“Singing is an art. I am an artist. Yes, I am here to win. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
--SEO Hyun (28), voice actress.
“The funniest thing is… My family actually has no idea I’m here. My dad thinks I’m on holiday in Europe visiting all his old football club contacts so I can better understand what goes into athlete management.”
-- CHOI Minho (27), semi-pro athlete.
Previously on Sing! Idol,
Introduction Challenge winner: SEOHYUN
To the absolute surprise of no one, Seohyun wins the first challenge with a stunning rendition of Britney Spears’ Sometimes. To the absolute surprise of no one, Yeri goes home, crying - but happily.
Changmin tries to hug her after the Hyunmoo announces the result. She pats him back, but she’s smiling as she pulls away. “Don’t worry,” she says, “I get to sing at school too. My mum will be glad to have me back and rattling around my room, again.”
To the absolute surprise of everyone, Luna is the other person to go home this first week.
(“Double eliminations!” Hyunmoo cries, gesturing dramatically at the cameras trained on him.)
She sings Dance in the Dark, her voice powerful, channelling Gaga all the way down to her extremely gold outfit that leaves nothing to the imagination, and does some vaguely pornographic yoga moves that passes as dancing. It brings a bemused smile to BoA’s face while Jongkook tries to be politically correct and tells her she’s better suited for stages like the Gwanghwamun Art Festival than a mainstream televised singing competition. Jaewon just keeps his head in his hands.
“I asked them to let me perform with just fluorescent body paint and the stage lights off,” she shrugs as Victoria holds her hands tightly with reddened eyes, “but the producers told me no. Broadcast higher ups says we have to think of the regulatory restrictions. What restrictions? This is art!”
It’s been less than two months, but they have been eating and drinking and practicing and laughing -and squabbling- everyday. All the living out of each others’ pockets makes all of them sentimental, so there are more tears shed than warranted.
Changmin supposes Hyunseok is right. It is like the military, in a way.
Luna is unfazed compared to the rest of them. “It’s all right, I’ll just go home to my flock,” another shrug pulls the thin strap of her gold dress dangerously low- Changmin averts his eyes- she’s not wearing a bra- “It’s been what? A month and a half? That’s seven sessions they’ve had with a subpar yoga teacher. They’re probably all doing their sun salutations wrong.”
Chanyeol is, ironically, the one who cries the most. Changmin chalks it up to the shock of nerves and the threat of near-elimination; he’s heard the younger man rap before, and he’s extremely good. Nerves must have gotten to him somehow because he manages to forget a full line in his song choice. The judges acknowledge that, just as they acknowledge how his pause was barely noticeable before he raps out the beat in onomatopoeia.
It’s precisely this that saves him, and allows Jaewon, after a quick conference with the production team, uses something called the Judge’s Chance on him.
“Using it in the first episode already?” Hyunmoo covers his mouth theatrically with a script card, but the shock in his face is not wholly feigned. “A reminder to the audience, our three judges only have one Judge’s Chance each in this entire competition - to save a contestant of their choice from life or death! And our dear judge Jaewon has decided to use it in the very first episode on... Park Chanyeol! Congratulations!”
They’re further sorted in three teams, care of the judges. They number eighteen strong now, after the double eliminations. The judges each get six contestants, to coach for the entirety of the competition. Changmin half-expects that he won’t be picked, he knows his performance of Wild Soul wasn’t anything special. Amber did the rock genre too and her song was way more polished.
To the absolute surprise of him, BoA picks him. She also picks Wendy, Taemin, Tiffany, Henry and Taeyeon. She smiles at all of them, and says, as the crew is changing tapes, “Good luck, guys. Let’s have fun. We’ll crush them all.”
Jaewon goes heavy on the dancers as expected, gunning for Yunho, Hyukjae and Victoria as his first picks. He whines when Taemin is taken by BoA instead, and then bolsters his team with Chanyeol and Irene, then Minho. “We’re making the best hip hop and dance group ever to grace television,” he declares to hoots from his team. Yunho and Hyukjae are dancing a sloppy version of the Shoot dance in celebration.
Jongkook sniffs at them all and unveils his team consisting of Kyuhyun, Seohyun, Zhou Mi, Donghae, Kyungsoo and Amber. “All your team can do is dance. Mine can sing - and there are plenty of sharp tongues and variety skills to look around.”
They look expectantly towards BoA, but she just smiles again and flicks a teasing glance at the cameras. “One can sing and dance and rap to their heart’s content, but the X factor is what that elevates those skills into a star.”
Just like that, the competition is real. Welcome to Sing! Idol.
The joking atmosphere of the past weeks has vanished. Oh, the eighteen of them still laugh and chat, but after the double eliminations and the team sorting, everything starts to feel more focused. More “we are here for a reality TV fight” rather than “hey singing boot camp!”.
Changmin is still trying to wrap his head around the fact that he hasn’t flunked out of the competition, and Kwon BoA, the focus of his mother’s terrifying fangirling for more than a decade, is apparently his coach in all things performance for the next however many days.
“We’re still friends, right,” he says more than asks Kyuhyun the night they’re back in their room digesting the fact that they have a week to prep for the next challenge, with the theme of “ballad”.
Kyuhyun rolls his eyes and throws the cork- because Kyuhyun is a madman that smuggles a cask rather than a bottle of wine in - from one of their previous drinking sessions at him. “Don’t be stupid, Shim. This singing reality TV thing is months but wine is forever. What do you think?”
“Okay,” Changmin says, emboldened. “So does it count as cheating if I sing to you my song choice and you tell me if it counts as a ballad?”
Leaning against the desk that separates their beds, Kyuhyun gives him a long considering look. “Why does that sound more like an order than a question?”
Changmin allows a smirk to crawl across his face. “Why, Counsellor, because I already checked with the producers to make sure this isn’t against the rules… So do you want to hear it, or not?”
“You!” Barking out a loud laugh, Kyuhyun shakes his head. “People think you’re shy, but you’re actually the devil.”
Changmin sings two stanzas of his song choice at Kyuhyun, who shakes his head again then, at Changmin’s nagging, sings the entirety of his ballad pick.
The teasers for Sing! Idol go out, across social media and broadcast.
Changmin nods absentmindedly as the producers break the news, and fumble when Jihwan films him reacting to interview questions that the writers Hyejin and Jaeni pepper him with. Jaeyoung tells him as an aside that these are for the show’s official Instagram profile and YouTube page.
“Oh, I haven’t watched them,” he stammers in response. “I’m sure the production team did a great job!”
Hyejin makes a moue of exasperation, and writes in big sprawling strokes on her notepad. REACTIONS! TALK ABOUT CONTESTANTS, NOT CREW. WE ARE BORING.
Jaeni pushes Hyejin’s notepad out of the way and raises her own. OKAY SO WHOSE TEASER ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO?
“Hmm Henry, maybe?” He ponders. “And maybe Victoria and Hyukjae and Yunho and Taemin… I think the dancers will show off their skills very well.”
Jaeni slaps herself on the head. Hyejin freezes, then scribbles something down. She nearly takes Jaeni’s eye out as she raises her notepad again. VICTORIA? TALK TO US ABOUT VICTORIA. HOW DO YOU FIND HER?
“Oh, she’s very good at dancing! Yunho too! Did you guys get the footage of them dancing to Hips Don’t Lie ? I know Victoria and Yunho’s cameramen were filming them-”
Hyejin lies down on her notepad. Jaeni raises her notepad with TAKE FIVE scrawled in defeated curlicues and then realises she can speak because the footage is unusable anyway. “Uh, Changmin, let’s rest five minutes. We’ll ask questions again in a bit, but maybe you can think about saying things this way…”
They get their phones back, but there is a million clauses and addenda to the non-disclosure agreements, so Changmin doesn’t use his phone much, either. He drops his family a text in the group chat first, just to say that he’s alive, and also because his mother will probably find their location to skin him then feed him his own skin otherwise.
His sisters text him back screencaps of his teaser with a string of !!!!! and emojis. Changmin grimaces at the sight of TV him, which apparently consists of sweaty-and-cooking him, as well as really-too-much-gel-in-hair singing him.
He texts Hyunseok, because he’s used to checking in, and also his fellow sous chefs Garam and Hyemi to ask about the autumnal menu, which must be in practice already since they are in October. The replies back are too quick and similar.
Changmin looks at the clock - it’s fifteen to three. All of them must be having their lunch breaks and prepping for the dinner rush now. Hyunseok merely tells him not to worry and enjoy himself, but Garam texts him kitchen gossip. Apparently rumours are true and the head chef, Jinwoo, was going to open his own restaurant by the start of the new year.
Changmin suppresses a pulse of excitement. As sous chef for the hot part, typically he will be the next in line to inherit the head chef position. Hyunseok can be unpredictable though, so he doesn’t want to dwell too long on that. Garam has no such qualms and writes bluntly that the entire kitchen expects him to be the successor. He stares at her text and flicks to the next one without replying.
Hyemi sends him a smiley face and a picture of the autumnal specials printed on vellum. They have kept his burrata and wine candy invention, as well as the deconstructed duck main. He saves the image in his phone gallery, precious reminders of the real world.
That night, he digs in the team mansion’s fridge and hauls out some of the staples the production team has been providing for them, in case anyone wants to make their own food. Store-bought kimchi, ramyeon, flour and eggs. Cabbage and carrots.
The smells lure everyone to the kitchen, but Minho is the one exclaiming in surprise as he watches Changmin pour batter into a flat grill pan he’s dug out from the cupboards. “I thought you’ll feed us European food! Or steak!”
Irene goes to check, and comes back with a morose, “there’s no beef in the freezer.”
“I don’t know,” Donghae says, sniffing the air and leaning way too close to the island counter stove. “This smells amazing. Are you sure you’re not a chef for Japanese cuisine?”
“Proper Kansai chefs would run screaming away from this bastardisation,” Changmin reassures them, round discs of okonomiyaki sizzling merrily away on the hot grill. Seohyun and Taeyeon are nowhere in sight, so he’s made enough batter for sixteen.
“We’re not proper and can we eat already?” Taemin interrupts, “I’m starving. Dance practice was bad.”
Changmin chuckles and flips the first batch onto a large plate to Victoria’s incredulous, “why are you dancing for a ballad challenge?”. He doesn’t even get to add mayonnaise (and otafuku is not mainstream enough to be included in the fridge), Henry confiscating it from him with an impatient “ah, no, don’t worry, the pancakes are enough.”
It’s a little frightening how fast the plate clears - Changmin’s only through with pouring the fifth circle of batter onto the grill pan - especially given how the production team had bought them jajangmyeon barely an hour ago.
Everyone stares at the empty plate and then eyes the hot grill covetously. Changmin makes a noise of exasperation and flaps the spatula in his hand at them. “People. Didn’t you have dinner earlier? Youngjin was bitching about how someone left behind too much pickled ginger?”
“Yeah,” Yunho says, laser focus on the sizzling grill, then the nearly empty bowl of batter that Changmin’s curved protectively around. “But that was takeout. This is homemade food. I haven’t had homemade food since I went to my parents’ for Chuseok in advance. You made tapas for us, but this is Asian food.”
There is a chorus of agreement and Irene dares to stick her hand to the bowl to filch some batter. Changmin hisses at her and flips four of the okonomiyaki. “This is not homemade food! I am using instant ramyeon!”
“I didn’t think anything is better than instant ramyeon with soju at midnight,” Zhou Mi says dreamily, picking a charred bit of batter off the plate and popping it into his mouth. “But you proved me wrong.”
Changmin stares at him. “You’re Chinese.”
“Your nationality shouldn’t restrict you from enjoying sin on a plate,” Wendy cries passionately, “can you give us the first four? I think they’re burning.”
He pours the final circle onto the grill. “Nice try, kid, but I think I’ve been cooking longer than you’re alive.”
It takes another excruciating (for everyone else) seven minutes, but they’re all munching on the next batch whilst Changmin guards the last two pancakes on the grill. He’s already smacked Hyukjae for trying to lick the dirty batter bowl.
“These are very good, Changmin,” Kyungsoo says quietly, cutting his slice into precise quarters. “Thank you so much.”
Changmin’s ready to wave him away - he should thank them for allowing him his odd cooking binges - but Yunho looks up. His mouth is a mess of mayonnaise and pancake crumbs and oil, but it doesn’t detract from his very white teeth. “Yes, thank you so much, Changmin! I think I’ve only had better okonomiyaki in Osaka, and that was beneath a railway track and I was half-drunk off of sake… ”
Bloody hell, his ears are on fire. Kyuhyun is eyeing him knowingly, so Changmin speaks to the final pancake he’s flipping. “I told you guys, this isn’t real okonomiyaki. There’s instant ramyeon and there’s no meat in it.”
Kyuhyun throws a dirty fork at him. “Take a compliment, mate. We love it. Now eat your okonomiyaki.”
“I need to wash up first,” Changmin says, and then his protests for the next half an hour go unheard as he’s shoved into a chair, given a fork and the last pancake. The team splits to wash up and ends up squabbling at the sink and having a water fight. Yunho grabs Victoria and sets her to wiping the counters whilst he tackles the stove.
“You cooked, so we’ll clean,” Yunho smiles at him. Changmin’s seated at the island counter overlooking the stove and Yunho’s bent over the burners, so their faces are uncomfortably close together. His teeth really are very white. His biceps, to Changmin’s distress, are bare again. “It’s only fair.”
Changmin clears his throat. “Well, I mean, it’s not really an exchange. I don’t really ask you guys what you want to eat, I kind of- just force it… on you all…” he forgets he’s even talking at the travesty of cleaning Yunho performs on the burners. “What are you doing.”
Unperturbed, Yunho cocks his head. “Cleaning? I’ve been watching you clean whenever we actually use the stove for eating.” He swishes the rag in his hand a little more. “Don’t you do it like this?”
A frisson of something skitters down his spine at the thought of Yunho watching him, but Changmin shoves it away in favour of leaping from the bar stool, one hand stretching across to grab at the cloth. “You don’t smear at the stove like that - you’re just smudging the oil around- Oh my God don’t twist the knob that way, you’ll break it- “
Their fingers tangle together.
Yunho has very pretty nails. Neat for such a messy man. Changmin ignores the sudden pounding of his heart to scrub at the caps. Yunho looks puzzled. “Wasn’t this was what I was doing?”
“Go help Victoria with the counters!” Changmin barks, and wishes he could set himself on fire.
The rivalry between the teams do get hyped up for the cameras though. At the behest of the producers, Changmin does spend more time - most of his time - with his team.
Henry and Tiffany are a riot, and it depends on Taeyeon’s mood if she deigns to spend time with them or stays aloof and locked up in her room practicing. When she’s around them, half the time she is sniping at Tiffany and parroting her American accent.
Without food blinding them, Taemin and Wendy are typically more courteous to him, although they develop a disconcerting habit of quoting at Changmin particular dishes they are craving.
“Bulgogi?” Taemin suggests from his side, when they’re filmed for a group session with BoA where they ask her too specific questions about certain singing techniques and do their best in preventing her from guessing their songs.
The type of coaching the judges are allowed is odd, even to Changmin’s variety-untrained mind. In order to ensure the judges still judge the rest of the contestants not on their team as impartially as possible, the judges are not exposed to their own team’s song choices until the actual challenge itself.
Instead, they have to ask her to demonstrate certain singing techniques or exhibit how to show certain moods on stage or ways to sing certain individual notes. It makes for interesting TV, at least. They learn too much about head voices and chest voices when before all these, Changmin thought the only one voice you have is what’s in your throat.
“Lasagna,” Wendy counters, as they listen to BoA praise Taeyeon for portraying a successful take-no-prisoners attitude on stage. “And the reason why she’s good at playing a bitch is because she’s the Bleached Blonde Bitch.”
“Wendy,” Changmin tries to drive an elbow into her side (already difficult because the child is so damn short), but the girl just laughs at him and tosses her hair back with a sweet, “so, Changmin, what about tteok-bokki?”
They have three more days to the second challenge, and Changmin has sung his song pick until he’s half convinced he can - and has according to Kyuhyun- sing it in his sleep.
He’s more than a little nervous. Taemin’s doing a ballad dance, whatever that is; Seohyun is bringing in a band from… somewhere; and Wendy’s playing the piano herself. Some of the others are preparing sets too, and have requested resources from the production team. Changmin’s just got a backing track.
He gets the idea after watching Wendy play Take A Bow on the baby grand in one of the practice rooms for the umpteenth time. Flagging down the ever present Jooyoung, he presents his request and watches the assistant producer levels him with an unreadable look.
“Is it something that’s- not quite done?” He asks nervously. Try as he might, he still can’t let his guard down around the crew, like some of the other contestants.
“Oh, no no,” Jooyoung says, digging out his phone and tapping a few buttons on it. “It’s pretty common. People actually started asking since the prior challenge.”
“Oh.” Changmin stares at him, confused. Jooyoung feels his gaze and looks up, lips curved into a wry grin. “Sorry, I was just kind of taken aback because I didn’t expect you’ll ask for it.”
“I… So the show’s keyboardist is okay with helping me play accompaniment?”
“I’ll have to ask to get a confirmed answer,” Jooyoung nods at the approaching Youngmin, summoned by his text. “But like I said- it’s common. Live music is better than a backing track, anyway. Ignore me. It’s just that you… don’t really ask for things, Changmin.”
He comes across Yunho, humming parts of a song at the camera, flanked by the assistant producer and cameraman assigned to him. The crew is following them around more, given that the competition has officially started.
“Oh, Changminnie,” Yunho greets him, whilst Changmin’s cameraman Jihwan mouths Changminnie? to himself. “Have you guys met? This is Jaeyong, one of the PDs, and my cameraman, Myunghwan.”
Changmin bows hello at them, and tries to continue on his way. A sudden arm around his neck stops him in his steps though, and the movement is carried over; he staggers back and somehow ends up against Yunho’s side. Their heights are similar, Changmin’s even got an inch on Yunho, but he finds his own face smushed up against Yunho’s neck instead.
Yunho smells like clean sweat and strawberry shampoo. Changmin quietly has an aneurysm whilst Yunho is apparently perfectly content to talk at the camera while holding onto the equivalent of a giant stiff statue. “-and Changmin’s really talented! He likes rock, and cooking. Sometimes he cooks for us and he’s singing X-Japan the whole time, and I don’t think he really knows it. You’re really jealous right, viewers? You wish you have Changmin cooking and singing to you, don’t you!”
Changmin yanks himself upright and free of Yunho to nearly bonk his head on two cameras. Lovely, now Jihwan’s at it too. He manages a weak “Yunho’s very fond of exaggerating,” but it just makes Yunho steamroll over him.
“And he’s really shy too! Look at him! He’s so tall and handsome and so talented, but he’s so so shy,” Yunho gushes, slinging an arm around Changmin and reeling him back in like a baited fish. Hook, line, sinker.
Changmin thinks he might faint.
It’s good that Myunghwan seems to be using a stabiliser, because his body is shaking from the effort of keeping his snickers unnoticeable. Beside him, Jihwan frowns in concentration. The angle of his camera suggests he has Changmin in a close-up.
The entire farce only ends when Hyukjae walks past and somehow the entire thing turns into an impromptu breakdancing competition. Changmin tries to sidle off but finds himself the unlikely judge.
He watches as Yunho flows backwards in a move that reminds him of water sliding over rocks, easy grin gone and face intense with concentration. Changmin tells himself that he admires Yunho’s determination. Just his determination and his dancing skills.
Yes, Yunho’s just someone with qualities he admires. Respects.
Then Yunho flips himself into a headstand and raps about doing anything for them tonight before launching into a howl of “everybody come to HA-EUN-DAEEEE, everybody come to GWANG-GA-RI~”
Hyukjae laughs so hard, he falls on his arse in the middle of a dance move and just lies on the floor, cackling.
Changmin doesn’t know why he bothers with these idiots.
The first official episode airs the night before the second challenge is due. All of them cram into the living room to watch on the giant Samsung television screen the crew has kindly provided them for product placement. Even Seohyun deigns to join them.
The crew leaves after setting up two fixed cameras to focus on them, and getting some group reaction shots. The four sofas are packed to maximum occupancy and similar to introductions day, some of them end up sprawling over the beanbags.
Minho, Irene and Chanyeol kept harping after him like nagging housewives (“when you’re at the cinema, you need popcorn too! How is this different?”), so Changmin’s whipped up fresh sweet potato crisps and hastily pickled radish for munchies.
The show’s logo flashes and the opening montage plays. Then it’s all of them, together with Luna and Yeri. Changmin’s confronted by the very strange sight of his face in all its 98 inch, QLED high definition, dynamic colour glory. He can see his eye bags; he can see his pores .
He doesn’t think himself as particularly vain, but he’s a Seoul city man. He even exfoliates weekly. It’s disturbing to realise that his skincare routine doesn’t stand up to visual technology these days.
Even though the screen is showing events and footage that they’ve lived through, there’s just something vastly different about watching it on a screen and presented from various point-of-views. Incidents that are funny on their own are made gut-burstingly hilarious with bold punchline supers; any and all instances of tears - most of them Yeri’s - were given dramatic makeovers complete with sad piano music and slow panning shots.
Everyone’s introduction interviews are aired, and Changmin feels himself shrink slightly in his seat when everyone seems to be more articulate and polished than him. Even taciturn Kyungsoo is onscreen talking earnestly about his childhood dream to sing.
Footage-wise, the camera (and editors) seems to love Hyukjae and Yunho, Taeyeon the most. It’s quite obvious that the producers hope they’ll go far. The rest of them are footnotes in comparison, but Changmin feels only relief. He knows he’s too boring for good TV.
The scene changes and it’s the kitchen. Changmin wants to smack himself; evidently his relief was premature. He watches in slow dawning horror as they splice his crazy tapas binge in quick frames against an EDM version of Flight of the Bumblebee and giant, in-your-face supers.
“Holy shit, it’s like Iron Chef,” Irene whispers, as on-screen Changmin flips things in pans and moves around the kitchen and tosses things and slices things and plates things and generally just behaves with high competency but in a way that hasn’t got anything to do with singing. They have him darting around onscreen in hyper-lapse, which makes him look even more maniac.
Does he hunch over the counter that much? He makes a embarrassedly consternated note to himself to watch his posture.
Amber scoffs, “no, it’s like Please Take Care of My Refrigerator! When the crazy TV chefs cook dishes in fifteen minutes and they all kind of look like the Road-runner operating on five times speed?”
Seohyun’s barb against his (lack of) singing skill is also aired to its full glory to an awkward silence (onscreen and offscreen), complete with quick cuts to everyone else’s frozen expressions. On the centre sofa, Seohyun carefully doesn’t look at anyone.
Henry crunches too loudly on a piece of radish and mumbles an apology when everyone jumps.
Introductions and training montage over, they segue into the first challenge proper. Changmin was too nervous on the actual day to truly appreciate everyone’s efforts, except for Yunho, whose Michael Jackson outfit was too in-your-face for one to do anything but acknowledge its full worth.
His phone buzzes. He looks down to see a text from Hyunseok. We’re all watching you from Choidot right now! Jinwoo set the player to record in case you’re doing some singing competition thing and can’t watch yourself. Since you’re still not back with us, fighting for the second challenge! You can do it. We believe in you.
He gulps and swipes the message away. Focusing back on the television screen, he cheers and claps as everyone’s efforts are shown beautifully on screen.
They’re back on set, and this time round it’s ballads. Changmin’s stylist eyes his lanky frame; visibly pleased with what she has to work with. A close distance over, Donghae’s stylist isn’t so optimistic. “No, you can’t wear velcro-ed trousers- what do you even want to do! This is not a strip club!”
Circling him, Changmin’s stylist makes considering noises whilst Changmin tries to not feel like a giraffe being eyed by a very hungry lion. She tilts her head back and asks, “so what song are you singing?”
It’s not quite a secret, so Changmin tells her. She makes another “hmm” and eyes him. “Doing anything special? Like Taemin’s gone crazy and wants to dance to ballads, so his stylist is putting him in thin layers take sure he doesn’t overheat. If you have surprises like that, tell me now.”
“Now” is punctuated by a jab towards his chest. He resists the urge to rub at the spot. She has very pointy fingers. “No, nothing like that. The set keyboardist is helping me do piano accompaniment and I’ll sit next to him and sing. That’s all.”
“Sitting down?” His stylist says, nose wrinkling. “I hope they’re putting you on a bar stool, yes? If you want to sit down, go for a bar stool. It’ll showcase your legs.”
“Yes, the producers said they’re having me sit on a bar stool.”
“Good, good,” she’s suddenly a flurry of movement, and Changmin has three suits heaved into his arms and tries to juggle them without dropping or wrinkling anything. “Um, Yoonju, I don’t think-”
“No, shhh shh, you may be able to cook and sing but you are shit at fashion,” she scowls at him “so you’re going to be a good boy and try all three to let me decide which one is best at making your legs look miles long.”
“Um,” Changmin feels compelled to point out. “They all look the same… and they’re all in shades of grey-” he squawks; she’s shoved him over to the cramped dressing room on the other end.
He tries on all three in the end, because she scares him. They - well she - finally agree on a dark grey pinstripe blazer paired with an over-sized, overlong shirt with a mandarin collar, and cropped trousers. His feet are shoved into white trainers without socks. Somehow the overall look is bizarre in that it works; Changmin had thought the too long shirt and too short trousers would make him look as though he has no legs.
“Done,” she crows, satisfied. “And yes for the face, Hyeyoung, come over, you’re needed-”
And he’s attacked again, slathered with BB cream and foundation and more makeup than he thinks men should be wearing. He’s just thankful that the styling team is giving deference to ballad week and leaving his hair relatively alone this time. They blow dry it so that his bangs fall naturally sideways over his forehead, and the hair stylist sneakily gives him a trim about the ears before he realises what is going on.
“Hey, that’s my hair!” he splutters, but they only laugh at him and go, “and that’s our craft!” before moving onto the next victim.
Changmin doesn’t get to watch everyone’s performances. Their order is decided by random draws at the start of the challenge. Wendy and Yunho go on right before him, so he’s allowed to stand in the wings and watch them from the side. He stands in the shadows, careful that the audience - the audience!- doesn’t notice him.
Wendy’s playing the piano to a wistful, ballad rendition of Take A Bow. Unlike Rihanna’s original, which was mostly jaded bitterness, Wendy manages to suffuse a naive longing to the lyrics, a reluctant heartbreak.
He really likes it. The roar of the studio audience as the last note of her “but it’s over now” hangs, tells Changmin that they agree too. All three judges are riveted. BoA is sitting straight in her seat.
It’s Yunho’s turn. Changmin watches as Yunho strides out onstage from the opposite wing. He’s wearing a striped crew neck jumper and a yellow shirt as a jacket, and the whole thing just looks very familiar somehow.
There are already high-pitched shrieks and cries (“Yunho!” “Yunho we love you!”) for him from the audience, and he takes his place centre stage, giving both the audience and the cameras a blindingly rakish grin.
It isn’t until the opening guitar-and-piano strains of I Believe sound, and Changmin realises that Yunho has taken his performance one step further again by dressing as Cha Taehyeon in one of the scenes in My Sassy Girl. The very film Shin Seung Hoon sang the song for.
It’s a completely different side of Yunho from what everyone’s been exposed to so far. Gone is the shit-talking dancer with fancy slick moves. Gone is the laughing choreographer with razor-sharp focus. In his place is a Yunho that is grasping the mic almost delicately, and letting his voice, slightly husky, soar in a melody that Changmin’s heard many times before but is somehow hearing again with fresh ears.
This Yunho that sings ballads is an alien creature. He doesn’t move as much as the normal Yunho does. He’s still and quiet and lets his voice speak for himself. The only movements he allows are the crunch of his eyebrows as he sings the higher notes effortlessly, and the turn of his fingers across the mic. His other hand is a folded fist, clenched against his stomach.
Over at the judges’ table, Jaewon’s mouth hangs open. BoA has her eyes closed, and Jongkook is holding up the headphones each judge is given, the ear cup against a ear, so he can listen to Yunho’s voice without ambient noise.
The song is over too soon - Yunho and Hyunmoo exchange pleasantries, and the judges are called to offer critique, before the audience votes.
Jongkook is the only one that picks up the mic, and he goes, “At this point in time, there are technical suggestions that come to my mind, little things you can do to help push your performance more. I don’t want to talk about those now. I want to talk about how you have surprised all of us- does Jaewon even know you can sing?” to Jaewon’s dramatic gesture of protest and scattered laughter from the audience, “and right now I just want to commend you for singing with your emotions. This is a lovely surprise. Dressing as the male lead is also a nice touch, because it brings all of us back to that scenario. I think I speak for more than myself when I say we are eager to see more from you. Thank you!”
There’s applause, and Yunho bowing as he moves back into the wings. The judges banter a little with the audience, and they vote.
Changmin can feel his hands sweating.
He grips the mic even tighter, and bows to the judges, then to the audience, a perfect ninety degrees held for three seconds.
The audience likes that, and their murmurs swell into applause. Changmin stands on the mark where Yunho stood previously, and tries not to panic.
BoA smiles reassuringly at him. Jaewon cracks a joke that he doesn’t quite hear. Jongkook just folds his hands together, content to wait for Changmin to begin.
Beside him, the keyboardist has finished setting up. Changmin takes two precise steps back, so that he comes up against the bar stool the set crew has left for him, and leans.
The song is fully in English, so his anxiety is a near physical thing. He’s sung it again and again and again at Tiffany and Henry until they declare his English to be proper and accent-free.
He taps his fingers against the mic to the beat of the four note variation the keyboardist plays, and wait for his cue. Three bars - two - one -
All my problems
They will run away from you and I see
All the angels sit and stare at you
You are everything but not today
-- ALL MINE.