Before the first episode of Produce 48 aired...
"Unnie!" Kwon Eunbi called out to Iris. "Let's practice the song again!"
"Okay, unnie! I'll be there in just a moment!" Iris shouted back from inside her dorm room with the door open.
"Ehh? Iris-unnie? Ah I was going to ask her too!" Jo Yuri cutely whined when she heard Eunbi.
The older girl laughed. "You can come! We're all in the same class anyway! Let's go class A!"
The two girls smiled, and as Iris made her way over, other girls spotted her and pounced.
"No fair! You get Iris-unnie to help you! Can't A-class spare her for today? It's the last day before re-evaluation!"
Eunbi hugged Iris protectively. "No, she's ours!" She stuck out her tongue playfully at the girls from other classes. "Just kidding let's all go!"
All the girls brightened, making Iris blush in happiness. She had well engrained experience in learning choreography quickly because dance covers needed to be uploaded in the shortest amount of time possible after a new song was released. So naturally, she learned the theme song choreography the quickest.
And due to her considerate nature, she helped others learn it too. Very quickly, she became a favorite among all the trainees for her keen insight on details and method of teaching. Outside of practice, they enjoyed being with her because of her sweet and down to earth nature.
They were also curious about her experience at Big Hit and how she came to South Korea from the United States. Unlike other foreign trainees, they could converse easily in Korean, and Iris even acted as a translator for English speakers.
The Japanese trainees had difficulty communicating, but that didn't stop friendships from forming. Only, it took a little longer until both sides were able to converse more comfortably in broken languages.
At the dance practice room, Eunbi and Iris led the group. After two hours, Iris decided they should take a break. She also had a good idea for a different way of preparing for the re-evaluation.
Since even skilled trainees could flunk their re-evaluation due to mind block and nervousness, Iris thought it would better to practice dancing under more stress in front of a camera.
At this point, their dancing and singing was mostly complete. They could further refine the details, but it was more important to perform the satisfactory level than perfectly. Trying too hard to be perfect could actually harm them in the end.
Thus, the girls needed to practice being calm in front of the camera and experience fluid body memorization of the dance rather than thinking in their minds how to dance.
"Okay everyone! Now that we're refreshed, let's perform one by one in front of the camera. This will help us relax for the re-evaluation tomorrow since we can freeze up under pressure. But if we can simulate it, then our bodies will naturally be more comfortable. The dance and vocals should be automatic."
All the girls nodded, thinking that this was a great idea. It was better than continually practicing what they had already grasped while hoping that tomorrow they and their bodies would remember and overcome any nervousness.
One by one, they performed in front of the other girls who were watching on the side. In order to best emulate the stressful environment that would be felt tomorrow, each girl only had one shot to perform. Additionally Iris told everyone that she wouldn't help anyone anymore with singing or dancing techniques. Other skilled trainees also said the same.
Thus, it became a practice alone or together sort of situation. No one wanted to be alone practicing on the last day, so the girls took this mock evaluation seriously.
Meanwhile, the camera crew filmed the girls as they filmed themselves.
"If you fail today, the whole nation will see!"
"If you mess up now, then you'll mess up tomorrow too!"
The girls said everything they could to elevate the stress. In this way, the trainees could figure out where they were still lacking or might trip up in their performances.
On the other side of the screen a few weeks later, BTS was watching Iris's tactic and leadership of the girls.
"Ah that's our Iris all right!" admired J-Hope.
"She's making the Big Hit name proud." Namjoon nodded along with Suga.
"Imagine if she's the one who messes up tomorrow instead!" laughed Taehyung.
"Hey! Don't say that! What if she really does? Then I'll blame you and tell her that you jinxed her!" quipped Jimin with a slap to V's arm.
Taehyung eyes widened at the terrible thought. "Sorry! I was just joking! Ah, I hope she doesn't mess up, or I might blame myself too."
"So dramatic. She'll be fine. Iris-hyung is capable," said Jungkook calmly and assuredly.
"Wuh, the maknae sounds like our leader!" gasped Taehyung.
"Hyung." Jungkook glared at V before succumbing to the other man's teasing grin and breaking out in a smile himself.
"Look! Iris-ah is performing now!" announced Jin as he peered intently at the screen.
Although it was a short snippet, after watching her perform with ease, the BTS members breathed a sigh of relief. She would be okay in the real re-evaluation.
Just as that thought passed their minds, the program smoothly transitioned into the set of the real re-evaluation of Iris.
"Wuh! MNET!" J-Hope mock screamed. "Look at them using Iris's idea as a transition to the real thing!" He pointed and laughed at the screen.
"It looks like MNET is favoring Iris with all her screen time, huh?" Jin noted with proud satisfaction.
"Yeah, that's good. Since she's doing well in the rankings too, I think she has a great shot at debuting in the final lineup," Suga quietly declared.
"Hm, as long as it's not like last season."
Jimin turned his head at Namjoon's comment. "You're talking about Jonghyun?" The leader nodded in confirmation.
Last season in the boys's first rendition of Produce 101, the whole nation was shocked that Kim Jonghyun of NU'EST didn't debut. But since his rank was close to his group-mate Baekho, the public deduced that fans tried too ambitiously to vote them both along with Minhyun, another group member who had already been confirmed in the final lineup.
Nevertheless, many were still disappointed. But in the end, the final group Wannaone, and the sub-unit NU'EST W both were successful.
Luckily, Iris only had herself to worry about. Additionally, the BTS members were now free to support her all they wanted. With the secretive ban lifted due to their connection being revealed, BTS was able to influence their fans to vote for Iris.
While this also had drawbacks for Iris, namely, people found it unfair that she had such a big group supporting her, she maintained her own steady fanbase that grew everyday.
Since her YouTube channel was in Korean with English subtitles, most of her fans were domestic rather than international. But she got her fair share of international interest due to her unique circumstances and talent.
As the episode reached the last twenty minutes, the BTS members felt assured that Iris was fitting well and making significant gains in the program. She kept her A rank, and now she was competing for the center position in the theme song.
"Hmm, this should be interesting; even though, we already knew before the first episode." Jungkook remarked.
"Yes, I was surprised by that theme song, agreed Jimin. "I can't believe how much screen time she got!"
"Especially considering she wasn't the center," added Jungkook.
"But she was the Korean center though, right?" asked V with a tip of his head.
"That's what some people are supposing considering both she and Sakura and are A class, but Iris arrives later in the song. It could just be editing though," said Namjoon thoughtfully.
Jin's face suddenly fell as he was reminded of something. "Oh yeah, some netizens were saying she's too tan to fit the beauty standard...poor Iris."
"Too tan? She's the same skin color as you, Mr. Worldwide Handsome!" Namjoon joked, although, with underlying seriousness and understanding of the deeper situation.
"Yeah, even my skin is darker." V nodded, feeling concerned about Iris being exposed to silly yet relevant criticism. Unfortunately, that was society and the Korean beauty standard at work.
At least for boys, it seemed to be less of an issue. But white-washing still existed in makeup and photos.
"Iris already knew this coming in, so at least it doesn't come as a surprise, but yeah, it still hurts."
"Oh? You talked to Iris about this before, Jimin-hyung?" V queried curiously.
"Yes, we were discussing right before she left. Iris mentioned having to prepare herself for criticism, especially on her looks."
"What's wrong with her looks?" interjected Jin with a frown.
Jimin turned to his older hyung, responding, "Because of her tanned skin and jawline."
"Ehh? But she's very pretty. And her jawline is fine."
"She can't help feeling worried anyway, and these comments are only confirming those concerns. I understand how she feels." Jimin nodded to himself, remembering how self-conscious he was about his looks. To a degree, he still was, but he finally felt more confident after developing and maturing his style.
The BTS members also bobbed their heads slowly in response, also understanding Jimin's underlying, unspoken words. They could relate to Iris's struggles and worries. Every k-pop idol could. This was just how the industry and environment was.
All that BTS could do was to alleviate her worries and guide Iris onto a path where she would no longer have to worry about such trivialities.
"Hah, we spent more time helping Iris-hyung than our own hoobaes," laughed Hoseok, thinking of the young boy trainees preparing to debut in a year.
"I bet they're watching Iris too at this moment!" V remarked with a chuckle.
"Maybe next time we should all watch the episode together," suggested Jin.
Namjoon nodded. "Yeah, this is the Big Hit family after all. She's representing us."
Longer than usual chapter, hope you all enjoyed! (:
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