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Sing! Idol

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“I play the piano, the flute, the saxophone, the guitar… I’m not bragging. It’s just that my parents were music-crazy while I was growing up. I got the chance to learn all these kick-[bleep] instruments and I am just so, so grateful to them.” 

-- Wendy SHON (25), jazz pianist. 


“I actually don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m happy in football! But I also like to sing. So hey! Why not? Maybe this can be my retirement plan.”

-- LEE Donghae (33), footballer.


 

Previously on Sing! Idol,

Judges’ Challenge winner: TIFFANY

 

It’s different now. Everything is different now. 

They’re midway through the competition, and it’s like a veil has been lifted from his eyes. Somehow, these people, crazy and passionate and sincere and fun, make him want to be here. They make him want to stay. They make him want to try and be more, be better.

He doesn’t quite understand it.

He rings Hyunseok the night of the Judges’ Challenge recording, excusing himself from Kyuhyun to take the call outside, in the garden. 

It’s night, and it’s the beginning of November. There’s a definite chill in the air. The flowers and most of the leaves are gone, the last remnants of summer. 

Changmin’s got his old KyungHee University hoodie thrown on, the crimson faded, two tees beneath with a baggy pair of track bottoms pulled on, and two pairs of socks jammed into his trainers. 

He wanders amongst the shrubbery until he sinks into a bench; it’s the one Jooyoung and Jihwan filmed his introductory segment on, three months ago. 

The phone’s ringing, but no one’s picked up. He sneaks a peek at his watch. It’s eleven pm. The Choidot team should be done with cleaning up by now, Hyunseok should be having a shot of whisky with his carbonated water and is probably laughing at the team’s antics-

The call connects. A breathless “hello?” sounds in his ear.

“Hey, boss man,” Changmin says, and to his extreme horror, feels his nose start to smart, and his vision blurs. 

“Changmin?” Hyunseok asks, then pulls his phone away, judging by how he shouts, “guys, it’s Changmin- I’m taking this! Manjae, if you fuck up the grill, Jinwoo will have to fuck you up, then I’ll have to fuck you both up. Don’t fuck up.”

There’s the sound of a door closing, and then his boss’ voice comes back, clearer. There’s less background noise.

Then, “Changmin?” Hyunseok asks again.

“Hi, boss,” Changmin kicks at the ground. “How was the dinner rush today? What did Manjae do? Did he use cold water to wash the grill again?”

“Did you call me just to check if we’re going under?” There’s a tremor of laughter in Hyunseok’s voice that Changmin hears, even through the phone line. It’s comforting. “Dinner was good. We were full house. No, it’s worse than you thought. Manjae was leaning against the grill to fight some person on some message boards on your behalf. He got too excited and the grill fell over.”

“What?” Changmin thinks he’s hearing things. He no longer feels like crying. “Manjae what? Our Manjae? Sweet Manjae who thinks Marco Pierre White is a misunderstood man and Park Geunhye was badly influenced? Our Manjae? He’s fighting? What? Over me?”

“He’s defending your honour,” Hyunseok says, sounding like he’s enjoying himself too much. “Before I left the kitchen, he was shouting about how he’ll break all their backs and then leave them to burn to ash in a giant forest fire.”

“Them? Them who?” Changmin doesn’t understand. In the corner of his eye, he espies movement. He turns halfway in his seat. It’s Yunho, a faint shadow in the darkness of the garden.

“Them your anti-fans,” Hyunseok says, letting out a chuckle. Yunho makes to come over, but sees that Changmin is on the phone. Sorry, he mouths, turning to go. Changmin waves him over, a jerky probably spastic flap, and barks at the phone, “what? I have anti-fans? What’s an anti-fan?”

Yunho looks askance at the phone in his hand. Changmin points to the space next to him in mute invitation, and shifts a little over. Yunho is only dressed in a windbreaker (either the man is really insane or his body temperature runs too high) and shorts. It’s an oddly charming picture. 

Hyunseok drawls, “you have anti-fans and fans. An anti-fan is not a fan. The antithesis of a fan? Seems like you’re the subject of a fanwar,” and Changmin focuses his attention back on his phone.

He feels like he’s fourteen again and Hyunseok is rattling off too many French cooking terms at him. “What is a fanwar?” 

Yunho sits down next to him, crossing his legs.

“A war between fans, I would say,” Hyunseok says, and then he raises his voice. There’s background noise again- he must be back in the kitchens. “What’s the fanwar on Changmin about?”

Manjae’s voice sounds, the loudest and angriest Changmin’s ever heard him. “-Kill them all, have you seen such stupidity- How do these people even survive-” 

Garam shouts into the phone, “is that Changmin? Tell him I’m boycotting BoA for him!” and Changmin feels like he’s lost not just the plot but logic apparently went and set itself on fire too since the last time he’s checked.

Yunho’s propped an arm against the bench, cupping his chin in a hand. He's scrubbed clean, fresh-faced and devoid of all vestiges of stage makeup and more handsome than Changmin's ever seen him. “What did Garam say? Did I hear her correctly? Why’s she boycotting BoA?”

Yunho shifts. 

“Apparently there’s a video leak making its rounds on Nate and Naver and Daum, and it’s of- what was it, Sunhwa? Ah, the recording you guys had today? Some girl filmed BoA’s criticism of you and the subsequent decision to resuscitate you,” Hyunseok goes on, egged on by background commentary from Garam and Manjae, “and you have fans defending you and screaming at the network for doing something so controversial just to pull ratings. Then there’s another camp who are defending BoA’s decision to rip you a new asshole- what did that anti say, Manjae? Ah yes, that you should be grateful BoA’s noticed you enough to gift you a new asshole.” 

The only thing Changmin can focus on is, “there was a leak for tonight’s challenge? The episode is only airing next week!”

Yunho looks at him, eyebrows raised. Changmin shrugs helplessly at him. 

“Well, it’s - oh, really? Jinwoo just refreshed the page and he says the video has been taken down,” Hyunseok reports. “But the fanwar is still ongoing and now they are crying about you and the other boy, the anchovy-looking one? Hyuk something. There’s too many people competing with you and I can’t keep their names straight.” 

“The producers probably have someone monitoring social media,” Changmin says, shaking his head and mouthing back, got removed, at Yunho.

Yunho nods, and shivers. 

In his ear, Hyunseok is still going, “-good to hear from you, though. I know we’ve all been texting you continuously, but it’s still different from getting to talk. How has it been? How are you? You’re enjoying yourself, aren’t you? You look like you are, in the episodes we’ve watched. And they let you cook! Those burners are a disgrace though.”

“They’re all electric, it’s horrible, heat control is patchy at best, also the production team has an odd fascination with getting me to cook, but I think that’s because they probably can’t get any other interesting footage of me otherwise. Cameras are everywhere,” Changmin shares, while he makes a concerned face at Yunho.

He pulls his arms out of his hoodie, switching arms in the middle to keep his phone pressed to his ear, and pulls the whole thing over his head.

Yunho’s looking at him like he’s lost his head stripping in the cool night air. Changmin shakes his head and drops the hoodie in Yunho’s lap. 

“You shouldn’t have, you’ll get cold too,” Yunho whispers, but Changmin shakes his head again and pulls at his tee, showing him there’s another collar beneath. Yunho emits an “oh” and sits back, spreading Changmin’s hoodie over his lap. 

Hyunseok laughs, “you look like a startled bird whenever the camera follows you and you turn around to make eye contact with the viewer,” and Changmin scrunches his face at Yunho and mimes wearing something. 

To Hyunseok, he says, “they keep telling me I should be used to the cameras by now, but it’s a little hard when you don’t even know you’re being followed. Then you turn around and there’s a giant black lens in your face.” 

There’s something fleeting and unreadable in Yunho’s eyes, something uncertain, but he moves and pulls Changmin’s hoodie over his head. Red is a good look on him. 

Hyunseok is making fussing noises and telling him he should rest, so Changmin says distractedly, “all right, I miss all of you, talk soon,” and disconnects the call.

He smiles at Yunho, who’s pulled Changmin’s hoodie down so much that it nearly covers his shorts, as well. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Yunho returns, smiling back. “You okay?” 

“Yeah,” Changmin says, after thinking about it. He is. There’s still a bit of anxiety that he’ll wake up and BoA’s Judge’s Chance is actually a dream, and he’s on the way home. 

But he’s actually feeling pretty good, like tonight fell the scales from his eyes. “I actually am. Are you okay?”

Yunho blinks at him, “Yeah, I guess? Why wouldn’t I be? I just wanted to check if you’re okay, because you looked shell-shocked just now at the briefing for next week.” 

Changmin feels such a rush of warmth that he finds himself beaming at the man. For some reason, Yunho looks extremely surprised. His jaw is a little slack. “Thanks, yes. I am. I didn’t think I would be. And I meant about Hyukjae and Victoria.” 

“Oh,”Yunho’s gaze turns shadowed. “Yeah. I can’t deny that I’m disappointed,” he rubs at the back of his neck, frowning at the ground, “especially for Hyuk. He’s an amazing performer.” 

“I’m sorry BoA gave her Judge’s Chance to me instead,” Changmin says honestly, and is taken aback by the fierce glare Yunho levels at him. 

“Don’t say that,” Yunho growls, hands tucked into the pocket of Changmin’s hoodie. He leans forward, gaze intent on Changmin, mouth hard. “Don’t. Changmin, you have this bad habit of putting yourself down to elevate everyone else. Don’t do that. You’re amazing, and that was the whole point of BoA’s feedback. I was listening to it too. She wanted you to see how you are more, and can be more. The first step in doing that is actually giving yourself credit where credit’s due.”

“Okay,” Changmin says hazily, because Yunho’s full unrelenting attention is not for the faint of heart. He fights an urge to shrink and look away. “Sorry. Sorry. Okay.”

Yunho’s the one who looks away then, with an embarrassed laugh. “No, I’m the one who should be sorry. Sorry. I shouldn’t have jumped down your throat like that. Just… you shouldn’t. I’m sorry, I’m lecturing you.”

“No, no,” Changmin demurs, and the whole ridiculous thing whereby they keep apologising to each other over things that don’t quite require apologising would have continued, if Yunho didn’t shiver again. 

“Haaaaa no not good,” Changmin says; and then before he knows it he’s briskly shepherding Yunho into the back of the mansion, through the mudroom and they’re in the kitchen. 

 

-- 

 

“It was colder than I expected,” Yunho admits, taking a seat at the counter. Changmin turns narrowed eyes on him, one hand opening the fridge. “Than you expected? It’s November! You’re in shorts!”

“Barely,” Yunho makes a dismissive moue. He pats at Changmin’s hoodie. “This is really warm, though. Thank you.”

“That old thing?” Changmin brays, and hopes he doesn’t sound like a hyena. Now that they’re out of the cold, it seems like his brain is thawing. He can’t believe he gave Yunho his hoodie.

But he looked cold. Changmin wanted to hug him. At least his hoodie is hugging him. Oh what the fuck brain. “It’s been around for sometime.” 

“It’s very well taken care of,” Yunho says, and to Changmin's horror, he lifts the collar and sniffs at it. Oh fuck oh dear sweet fuck Changmin’s slept in that thing. Changmin’s sweated in that thing. And Yunho’s smelt it. Taken a long luxurious sniff at it and he’s rubbing his face at the inside of the hoodie what the fucking hell Yunho. Shit, Changmin’s going to have Fantasies about this, and he knows now who’s going to star in it. He’s never going to wash this hoodie again. He’ll hang it in a place of honour. He’s going to wear it and jerk off. 

Yunho’s still talking, “-it’s really comforting because it smells so familiar too. I think you use the same brand of softener my mum does, whenever I visit her.”

Oh, great, his not-a-crush-but-kind-of-a-crush just compared him to his scent memory of his mother. Changmin’s hard-on dies an abrupt death. He squeaks, and names the brand he uses. 

“That’s the one!” Yunho enthuses, all crinkly eyes and white teeth. His hair is ruffled and un-styled and he looks like he walked out of a university admissions photoshoot. “She always makes me bring my clothes to her, whenever I visit home, and she looks so happy doing my laundry that I just can’t help but bring some of it along when I can drive down. Yeah, that’s the brand she uses.”

Changmin clears his throat, and looks properly at what his hands are doing. Somehow he’s got the ingredients for hot chocolate laid out, and there’s chocolate melting in a water bath and fine, he’s just going to go along with muscle memory. He hopes Yunho actually likes hot chocolate. “So home’s not Seoul?”

Yunho’s expression freezes, and Changmin hurries to say, while whisking at the chocolate in the water bath, “only because it sounds far! Your family home. Where you. Visit your mum. And all.” 

“Yeah, she lives in Gwangju. It’s about three, four hours by road?” Yunho clears his throat. “KTX takes about two hours, but I prefer to drive. Jeollado’s scenery is beautiful.” 

“Oh,” Changmin blinks. He’s got milk warming in another saucepan. “But you don’t have an accent. Not that satoori is bad,” he hurries to clarify.  

Yunho’s smile wanes.

“I left home when I was a teenager,” he says. His face is wooden; it’s a complete turnabout from the Yunho Changmin’s used to seeing, usually mobile, usually expressive. “I don’t- the relationship with my father isn’t... good. We’re not close. I mean, he’s trying now, but. I don’t want to put my mum in a position where she has to choose. These days she tries to take the train up at least once monthly to visit me.”

“Oh, I. I’m sorry,” Changmin stammers, mortified that he’s opened what is clearly a touchy subject, but Yunho shrugs and offers a weak variation of the sunshine grin Changmin’s used to seeing on him. “Don’t be, Changminnie. It’s not like you knew. And I was the one who started talking about it, wasn’t I?” 

“Have some hot chocolate,” Changmin says frantically, in lieu of actually having anything comforting to say. He places a steaming mug in front of Yunho, who bows slightly in his seat and curves both hands around the mug’s porcelain body. 

Yunho takes a long drink, over Changmin’s concerned squawk of “don’t not so fast you’ll burn your tongue!” and gives a sigh. “Oh, this is so good. How did you know I love hot chocolate? I force myself to drink Americanos, or even mochas, but hot chocolate is the best. You’re quite a genius in the kitchen, Changminnie, aren’t you?”

“Lucky guess. And it’s just melted chocolate and milk,” Changmin squeaks again, face probably as red as the hoodie on Yunho. 

 

--

 

Youngmin had told them last night that the next Challenge was minimal, and simple- in the truest sense of the word. It is going to be Unplugged Week, and their song choices either have to be acoustic or a cappella

Changmin turns BoA’s words over and over in his head, analysing and dissecting, and he decides to take Taeyeon up on her offer. 

Jihwan’s still down with the flu, so it’s another cameraman that has been following him around, and he’s junior and not so nosy so he mostly hangs back to get wide shots of Changmin. He’s panning between Changmin and Taeyeon’s room door now. 

Changmin knocks on her door. She opens it precisely eight seconds after. “What?” her tone is brusque, then she sees Changmin. “Oh. It’s you.”

“Can I take you up on the guitar lessons?” Changmin asks, after a long, straight-backed bow to her.

Her face is blank. “You’re older than me.”

“You’re going to be my teacher.” He tries a smile on her.

She’s unmoved. “Fine. Let me get my guitars.”

“Guitars ?” Changmin echoes, dragging the ‘s’,  then shifts to wait for her.

The girls all have a single room to themselves each, and he peers in slightly, curious despite himself. She’s got lots of music scores around, piled untidily, but at least the bed’s made and her shoes are shoved to one end of the room.

She comes out from where she was at the far end, holding onto two guitars. One’s a pale wood, and in a more rounded shape, whilst the other is stained a richer mahogany brown. The pale one has a shape more reminiscent of a very confused figure 8, and the other one has interesting curves near the top. 

“Practice room,” she orders, when Changmin makes to head outside. “You need an enclosed space to hear the differences first.”

“Differences in what?” Is Changmin’s question, but he goes unanswered and follows her anyway.

She sets up, and puts the blobby figure 8 guitar gently on his lap. It’s the opposite of how she usually is- curt, efficient, rude, rough and occasionally funny by complete accident. “This one is easier to play for beginners. Hold it properly.” 

He hugs the guitar awkwardly. It’s a lot bigger than the electric guitar that he performed on. She shows him the correct way to cradle it, shaping his arms about it. 

“How much do you know about guitars,” she says abruptly, looking at him. Her roots have grown out, and she’s pulled her hair into a messy blonde-and-black topknot. 

“Um.” Changmin clears his throat. “Not much? Mihawk,” naming the show’s studio band guitarist, ”showed me the finger positions for the scales when he taught me the notes for Rock With U last week. A very very long time ago my parents sent me for violin lessons as a young boy so I can still vaguely read a score. I felt the bow made a better sword, though.”

“That was bullshit. You only played 4 notes in accompaniment,” Taeyeon counters frankly, ignoring his half-baked joke, but there’s no censure in her tone. She looks at Changmin’s fingers resting on the fretboard - the long neck of the guitar. “How many scales do you know? Did he teach you all of them? Let’s start from C major. Show me.”

She makes him do the left-handed fingering for C major, then D, and all the way up to B, and then the flat majors. There’s no smile on her face, but she does go, “at least you know where the notes are. Your positions are all done by memorising, right? Fine. Show me the minors. C natural now.” 

“What’s a C natural minor?”

Taeyeon looks up from where she’s staring a hole into his fingers. “Never mind. I’ll explain later. Show me what you know when you think of C minor then.” 

He stumbles through E, B, G minors instead, or what he remembers of them, and then shakes his head. Taeyeon makes a considering hum. “Not bad. I thought we’ll have to start from scratch.”

“This isn’t starting from scratch?” Changmin says, and wiggles his right hand at her. “What about my right hand?”

“Learn how to walk before you run,” Taeyeon reaches out and grasps his right hand with the ends of two fingers, lifting it and dropping it to the side like it’s a dead rat. “Again. Left hand, show me E minor.”

She’s a good teacher, surprisingly enough. Blunt, factual and unemotional, just “do it again” when he inadvertently makes a mistake.

Changmin looks up to realise they’ve spent an hour doing left-handed fingerings on the fretboard. His right hand is just cupping the guitar body, as support.

At the very end, she gives him a pick and lets him pluck at the strings. “You can do that with your fingers too, but most beginners use a pick because the skin on their finger pads can’t quite withstand- see?” She shows him her fingers. 

They’re rough and the skin overlying them is scarred and slightly yellow in places. “I prefer using my fingers to pluck. The sound is slightly different. Warmer. Better for control, too.” 

Changmin uses the pick, and sets his fingers in the position for a B. The sound that comes is too soft. “Oh.” 

Taeyeon just puts his hand back against the strings. “Again, but harder. Then pluck at it like this.” She shows him with her fingers on the mahogany guitar, then uses another pick for the movement so he can copy it.

The sound that comes out is clear, crisp, a bright twang. He tries it again, without the pick. “Oh! It’s so different from the electric guitar.”

Taeyeon scoffs. “Electric anything is like a cheat code. You don’t have to do projection, no one cares really about intonation, tuning is easy, you can add a million strings so fingering is easier… Strum one note and make it blare and the crowd goes crazy like you’re flinging dollar bills at them. It’s like ordering a fucking Happy Meal then passing it off as fucking organic free range chicken steak.”

“I didn’t understand any of that except that end bit about the Happy Meal,” Changmin says truthfully, and laughs when she rolls her eyes at him. 

She thinks, cradling the other guitar and tapping out an absent-minded beat against its body. “Electric means plugged. Something vital in instruments, from smaller ones like strings to the piano or even a trumpet, or percussion or even your voice is projection and intonation. Unplugged, a musician may have to position himself in a certain angle, play notes or perform certain manoeuvres in a certain formation to give certain emotions, no matter the instrument, when it’s unplugged. It’s human technique and human skill and human control.”

Her finger do something quick and a silvery string of notes emits from her guitar. “With electrical amplification, you can do things like make sure you are always in tune, that you don’t need to know control and skill, you just need to press certain things and bam. It’s like driving with a stick shift versus an automatic but worse. At least with an automatic car, even with a digital screen lining out where you should park, you still need to control the wheel minimally on your own.”

Changmin’s trying to nod along, but he knows she can see that she’s mostly lost him. 

She plucks another note, and then brightens. It’s the most animated he’s seen her. “Auto-tune. You know what auto-tune is, right? It’s like how you can scream in a recording booth and even if it’s off-key, machines can take care of it for you. But unplugged and live means you actually have to be on key and sing with technique.”

“You’re a purist,” Changmin summarises, and laughs when she frowns at him. 

“So are you,” she counters. “It’s like how you cook for us sometimes. The production team buys microwavable meals and canned food and takeout for us, right? But then you cook for us, and you always go for the freshest ingredients they make available to us, and you make almost everything from scratch, especially your sauces. That’s unplugged, in your world.”

“Oh,” Changmin says. He gets it now. 

She gives him a tiny smile. It’s the first she’s given, he thinks. “Have you chosen your song already?”

“Yes.” Changmin says, and dares to continue, “and actually, I want to play accompaniment to it. Hence I’m here prostrate for your help. I even found the score online. It’s a famous song, so they have variations. I’m picking the beginner one.”

“Prostrate,” she scoffs. “Which song is it?” She tells him hers, blunt.

Changmin blinks at her, turning it over in his head. “I can see you singing it,” he decides.

“Can you?” She plucks out a four-chord opening bar, and goes, voice steady and sure and poignant, “we were sad of getting old, it made us restless. It was just like a movie. It was just like a song.” 

Changmin tells her his, and watches her eyebrows go up. “Ballsy,” she says, and the hint of smile is back, “in that the melody is so clean there’s nowhere you can hide. And a very good counter to your performance this week.” 

“I want to show her that I’m really thankful for her advice, and I will try my best to push myself,” Changmin explains. He doesn’t need to say who ‘her’ is; they both know. 

Taeyeon just scoffs again and nudges the guitar back against his chest. “You’re such a pathetic fanboy. Show me the scales for G major, then.” 

 

--

 

Changmin practices, and practices. 

It’s good that his palms are already calloused and scarred from years of cooking. Taeyeon graduates him into practicing his accompaniment score with both hands, and to using his fingers to pluck instead of a pick. 

She also loans him her blobby figure 8 guitar; a Dreadnought, she says, which is just two words strung together and don’t make any sense to him at all.

When Changmin confesses to her that he just calls it “the blobby figure 8 guitar” in his head, she doesn’t laugh, but her lips flatten out suspiciously before returning to their usual neutral frown.

“Break it and I break you,” she warns. “If you want to use a guitar after this week, get your own.”

Irene gapes at him when she finds out. “You got Taeyeon to give you lessons?” She throws a cushion at him. They’re in the main living room waiting to watch a broadcast teaser of Judges’ Challenge. The two of them are early and waiting for the rest of the twelve (there’s only an even dozen of them now) to pop in.

His near loss last week has apparently turned into a giant fandom -Changmin’s still not quite sure he knows what a fandom is- drama involving lots of Internet shouting and there are strangers for him and against him and decrying BoA and also supporting her and more people saying that they’re all attention whores and he should have been ditched a million years ago with Hyukjae and Minho reinstated and BoA is a pop culture has-been and Jongkook and Jaewon are weaklings that should have controlled her. 

Hyunseok and Jinwoo and also his sisters have been texting him multiple updates daily, but Changmin just ignores them all and keeps on practising. 

The only person that he replies is his father, who had dropped him a text saying, your mother is in bed with a cold compress and she is saying alternately that she wants to burn all her BoA albums and also have her as a daughter-in-law. Changmin just laughs and taps out the reply, remind her I’m gay.

His father sends only love you, work hard back. 

Irene’s pouting. “I want Taeyeon to give me lessons,” she moans. “I tried to touch her guitar and she cursed at me.”

“I bet you didn’t ask nicely,” Changmin sniffs, and sniggers when Irene slams another cushion into his face.

 

--

 

It’s not Yoonju working on his styling this week, which is a relief, since they’re doing acoustic renditions and Changmin doesn’t think leather or lace or whatever crazy material Yoonju’s fixated on on a weekly basis would work.

Instead it’s a meeker girl called Eun-ah, and Changmin knows her by sight. She’s the one behind the faithful Michael Jackson replicas that Yunho had put on, and for draping Zhou Mi’s lanky body in sharp-looking suits and classic cuts. 

Changmin mentions his song title to her when they’re huddling at the makeup rooms in the studio’s backstage warrens, and then asks her if she thinks he can wear his own clothes. 

Jooyoung’s sitting in at his meeting with her, eyes sharp, and Jihwan’s next to him, camera propped up on a tripod. They have very clearly excluded themselves from the conversation though, because Jooyoung’s leaning back to stare at the two of them through Jihwan’s camera monitor instead. 

“Your own clothes,” Eun-ah says doubtfully, but Changmin presses, “because it’s unplugged, you see? Stripped down to the bare minimum. I was thinking a white shirt and jeans, my own. I’ll be playing the guitar.” 

She’s silent, and then she goes, “show me?”

So they head back to the mansion, Jihwan in tow, and Changmin pulls out the white shirt and faded blue jeans he’s already selected from his wardrobe. 

Eun-ah looks from it, to his face, eyes roving on odd parts of him like his waist and then she stares very long at his thighs. Changmin ignores this discomfort of having someone stare with such focus at the general area of his crotch. He knows she’s working. 

“It’s doable,” she muses, “let’s have you go barefoot, too. Stripped down, right? Minimalist. And then we’ll ask Hyeyoung to sweep your bangs back and just go for a nude makeup look, maybe with loads of highlighter and bronzer to bring out those cheekbones-”

“Sure,” he says, shrugging, and she very clearly ignores him to continue brainstorming out loud how they can maybe alter his shirt very slightly at the cuffs so they fall back to reveal his wrists whenever he plucks at the guitar.

 

--

 

The Judges’ Choice Challenge airs, and if the chatter leading up to it is considered “dramatic”, the public reaction during and after the episode showing can probably be called “madness”. 

BoA’s name and his leap to the top of the search rankings on Naver and Daum, and some anonymous person hidden behind a sock account starts a hate page that calls for signatures to remove him and bring Hyukjae back. Another page also calls for a similar removal, but is pushing for Victoria to take his place. 

Jiyeon texts him a screenshot of someone else who’s set up a Twitter page that proclaims itself “Changmin Daily” and promises multiple updates throughout the day on his doings. The rest of the contestants are very amused. Zhou Mi even laughs and teases that Kyuhyun must be the admin, because he would be the one person able to get shower pictures and know when Changmin is eating and practicing and drinking and sleeping. 

Henry tells him this is good news, because “any form of publicity is free publicity, dude. I think Dispatch went to your restaurant too and there’s like a long queue there.” 

“Not my restaurant,” Changmin says absent-mindedly, fingers intent on Taeyeon’s guitar. He mutters a curse as he switches positioning and his finger slips and he plays a D instead of a G. “And we operate on a reservations-only booking system. No walk-ins.”

Hyunseok had actually sent him a picture of that, with a string of Happy Rock Changmins, and the message, you’re bad for business, now they’re all queueing like I’m a McDonald’s. Don’t come back until you’ve won the thing, love you and we’ll be watching. Changmin fighting!   

“Yeah, I don’t think your fans know that,” Henry says, and Changmin hunches further over the guitar and repeats the phrase, because he keeps lagging when he has to change his right hand from strumming to plucking. 

 

--

 

He goes on stage, clutching Taeyeon’s guitar with one sweaty hand. The crowd murmurs when they notice his bare feet. 

He sits and crosses his legs, the guitar balanced in the vee of his thighs. 

The stage lights are on and Changmin can’t see outside of his immediate vicinity again. 

He smiles in what he remembers is the general direction of the judges, and says into the mic adjusted at the left side of his face, “this is for the judges. I’m not very good with words and I don’t know actually if we’re allowed to talk before our performances,” a ripple of laughter, “but I just want to thank them for trying hard with us, and pushing us and believing in us. Thank you.”

He adjusts the second mic so it sits near the sound-hole, and tweaks at the tuning pegs one last time, like Taeyeon had taught. He does a quick strum to check they’re in tune.

Then he sets his fingers on the guitar, left on the fretboard, right at the strings, and begins. 

 

-- 

 

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world.

You may say that I'm a dreamer,

 But I'm not the only one.

I hope someday you'll join us 

And the world will live as one.

-- IMAGINE.