the first episode, they're told, whilst the cameramen having a field day over Hyukjae and Donghae reenacting the higher points of Oppa Oppa and sing-yelling that they’ve risen in Tokyo, London and Paris.
You'll get to meet the three judges again closer to the show's live date, when all of you are more or less trained for the cameras. After that you'll be ready for the judges to pick and sort into three teams that they will coach. Mind the cameras.
All of them also get their phones confiscated the same day, to the promise of getting them back right after the first episode is recorded and the teasers are released, to prevent potential leaks and exposures.
Changmin takes what will be the last opportunity in a good while to nag Hyunseok via KakaoTalk about the new seasonal menu he's supposed to be designing for winter and gets only a string of kieuks back in response.
He drops a text in the family group chat, too, but he doesn't have to worry. His father tells him he's proud that Changmin is challenging himself again, like he did at fourteen. His sisters ask him if he will get to meet the newest SM boy bands and if he'll get them their numbers. His mother overrides all of them by stating once again her order to both meet Kwon BoA and him to eat more now that he doesn't need to graze at the dishes whilst working.
Most of his other friends don't have any idea that Changmin's lost his mind and signed away the better part of a year of his life away. There are non-disclosure agreements.
So he just leaves a mass announcement on his SNS that he's taken a contract job on a cruise ship doing something with European fusion cuisine, and he’ll have very limited data access, happy Chuseok in advance everyone- which is more plausible than the reality; and surrenders his phone.
Changmin feels like he's fallen down the rabbit hole.
He's just a cook -un sous chef extraordinaire, his inner Hyunseok says prissily- who likes to sing. Who promptly spends the next few weeks with the majority of his time... not singing.
Do we pick our first song, he asks, only to be told no, training first.
All right, then. Changmin sings Wild Soul in the shower- it has been one of the rock songs on his playlist since he was a rebellious teenager, given a pair of tongs and a pan in hopes of taming him enough for minimal social interaction.
For the past decade and a half, there has been too many strangers in his life who know his face and goes "oh, so you are Choi Hyunseok's protégé". So Changmin's quite happy his fellow competitors take his "I'm Changmin, I cook" at face value and leave him in a bubble of relative peace.
After the first few days, he learns that the cameras love the more dramatic ones. Like Yeri who wouldn’t stop crying, and Seohyun who keeps lecturing people prissily on enunciation, and Minho who’s passionate about Every Single Thing, and Taemin who won’t stop stripping.
It means he doesn’t quite expect it when his bubble gets burst in a way suitably dramatic for the cameras. He can't quite decide if it was genuine or scripted for maximum audience impact.
They meet Shim Jaewon again, much earlier than their official date for a filmed meeting with the three judges, because he also doubles as their dance consultant and coach. At least for the ones who very much need help - like Changmin, and Kyuhyun, and Kyungsoo, to name a few.
Changmin knows how to juggle two hot dishes at the stove whilst plating a cold anti-pasto. Have him to do a body wave however, and his body rebels. The writers and assistant producers ask him to try and dance, then watch on in genuine horror as his limbs attempted the army clap. The expressions on the his PD-and-VJ team -Jooyoung and Jihwan- is priceless.
He’s almost used to them following him around and that comes too with the sad understanding that they’ll probably brief the editor to make sure the footage will be used over and over, in slow motion and probably other horrifying ways, even if he manages to get himself kicked out in the very first episode.
Dance training means the judge-cum-dance-coach gets to speak and to know all of them properly, which he does.
What is not expected is his double take when he finally notices Changmin, an awkward overgrown weed amongst the sleek and polished rest.
"Oh my god! Is it… It is! Shim Changmin!" Shim (unfortunately no relation) Jaewon crows. "Oh, I really love your craft- I attended the flash fusion pop-up you and Choi Hyunseok did with Lee Yeonbok last year! Damn, that dégustation- the way you guys combine European flavours with traditional Chinese taste notes- sublime! So you sing? Does your mentor know you’re here? Do you dance?"
From the corner of his eye, Changmin notices the writers -Hyejin and Jaeni- perking up, and Jihwan shifting to get a better mid-shot of him.
His brain is blank, emptied by the barrage of enthusiasm that turned into rapid-fire questioning. “Uh…”
“Changmin says he cooks,” supplies Hyukjae, who has proven to be great fun and decent company, even though his plebeian peasant taste buds don’t know the difference between jamón ibérico and prosciutto crudo.
(“But it’s all meat, right?” He asks in confusion as Kyuhyun brays with laughter at Changmin’s expression.)
Jaewon reacts with appropriate flair. He makes certain to showcase his three-quarters profile to the cameras. “He cooks! That’s like saying Messi kicks a ball around a field!”
Everyone present -all of the dancers, come to gape at their idol as well as Kyuhyun and Kyungsoo, a dry-eyed Yeri- make appropriate oohing-and-aahing noises, gazing at him with newfound respect.
Oddball Yunho smiles at him. His arms are bare again today, in another faded muscle tee. He appears to have a whole collection of them, all with enlarged armholes that show off forbidden flashes of skin whenever he moves.
Changmin feels his ears warming. To Jooyoung’s great disappointment, Changmin has obstinately refused to blush, even though the assistant producer -shadowed by the ever-present Jihwan- contrives to catch him in interesting scenarios. Just yesterday he had opened the door to Changmin and Kyuhyun’s room without preamble early in the morning. Unluckily for him, they were both lucid, sober and dressed.
But Changmin’s ears keep giving him away. He wonders crossly if he should have grown his hair to cover the reddening tips, before joining this madhouse.
“Yeah,” Jaewon says, kissing his fingers cheesily, “like that. Now we just need to make all of you dance as well as Changmin cooks. We just need to make all of you into Idols.”
They make -the contestants beg and all five assistant producers threaten- him make dinner that night. Six cameras, both roving and fixed, follow his every movement.
Discretion is the better part of valour, so Changmin had thought to outwit the producers by agreeing to the directive and then issuing innocent requests for horridly specific ingredients like salt cod, bolets and the like.
Somehow, magically, the production team found all the ingredients required for a Catalan tapas feast. So Changmin finds himself making dinner, with at least twenty-five pairs of eyes fixed on him.
This, at least, he’s familiar with.
Changmin’s been away from Hyunseok’s kitchen for three weeks. That’s three weeks of eating catered meals; too-salty kimchi jjigae and clearly canned miyeok guk. Three weeks of editing the autumn specials in his head over and over again, putting in and taking out seasonal ingredients and diversifying sauces.
Perhaps he may have been slightly pent up.
He makes enough to feed fifty people.
There’s so much food even after the initial feeding frenzy that Changhwan, yet another assistant producer, rings the executive producers to pop down to the Sing! Idol mansion to grab a bite.
“This tastes really really good and also very expensive,” Zhou Mi, the publicist from China with longer legs than Changmin and a lovely tenor voice, allows. It’s the first time anyone has spoken since they fell on the pa amb tomàquet and buñuelos de bacalao and more like a horde of starving animals nearly an hour ago. Even the cameramen have set down their mobile cameras.
Changmin wipes down the counters. He’s grazed, so he isn’t eating with them.
The ladies giggle. Amber, with her usual forthrightness, pokes at the last forlorn slice of patatas bravas, and pretends her fork isn’t already embedded in the potato and sneakily dragging it towards her. “I think we just ate a five hundred dollar bill kind of meal. And I mean American dollars.”
“Thousand dollar,” Victoria volunteers.
“What a shame we had such a brilliant feast without wine,” Kyuhyun says, sending Changmin a discreet wink. Chanyeol makes a muffled sound around his pulpo gallego to convey both his discontent and agreement.
“No, no,” Irene insists, leaning over to prod Changmin’s arm. He startles, in the middle of scrubbing at the burners, without looking at anyone. “I think it costs way more than that. Changmin? How much would be the bill if we ate at your restaurant?”
“It isn’t my restaurant,” Changmin says. The goat cheese’s left a bit of stain on the side of the stove. He scrubs harder.
“It as good as is,” Luna says, savouring her coca. “I Googled you. There’s a lot of articles about you in the past decade talking about how you are a rising star in Choi Hyunseok’s kitchens at La Cucina, then Elbon The Table. And now Choidot. And your restaurant is reservation-basis only. There is a six month long waiting list.”
A beat, then -
“Well, now it just depends if Changmin sings as well as he cooks.” Seohyun sniffs. Her morcilla pintxos is untouched. “Or have you all forgotten we are all here for a singing competition?”
She looks around at a sea of startled eyes. “Well, it’s true! This isn’t Baek Jongwon’s K Chef Battlefield. Maybe,” Changmin knows she’s aware of the cameras, but she forges ahead anyway, “maybe Changmin should have gone to join that instead of Sing! Idol, then!”
No one else says anything, so Wendy’s muttered “ohhhhh no she didn’t” is perfectly audible and probably picked up by all of the mics and still-rolling cameras.
“I think,” Yunho says, serene as Seohyun whips around to look at him. She’s looking a little scared, now. “I think we’re all very thankful that Changmin actually went to the trouble of making us an amazing dinner. Especially when this is a singing and not a food competition, and he needn’t have bothered.”
This sets off a chorus of "thank you"s, and the crew take it as their cue to start packing the equipment, hurriedly smoothing over the awkwardness. The writers Hyejin and Jaeni’s eyes are both focused on Seohyun however, and Jaeni is scribbling notes whilst talking in too-low tones to Hyejin.
Changmin turns back to wiping down the counters. His temple itches though, so he looks up again despite himself.
Oddball Yunho braces his chin with both hands and beams at Changmin. His gaze is very direct and very bright. Changmin swallows, shifting his own gaze to the left of Yunho’s ear.
Basic vocal assessment starts and it’s a mess. Changmin’s a mess. His voice, according to the trainer, a very strict Mister Jeong, is a Mess.
“Your vocal register is decent,” he intones, whilst Changmin lies on the floor and tries not to feel like he’s run a marathon. He’s done nothing but sing scales and arpeggios in the past hour. “And your head voice is stable, for someone who was self taught. I think with practice, we can push your upper register even higher than what you have right now. But your lower register is a mess! For someone who can sustain a C6 for thirteen seconds, your low and mid-octaves are barely stable. Do you only breathe when you sing high?”
He’s made to get up and immediately his slouch is taken to task. “And your posture! Really, it’s a wonder you haven’t injured yourself. Stand straight! Stop standing like you are ashamed of your height!”
Changmin blinks at the ceiling lights and tries not to die. “I- uh,” his tongue is too thick. “Used to looking down. I cook.”
“Ah,” Mister Jeong is undaunted. “Well, you’re not cooking now, are you? Look up and look straight! Look alive! From the top, once more!”
The others are also put through their paces as well, even though some of them are clearly more polished- Seohyun, Kyungsoo, Taeyeon, Wendy and surprisingly, Kyuhyun are the crème of the singing crop.
Some of them have a lot more experience in the whole singing and dancing she-bang; Henry's a music producer and Yunho has choreographed and even rearranged music for underground hip-hop and urban dance groups. Chanyeol has recorded demos. Taeyeon is arguably the most seasoned of them all, because she performs six nights a week at a smattering of Seoul's downtown pubs.
But at least Changmin isn't alone in the self-taught arena. He has Donghae, Minho, Luna, Kyungsoo and Amber to keep him company, people who love singing as an escape from their professional lives.
Everyone learns from the trainers and coaches the production team has arranged for them. Taemin laughingly calls this training period "idol boot camp, if idols start in their twenties instead of their teens".
The first time Changmin hears Kyuhyun sing is a divine revelation. It’s over a bottle, open and breathing red; and Kyuhyun goes from casually humming then properly singing This Is the Moment from Jekyll and Hyde.
As the last note quivers in the air between them, Changmin tries hard to close his mouth. He doesn’t quite succeed.
He doesn’t say anything for so long that Kyuhyun fidgets. “I had quite a few years of vocal classes- but-”
“Your voice,” Changmin says slowly, “is like a soufflé. It’s light and fluffy and pretty and it melts on your tongue and it’s a bitch and half to bake, but fuck me it is such a treat to eat.”
Kyuhyun pauses with his glass halfway to his lips. “Did you just… say… you want to… eat my voice?”
Changmin drains his glass. “I…”
“Yeah, okay,” Kyuhyun’s grinning now, and Changmin has a split second of thought how his opponents at court must be terrified at that grin and all that teeth bearing down on them. “Did you or did you not just compare my voice to a dessert? Did you or did you not say you want to eat it?”
Changmin sweats. “Well, not exactly…”
“It’s a yes or no question,” Kyuhyun pours another glass, clearly enjoying himself. It’s midnight and they have more dance training tomorrow but wine is wine. “Your answer, Chef Shim.”
“I also called your voice a bitch and a half to bake,” and then they’re both laughing hard, half-drunk bottle nearly overturned. Kyuhyun snickers, “I can’t believe you just wax lyrical over my voice!”
When they settle down, Changmin tilts his glass towards Kyuhyun in a semblance of a toast. “I think you’ll win this competition, Kyu.”
“Nah,” Kyuhyun’s smirk is self-deprecating. “I know I sing like an angel. But I can’t dance nor rap for shit.”
Nearly six weeks in. Changmin can safely say he still can’t dance, but at least he gets to sing actual songs during vocal assessment now. They’re finally deemed ready to be filmed formally for their first (!!) challenge, being chosen by the judges and sorted into the three teams, for their actual Sing! Idol journey.
The worst sort of news gets sprung on them; again, perhaps for maximum dramatic impact. Changmin and the rest of the Sing! Idol twenty learns that they have to sing their first song in a closed door session, with only forty eight hours' worth of notice from the actual recording.
At the sound of that, Yeri bursts into a new round of tears and Kyungsoo gets up to slowly walk out of the room. He’s barely 'round the door before he starts to sing the ballad they’ve all already heard him practice over and over again in the past month and a half.
The only blessing is that this will be a -the only- closed door session without a live studio audience. The judges will then use their performances to determine who they want on their team, to coach and mentor for the next however-many episodes of Sing! Idol.
Changmin takes the news as well as he can. He stress-bakes a giant pizza for all of them to share, and shuts himself inside the shower scrubbing off the scent of oven-baked dough and rehearsing Wild Soul in an effort to bake the lyrics into his brain.
Kyuhyun makes him sing it in entirety sans backing track for him in the evening, eyebrows high. He socks Changmin lightly on the arm. “If I’m a soufflé. You’re a shot of ristretto for uh… What’s that dessert with coffee again? Where you pour the coffee onto ice cream?”
Changmin chokes. “Why am I a shot of ristretto?”
“You’re unassuming and black-humoured and then people drink you up and you kick them in the teeth,” Kyuhyun says sagely, and pauses. “Wow, that was like poetry. Maybe after this is over, I can ask Henry if I can moonlight as a lyricist for him.”
The studio lights are overly warm, and makeup sits oddly on Changmin’s face.
It’s only foundation and powder and BB cream and brow liner, you have such beautiful brows but we need to make sure they're perfect, please don’t touch your face, it’s just light makeup to make sure you don’t wash out under the lights, the makeup artists said, but it feels too thick.
The three judges appear, coiffed and poised. The twenty of them also get introduced to Jun Hyunmoo, who is the MC and presenter for Sing! Idol. He’s professional but warm, quickly joking to put them at ease. He even manages to coax a smile onto Yeri’s face.
Changmin detaches himself from Kyuhyun’s side and looks around.
Zhou Mi is even taller than normal with his hair gelled up off of his forehead, and Taemin’s eye makeup is pink and iridescent and makes his eyes look twice larger than usual. Luna is startlingly pretty with lots and lots of gold eyeshadow and a gold bodycon dress. Even Chanyeol, who usually just hangs around the Idol mansion in over-large crew neck tees and track pants, is dressed in a snazzy quilt bomber jacket and too-tight skinny jeans topped off with a snapback; standard rapper wear, he informs Changmin.
The stylists wanted to go visual kei, but Changmin doesn’t want to look like a near two metre tall punk rock monstrosity. He’s managed to talk them down to merely spiking his bangs up and putting him fully in leather and too many accessories. There's still too much gel in his hair and he has been avoiding looking towards the makeup artists, where more than one are eyeing him covetously with black kohl in their hands.
Tiffany keeps laughing whenever she looks at him full-on. Changmin’s not quite sure what to make of it.
The dancers are all clustered together, and Changmin sidles closer out of curiosity. He regrets it a minute later when he comes face to face with a stage-ready Yunho, and questions all of his life choices.
The production team has put Yunho in an extremely faithful replica of Michael Jackson’s Thriller costume. Three guesses what Yunho is performing this evening - it starts with “Th” and rhymes with “filler”.
What’s truly obscene isn’t the outfit though. It’s how they’ve made up Yunho’s face- which is already unfair on a normal day, but Yunho with suddenly poreless skin and cheekbones and white teeth and winged black eyeliner smudged at the corners and barely visible smoky eyeshadow brushed over the arcs of his eyes and bold slashing brows with mouth painted a deep nude rose is just…
Yunho smiles at him through all the orange pleather and shiny trousers and tightness and… tight. Just tight. “Break a leg, Changmin!”
“You too,” Changmin barely maintains his composure.
The red light comes on too soon, and they’re in their places. The producers say they would cut the first episode with footage from the six weeks of Sing! Idol training - enforced to ensure they all start out together at a more even playing field - till the very first competition session.
Soyoung clears her throat. ““Rolling,” she instructs.
Hyunmoo appears, greeting the cameras and laying down the Sing! Idol rules for the future audiences.
Six months. Twenty contestants. Three teams. Three judges. Fifteen rounds of themed singing challenges with weekly eliminations. One finale. One winner. One hundred million won. One record deal.
Every man and woman for themselves.
Changmin takes a deep breath, and brings up his mic.
純粋な心 チョット置き去って 甘い幻想 二人で描こうよ
Standing by my side ねえ君のすべてを見せてくれ
-- WILD SOUL.