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“I mean, this was my mom’s homeland, and she raised me speaking Korean, so it wasn’t a hard stretch to buy a one-way ticket to Seoul from the casting couches in LA. My mom would have been super proud! But my Korean’s still bad, so yeah, I need to look for a tutor.” 

-- Tiffany HWANG (30), actress.


“Funnily enough, my CEO was the one who suggest I come try out at Sing! Idol. I think I’ve been irritating the other girls too much with my singing backstage whenever we walk.”

-- Irene BAE (28), model.


 

Previously on Sing! Idol,

Unplugged Challenge winner: TAEYEON

 

Taeyeon wins and Donghae goes home, and there’s barely half (eleven now) of them left. The head producers are in a great mood, grinning and joking with each other and the staff, even as the contestants shuffle backstage for the customary post-show briefing for the upcoming week.

Kyuhyun nudges Changmin. “I heard they’re all high because of the drama between you and BoA. We shot to first in ratings last night.”

“There’s no drama between BoA and I,” Changmin objects, indignant for her sake. “I’m her fan!”

“So it’s not longer just your mother, huh?” A new voice interrupts them, and Changmin turns to see the woman herself. Oh shit. He rewinds mentally what he just said. Jesus.

She laughs at him, and pats him on the arm. “Best decision I ever made on this show.” Her gaze slides slyly to Kyuhyun, who’s Team Jongkook, and back to him. “You’re going to be my secret weapon to take down Jongkook. He’s been too smug for too long.”

“Hey,” Kyuhyun protests out of reflex. “You’re not supposed to be biased.”

“I’m off-camera,” she says, still patting Changmin. “I’m allowed to be.”

“There are cameras around, still,” Kyuhyun points out logically, then shrinks when she turns the full force of her gaze on him. “It’s the truth!”

“Does he annoy you?” BoA asks Changmin instead, though her eyes are locked on Kyuhyun. “Shall I make him disappear?”

“What,” Kyuhyun yelps, and BoA laughs again, heading off to join Jaewon when he beckons to her. Changmin tries, but he can’t quite keep a straight face. 

“Mate, stop giggling. She’s psychotic. How do you guys stand her?” Kyuhyun moans, then gives a little scream when Taeyeon appears at his elbow. Her expression is not unlike BoA’s. “Shit! There’s another one of her! Mini Me!”

Taeyeon ignores his hysterics and holds her hand out to Changmin. “My guitar.”

“Er, yes!” Changmin has the case clutched tightly against his chest, and he gives it over to her carefully with both hands. She flips it open, looking the Dreadnought over with a critical eye. “Good. You wiped it down and tuned it.”

“I kind of sweated all over it,” he said honestly, and flinches out of habit when she levels him with one of her glares. There’s a twitch to the corner of her mouth, so he’s not too worried. She walks off and sits in the corner, her eyes on the head producers. Soyoung and Youngmin look like they are arguing about something. Youngjin has got the three judges with him. 

There’s a bit of a lull, then Zhou Mi comes to join them. “You have the best luck with the girls,” he informs Changmin, to whom this is news.

“What?” Changmin blinks. Kyuhyun looks like his Christmas has just come early.

“Taeyeon?” Zhou Mi asks, then points out, “Tiffany, Wendy, Irene. They all like you. And Amber, even though she’s on my team, and I’m not sure if you can classify her as a girl. Victoria thought you were nice too, but she’s gone.”

Kyuhyun just laughs at his own teammate so hard that he stumbles sideways.

The only thing Changmin picks out is, insulted on Amber’s behalf, “Amber likes to have short hair and wearing trousers but that doesn’t make her not a girl if she feels like she is a girl.”

He yelps when a hand gooses down his back, indecently low, and turns to see it’s Amber, grinning. “Props for that, you sweetheart, and that’s why we love you,” she coos exaggeratedly at him, then points two of her fingers at her eyes, then at Zhou Mi. Zhou Mi sticks his tongue out at her.

“Attention,” Soyoung says, and claps her hands twice. They all stop fooling around and focus on her.

“I’m sure some of you have already heard,” she says, smiling, “but we achieved first in ratings last night, for the Judges’ Choice challenge.”

Cue clapping and catcalls. Someone whistles, loud and off-key.

“That doesn’t mean we are going to rest on our laurels,” she continues. Yunho’s front and centre as usual, and he’s nodding fiercely along. “I’ve got two pieces of news for you. Following the Unplugged Challenge, you now will prepare for a Battle royale next week, between two extremes in musical genres. Musicals and rap.”

She pauses, but everyone is too shocked to react. The cameramen have their lenses focused on their individual contestants. ”The eleven of you will do a random draw now, to decide which of the genres you will focus on. You have to come up with your song choice by tomorrow evening; and also let us and the production team know if you have any special requests on sets or blocking. This is not a challenge split amongst teams. Contestants on the same teams, if random draw determines it, may perform numbers from the two different genres.”

Chanyeol throws a fist in the air and goes, “yeah! It’s rap time!” 

Soyoung gives a perfunctory smile in his direction and says, “The top two contestants will sing a second song, of the genre they picked, to duke it out in a one-versus-one showdown. Hence, 'battle royale'. The lowest scoring contestant as determined by the audience voting system will go home. Yes; if you score well for your first song but badly for your second song, there is a chance for your elimination, as well.”

As if this isn’t enough of a doozy, Youngmin takes over. “We’ve got another piece of news for you too. Because the broadcast network has a festival coming up that will be airing in Sing! Idol’s time slot for a fortnight, we’ve discussed with management and agreed that after the Battle Challenge next week, we’ll pause filming since we have a backlog of episodes, anyway.”

He looks around at them, noting that their expressions are mostly confused, and adds with a chuckle. “It means you guys can head home for two weeks, before we resume filming.”

 

--

 

Changmin draws 'musicals', together with Kyuhyun and Wendy, which is a relief. Dance was already pushing his limit. He doesn’t think he can do rap as well, unless it’s barking out dinner orders at rush hour. Even that he still has some difficulty with. 

Chanyeol gives such a loud whoop that everyone knows he’s drawn “rap”, similar to how everyone knows Tiffany’s got “rap” as well, from her despairing shriek. 

Changmin doesn’t pay much attention to the rest of them, already thinking about what song choices he wants to sing and rifling through the musicals he knows in his head. The first time he saw a musical live was when Hyunseok left Elbon the Table in Jinwoo’s more than capable hands and took him on a food trip his self-imposed gap year, after freshman Changmin broke down from the stress of being in school and in a full-time job as a roundsman. 

They went to Venice, Tuscany, Nice and Brittany, exploring the different taste notes that Changmin found himself learning in the kitchen but barely knew the history of, and ending the trip in London. It’s been a decade since then, but Changmin will never forget the experience of hearing show tunes and arias belted out live at the West End. 

He’s kept up with them in the meantime, because Hyunseok’s wife is a West End fanatic, and regularly demands Hyunseok bring him along too, whenever there are new shows opening at the Seoul Arts Centre. 

He runs into Yunho while they’re leaving, about to head back to the mansion. The gleam in the other man’s eyes is enough for Changmin to point at him and go, “you’ve got rap, right?”

Yunho smiles. “I don’t think I want to tell you.”

“Why?” Changmin feels a little insulted. He’s made hot chocolate for this man. He gave him his university hoodie! (Which he still hasn’t returned!)

Yes, his inner voice is waspish. It sounds remarkably like his mother. Why don’t you give him your class ring too, while you’re at it.

“Nope,” Yunho laughs. “You’re finally paying attention to the competition. It’ll be too dangerous to tell you.”

He smooths a hand down Changmin’s shoulder, to lessen the sting, and moves off. Changmin gapes after him.

 

--

 

“I’m performing Singing in the Rain,” Kyuhyun says. “The number where he tap dances and well, sings in the rain. I’m going to ask the producers if I can have fake rain coming down. I don’t think anyone’s crazy enough to attempt that. Maybe Yunho, but from what you told me, I’m pretty sure he’s got ‘rap’. I haven't the slightest what I'll do for my backup song. You?” 

They’re sprawled in an empty practice room, phones both opened to Melon and Spotify. 

“I’m torn,” Changmin admits. “I can’t decide between two choices. Well, three, actually, but the third one is so famous that I’m pretty sure someone else will sing it. So that’s out.”

“Which one is that?”

Music of the Night,” Changmin confesses, and throws a pencil at Kyuhyun when he does an exaggerated shudder of distaste. “I like it!”

“It’s overplayed,” Kyuhyun remarks, “good that you are dropping it. Although your head voice will sound beautiful in the bridge… Nah. Still don’t like it. Which are the two you actually are considering?”

“They’re both from the same show,” Changmin says, and tells him. Kyuhyun sits up, and flicks to his Spotify to play both songs. The numbers sound, sweeping and gorgeous in the space. “Which one do you like better?”

“That’s the thing, I love both of them,” Changmin shrugs, scuffing a toe against the polished wooden floorboards. “And it might be fun singing a song written for a female role. Fantine’s a mezzo-soprano, so it’s not like I’ll be spitting blood from her range.”

He sneaks a glance at Kyuhyun. “You can probably do Cosette, though.” 

Kyuhyun waves the praise away with a dismissive hand. His eyes are intent on Changmin’s. “I hear a very loud ‘but’.”

“But the other solo,” Changmin swipes at his phone and pulls up the Korean, then English lyrics. “It’s lower, of course. And not as tricksy as Fantine’s. But it’s quite apt for our situation, isn’t it? So maybe I'll use Fantine's as my backup instead.”

“Quite apt for our si-” Kyuhyun leans over and reads the lines, an involuntary bark of laughter escaping him. “Fuck, Shim, you’re morbid.”

“All right?” Changmin’s grinning. Kyuhyun shoves at him. His smile is affectionate. “All right.” 

 

--

 

His requests to the producers, in comparison to some of the contestants, is extremely sane and almost too understated. Jooyoung frowns at him, after Changmin’s managed to hunt him down. “Are you sure you’re not doing more?”

Jihwan’s got a hand on his camera but he’s set it up in a fixed angle, clearly more invested in eavesdropping blatantly.

"Yes,” Changmin insists, smiling when Jooyoung looks down at the piece of paper where Changmin’s sketched his ideas out. “No, see, that actually contributes to my song choice. It’s supposed to be… less. Shabby. Empty.” 

“If you say so,” Jooyoung says doubtfully, and dutifully repeats the phrase again when Jihwan asks him to, because he wanted to pull a close-up of Changmin’s face upon hearing that. “Some of the other kids have gone a bit mad. Well. Madder than usual. Your friend Kyuhyun actually, he’s got some harebrained thing about rain on set, and then on the other hand Yunho’s asking about fire-” 

“Yunho’s doing something with fire?” Changmin asks interestedly, but Jooyoung snaps his mouth shut. 

“No spoilers,” the assistant producer says, sniffing. “If Yunho wants to tell you what he’s doing ahead of time, we certainly won’t stop him. But you won’t hear any spoilers from us.”

“Fine, fine,” Changmin relents and tries again, just to be an asshole. “He’s got ‘rap’, right? I asked him, but he refuses to tell me.”

“There you have it, no spoilers,” Jooyoung says, and refuses to utter another word on the subject. Instead, he chases Changmin off to see the stylists.

 

--

 

You owe me,” Yoonju announces, victorious grin taking up more than half her face. 

“You look possessed,” Changmin informs her.

“Oh, yes, Eun-ah warned me that you’ve got your own opinions now,” Yoonju folds her arms across her chest, and raises both her eyebrows. “No matter. What matters is you owe me. You said I can have free rein when I next style you. It is now my next styling you.”

“I said you can-” Changmin stops and thinks. Recalls. “Shit. I did.”

“Language,” Yoonju purrs, indicating Jihwan with a careless shrug. Jihwan, however mouths the sound man will beep it at Changmin and then swings his camera to keep Yoonju in framing as she stalks slow circles around Changmin.

“I also said ‘within reason of the challenge’,” Changmin reminds her, forcing himself to stand firm when she pivots around with a displeased hiss. 

“So you did,” Yoonju mutters, slightly deflated. “Well? What’s your song about?”

Changmin tells her. Then he wishes he didn’t, because he doesn’t like the glint in her eyes at all.

“What?” he demands. “Yoonju, damn it, what are you thinking?”

“Language,” she repeats. She’s smiling. No, she’s grinning. It’s vaguely shark-like and leaves Changmin with a queasy sensation. “Come back in two days. I’ve got just the idea for you…”

 

--

 

Henry’s also drawn ‘rap’, he tells Changmin, and shows some crazy mix of dance and rap and something he calls dubstep. It has long low whirring sounds that just gives Changmin a headache, but Henry does look very cool doing it. 

Taeyeon tells him he’s overcompensating and Wendy laughs so hard she falls halfway into Changmin’s lap. Next to her, Tiffany is subdued and tense, a pale imitation of her usual self. 

Team BoA is the largest team so far, at this current state of things. BoA’s still got Taeyeon, Henry, Tiffany, Wendy and Changmin in the game, whereas Jongkook and Jaewon only have three contestants each remaining. 

Tiffany’s certain BoA will have one less by the time the week dies, though. “I’m going home,” she proclaims morosely. “I just- I can’t rap. Not like Chanyeol can.” 

Changmin reaches across Wendy and grips Tiffany’s hand. He knows what she’s feeling all too well. “It’s okay,” he tells her. “You are going to try your best, because we know you will. Nothing else matters.”

“I know that, but I still feel like,” she moans, darting a look at the cameras, “like shirt, if you get my meaning, yeah?”

"I know what can cheer you up," Wendy says, halfway in Changmin's lap and all the way in Tiffany's. "Make Changmin cook comfort food for you!"

Changmin shoves Wendy's knee away from how it's too uncomfortably close to his crotch, and looks up to be confronted by not one but two pairs of dewy damp eyes, wide and beseeching. "What? What?"

"Cook for ’Fany," Wendy implores, fat bottom lip quivering. "She's sad." 

"Eating your feelings is not a solution," Changmin advises. 

Tiffany sits up, indignant, "your entire professional career is built on people eating their feelings!" 

"Not true," Changmin says, snooty. "If people come to Choidot to eat their feelings away, it'll be a waste of their money and time. We prefer them to be in possession of their full feelings and faculties, thanks."

Tiffany looks at Wendy. Wendy looks at Tiffany. Then they both look at him. Their eyes are big and wet again. 

"Oh for fuc-fudge's sake," Changmin says, flustered, an eye on Jihwan. "What do you want to eat?"

“Los Angeles on a plate,” is Tiffany's immediate answer, and it’s clear that she’s been winding him up just to use such a response. He makes a disgusted noise, even as she and Wendy hoot and high-five each other.

Taeyeon throws her scorebook at them and snaps at them to focus. Henry takes that as an invitation to show off his dubstep moves and gangster rap again. 

Changmin just grins at them, something soft and happy curling up in his stomach in place of the pit that was originally reserved for anxiety.

 

--

 

There isn't enough time for him to cook for Tiffany that night, because she gets summoned by her stylist for an emergency fitting. 

Changmin think about it and wanders to Hyejin and Jaeni for help.

They're ecstatic, and Jaeni scribbles nonstop on her notepad whilst Changmin briefs them on the things he needs. 

 

--

 

Changmin's back with Yoonju at the broadcast station studio, for fittings. She’s summoned him earlier than usual this time, claiming that she wants to see him trying out her work-in-progress and doing a basic fit, before further editing, whatever that means. 

She hands things to him in layers, all of them severe and dark save for the broadcloth shirt and they're such a complete turnabout from her usual tastes that Changmin puts them on with barely any hesitation.

He's in the white shirt and black leather breeches and knee high boots when she makes him come out from the dressing room and onto a raised dais, arguing, "I need to see how they go on you, I need to see how the layers sit."

“I think these boots have too high a heel,” he says doubtfully, but comes out anyway because she’s threatening to stick him in the side with a pin if he dawdles. 

His eyebrows rise, and continue rising as she keeps handing him things. He’s buttoning the navy blue waistcoat, but she’s got something like a sash that’ll go around his waist, and there's something similar but smaller, a shorter and slimmer length of cloth, “a stock,” Yoonju says, “it goes around your neck. Like a cravat, but Marius was a lawyer, I looked it up on Naver, so no gentlemanly cravats for you. Why couldn’t you have chosen someone more romantic? Like a prince! No, just hold onto it, I’ll help you tie it after I’m done with your cummerbund.”

There’s a coat, an even darker shade of a midnight blue and with a bit of a pearlescent shimmer if you look at it sideways because Yoonju can’t help herself, tight and absolutely fitted about his shoulders and arms before slightly flaring out and cutting away at his upper thighs. And then another longer coat that goes over it, heavy and with many splits and layers across his back. This one is grey and reaches just below his knees.

“A greatcoat,” Yoonju names, the wide smile on her face teetering into the realm of deranged. She’s clutching on a pair of cufflinks that are silver and shiny and in the shape of books. “Stop squirming, I’ll straighten it for you.”

“It’s - I’m warm,” Changmin protests. She’s tied the stock in a way that it’s up against his throat, like a tie but not quite. He swallows and the movement is arrested, snug against the cloth. “Yoonju, I’ll die under the studio lights. I’m already starting to sweat. You put six layers on me! People didn’t have money for this much clothing during the French Revolution!”

“Only four, and don’t be a ninny,” Yoonju dismisses, yanking the line of his waistcoat straight. “Stand straight! I thought we cured you of that disgusting habit of slouching - you’ll spoil the lines!” 

“The only thing that will spoil is my brain when I develop a fever from overheating,” Changmin tells her, but is as usual summarily ignored.

Yoonju frowns at his waist, then squats down to run a hand from his knee up fast to very high up on the inside of his thigh. 

Changmin yelps, flinching. He gets a harsh smack to the inside of his thighs for his troubles.

“Are you wearing boxers?” Yoonju demands. Her hand is still uncomfortably close to his crotch, something that a lot of people are doing without his permission these days. And not because he’s having fun, too. “No boxers on recording day! Boxer briefs or briefs- wait, better be briefs, because we’re going to have these breeches be very tailored-”

It’s to this very interesting turn of the conversation that Yunho enters, and freezes. “Should I come back later?”

Changmin sees him in the mirror, and yelps again. Yunho’s eyes are fixed on Yoonju’s very pale hand curved firmly on the underside where Changmin’s left buttock meets his left leg. 

“Oh, Yunho,” Yoonju says breezily. She yanks at the seam, tugging another strangled noise from Changmin, because things chafe. “You’re early.”

“I can come back later,” Yunho volunteers. He doesn’t sound like he means it, though. His gaze is still lowered onto Changmin’s thighs, even though Yoonju has taken her hand away.

She’s looking at Yunho instead, and the soft expression on her is not what she wears whenever she looks at Changmin, for all she goes on and on about Changmin’s different body parts and how she loves to dress them.

“Your concept is ready,” she’s saying, and she’s pointing Yunho towards the dressing room, a long zipped up clothing dust bag in her arms. “Go put it on- I don’t think we’ll need much tweaking-”

Yunho goes, but he seems to be a little distracted today. Probably horrified by the groping. He hasn’t made eye contact with Changmin yet. 

Yoonju turns back to Changmin, a determined set to her lips. “You.”

Changmin can feels moisture gathering at his collar. It’s really too many layers and he feels like a dumpling tightly swaddled in constricting sheaves. “Yoonju, I don’t think this is period appropriate-”

“Look in the mirror,” she interrupts. 

Changmin does, really looks, and. Oh.

He doesn’t look like himself. He looks like… Oh.

Yoonju’s smug again. “Totally not breaking my streak. On recording day we’ll have Hyeyoung give you another trim around the ears and let those cheekbones convey starving French aristocrat fallen on hard times.”

 

--

 

Changmin lingers, curious because Yunho’s still tight-lipped about what he’s doing for the Battle, and promptly tries to not swallow his tongue when Yunho steps out of the dressing room. 

He vaguely registers Yoonju bustling around him, clucking and pleased. 

Their gazes meet. Changmin knows he’s gaping like a fool but now he understands why Yoonju was moaning earlier about him not picking a prince-like character- because then she’ll have a matched set. 

She’s dressed Yunho in a cream coloured faux-military jacket and pantaloons with crest embroidery creeping up the sides of his legs, emphasising their length. There are epaulettes and beading and an inordinate amount of gold thread involved. He looks like some starstruck teenage girl’s idea of a fairytale prince, like a Prince Charming out of a childhood story book.

Changmin says, proud that he sounds marginally collected, “does this mean you’re doing musicals instead? Since you’re dressed like an escapee from Disneyland.”

Yunho’s face morphs from unreadable to something more familiar, a mischievous grin tugging at his lips. With his hair messy and un-styled, face clean, he’s lethal. “I’ll never tell.”

 

--

 

Jaeni comes by to tell him the producers have found him pastrami and flaxseed buns and authentic American bacon, so Changmin gets to work that night.

 

--

 

“You shouldn’t have done it,” Tiffany weeps, one of her tears splotching onto the serving plate. 

Disconcerted, Changmin edges it away from her. He may be away from Hyunseok’s kitchen, but he’s still adhering to the health standards imposed by the Korea Food and Drug Safety Ministry. 

He’s pretty sure it’s a violation of some sort if he serves food tainted with human bodily fluids. Never mind that the person tainting it is the same person who’s going to eat it.

“You shouldn’t have done it,” Tiffany cries again, Californian drawl nasal and congested. Apparently her valley girl accent comes out in full when she’s distraught and Changmin can barely understand her when she’s speaking Korean like it’s English. “It kind of- it kind of feels like the Last Supper- like I’m gonna go to m’execution at like, dawn-”

“Wow,” Changmin says, pulling the plate further away back to himself. “Fine. Sure. I’m certain someone else will be willing to eat it.”

“I volunteer as tribute,” Henry says immediately, one hand in the air and the other hand creeping towards the plate. Changmin slaps his hand away - in the nick of time, because Tiffany snarls and swipes at Henry with the fork clutched in her hand. “Don’t you touch it.” 

She pulls the plate back from Changmin, curves both her arms protectively around it. She’s got mascara all over her face again, not dissimilar to how she looked the night of the Judges’ Choice challenge. “No, no, I don’t care if eating it means like, I’m gonna be crucified tomorrow. If I’m dying at least I’ll die after having every bite and you can’t stop me.”

“If he wanted to stop you, he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of actually briefing the writers about all your nonsense American ingredients in the first place,” Taeyeon points out brusquely, but that only prompts a fresh wave of tears from Tiffany.

Changmin backs even further away, ears on fire. 

Jihwan looks ecstatic that he’s got three cameras to capture such primetime drama action. Tears! Dramatic confessions! Pretty food!

If they squint very hard Taeyeon can even masquerade as the archetypal evil mother-in-law.

Tiffany strokes a tender finger over the top half of the flaxseed bun, which is fluffy and dents slightly from her touch. Changmin rubs at his neck. It feels hot. “Tiffany, it’s fine if you don’t want to have it. It’s getting kind of cold anyway.”

“Nuh uh,” Tiffany refutes, mouth full of prime Texan-beef-and-pastrami patty and authentic smoked American bacon and Monterey Jack cheese. She swallows, and waves the mangled burger at them, the brown-pink of the patty and green pickles and white onions fully visible. “This is the best burger I’ve ever eaten this isn't LA on a plate it's my heart on a plate oh my god Changmin marry me and have little cheeseburger babies with me every night.” 

Changmin feels his ears cool and his embarrassment fade. 

Beside him, Wendy sniggers, “Fany, you’re not quite the right person to make that proposition.”

“Changmin doesn’t like American accents for one thing. Say it again in a neutral Seoul accent slipping very slightly into satoori on rare occasions and maybe,” Henry shares a telling glance with Wendy, and they both erupt into cackles. 

Changmin slaps both of them on the back of their heads. “Yes, laugh, why don’t you. I have three more freshly grilled patties here and I guess I’ll just go ask Kyuhyun if he wants to share.”

“I will fight Kyuhyun,” Henry proclaims and Wendy steals two patties from under him, then everyone is brawling with each other too hard for proper conversation. 

 

--

 

It's recording day, and backstage is even more of a controlled mess as usual, because underlying everyone's excitement:

  1. They'll somehow get two weeks off away from all the cameras after today
  2. Whoever's remaining will be part of the official top ten of Sing! Idol

Yoonju is flitting between him and Yunho, adjusting pleats and tucking in lines and tying things and she’s barking instructions at Hyeyoung about sweeping up their bangs and making sure they look bold, more of her crazy stylist chatter that Changmin still doesn’t get.

Yunho’s putting up with this treatment with his usual indomitable grace, but Changmin can feel his nose starting to sweat from the stifled heat trapped within his clothes. 

Changmin looks around and bites back a laugh. It’s mostly very clear who is performing which genre, because there are people in ball gowns and suits and fantastical costumes of a more historical bent, versus the other half of the eleven strong, who are in decidedly more modern wear. 

Well, except for Yunho. Changmin’s still not quite sure, but he’s leaning towards musicals. 

Kyuhyun’s in a classic pinstriped suit and bowler hat, complete with cane and tap dancing shoes. He’s currently using the cane to hook the back of Chanyeol’s jeans, which are extremely saggy and somehow is around the region of his lower thighs. He draws it back quickly and pretends to be practicing his dance routine, when Chanyeol turns with a shout. 

Tiffany is looking decidedly sharp in a fitted three piece grey suit whose only nod to her femininity is a more nipped in waist. Changmin goes over. Her feet are strapped in towering heels and disconcertingly, she’s eye-to-eye with Changmin and he doesn’t have to bend to give her a hug of encouragement.

She’s also trembling faintly. 

“You’ll try your best,” Changmin promises her.

“Don’t let me cry,” she returns. He squeezes her hand. 

 

--

 

Changmin’s second in line to perform, and he kicks it off in Korean, then English.

He completes his number to loud applause. It’s time for judges’ comments, and he stands up hastily from the seat he’s taken at his set, which consists only of nine empty chairs (aside from his) and two tables. 

Jongkook praises him, talking about “burgeoning sense of theatrical flair” and “thread of authentic desperation crying out at the audience”, which is a lot of fancy words that fly somewhat over Changmin’s head. But he takes it that the judges like what he’s done, and bows long and low. 

Some girl shouts very loudly from the seats that he looks like a bridegroom and she’ll be his bride, there doesn’t even need to be a proposal. She has her family register ready for him to sign. Changmin feels his ears flushing. 

There’s a smattering of laughter, and Jaewon puts up his mic to say it doesn’t bode well for a marriage if Changmin’s wearing such a severe dark colour palette on his wedding day. BoA just laughs and says the fangirls will have to wait for her permission first, because Changmin's from her team. Her statement prompts a fresh wave of cheers.

He lingers in stage left to watch the other performances. There’s only eleven of them, so it doesn’t take nearly as long as it did when they first started. 

Yunho comes out, very much in Disneyland escapee mode, but he opens his mouth and starts rapping and there are dance moves and head-banging and he’s winding and wending his way through complicated looking choreography, whilst spitting out words, machine gun-quick.

Changmin can feel himself gaping, and then there’s synchronised bursts of fire as Yunho shouts out about waiting for the rising sun.

Standing next to him, Zhou Mi leans over and gently nudges Changmin’s mouth closed. Changmin swallows and glances reflexively at the other man.

Zhou Mi’s mouth is relaxed and flat, but his eyes are glinting with laughter.

Changmin turns back hurriedly to the stage. 

 

--

 

In the end, Kyuhyun and Chanyeol go head-to-head. 

Kyuhyun’s first song is Singing in the Rain, and he couples his beautiful voice with a mind-boggling tap dance routine done in fake rain that’s released by newly rigged pipes high up in the studio. 

He doesn’t slip, not even faltering once. Changmin claps so hard that his palms hurt, while Kyuhyun holds his ending pose, cane aloft in the air and giant grin on his face. 

Chanyeol counters with a long rap anthem, where the only music is a tripping electronic tonal beat as words fall too fast and too smoothly from his lips, where he raps slickly how his popularity is probably higher than MNET’s, where he nearly swears on national television. He redacts the word himself, of course, a mischievous smirk on his face to the excitement of all the office ladies clutching at each other in the first row. 

They both get the highest scores so far, with a gap of only 4 points from each other, and run backstage to change into new outfits and get touch ups amidst a tittering audience. 

Youngjin calls for a tape change, and then they’re back to recording.

There’s a group of girls wearing a different school uniform from Changmin’s would-be bride and chanting Kyuhyun’s name. Two rows up in the audience, a huddle of girls and boys are waving large “CHANYEOL IS KING” cards and shrieking their heads off.

Wendy and Changmin have one of Tiffany’s hands each clutched in theirs. If there are no surprises, all of them know that Tiffany’s probably the one going home tonight. And unlike them, she won’t be back in a fortnight. 

Chanyeol performs his second song first. He’s got Irene doing a guest feature of sorts. 

They do a song together, and Chanyeol goes a step further and sings in addition to rapping. It’s a pretty song, and they sound beautiful together. But Chanyeol’s turn is over and the audience votes to give a slightly lower score than what he obtained for his first round. It makes the smile on his face a little fixed. It freezes completely when he’s back in the wings with them, and Kyuhyun steps out onstage.

Kyuhyun’s hair is short, but somehow now he’s got a messy little queue tied at his nape, and he’s dressed in snowy white and crimson red. The makeup stylists have given him a dramatic, gothic air- all pale colouring and bold black brows.

He’s got his mic clutched in one hand and the expression on his face is so unlike the usual joking, razor-witted Kyuhyun that all of them hold their breath. 

He walks forward, so much that he’s barely a feet away from the judges, and the stage lighting casts dramatic shadows on his face, and he opens his mouth. Mozart’s tormented aria about escaping his destiny pours out.

To absolutely no one’s surprise: Kyuhyun wins. 

 

--

 

They’re wrapping up filming, and it’s the unavoidable truth. Tiffany’s going home. 

She’s holding her tears better than she has in the past weeks, but her eyes are still reddening. Changmin steps up quickly behind her and murmurs into her ear, “imagine little cheeseburger babies rapping ‘can’t touch this’ and doing hip-thrusts out at Henry when he tries to eat them.”

It startles an unladylike snort out from her, but it does the trick (however inelegantly). She sniffs, and bows low to the audience. They cheer for her loudly.

Changmin’s sad, but at the same time happy. It’s got nothing to do with Sing! Idol, though. 

For two weeks, he’ll get to go home. He can’t wait. 

 

--

 

텅 빈 의자 텅 빈 탁자 나만 홀로 남았네

Oh my friends, my friends don't ask me 

What your sacrifice was for 

Empty chairs at empty tables 

Where my friend will sing no more.

-- EMPTY CHAIRS AT EMPTY TABLES.