This was it. The third, the last elimination before the final episode of Produce 48. Only twenty trainees would make this round. That meant even top ranked trainees were at risk of suddenly not making the last cut.
Iris shakily exhaled in anticipation. 'You'll be fine. Just one more round, one last performance. Wow them and you can make it. You can make it.' She pepped herself up and lightly bounced on her toes before sitting down on the seats in front of the pyramid once again.
But Iris couldn't stop her legs from continuing to bounce in nervousness even while sitting. Seeing this, Kwon Eunbi slapped her friend's right thigh. "You'll be okay, don't worry!"
Iris chuckled gratefully. "Thanks. And you'll be fine too. We'll both make it together, yeah?"
"Yeah," Eunbi laughed lightly.
"Ehhh, what about me?" Chaeyeon poked Iris's rib from the left, making the ebony haired girl bolt up. The sharp sound the chair and Iris made startled everyone, and the cameras swiveled in her direction.
"Ah." Iris blanked out for a moment. Her body was still bent awkwardly up from the surprise attack by Chaeyeon. Then she swiftly plopped herself down in a ladylike pose, pretending that nothing happened. But the sheepish smile on her face gave her mortification away.
However, Lee Seung Gi and the trainees merely laughed. "There's Irishook again," they remarked playfully. Indeed, Iris became a meme overnight and just now reestablished how she got that name in the first place.
As she relaxed in her seat again after the cameras returned back to Lee Seung Gi, Iris fiercely glared to her left. Chaeyeon avoided the piercing gaze and pretended to whistle. Iris clicked her tongue while lightly shaking her head. She side-whispered to the brunette, "Better watch out."
Chaeyeon felt a shiver down her spine, but she smiled innocently while still staring straight ahead. Meanwhile, Eunbi was silently cackling. Her face was wrinkled up in joyful amusement. That made Iris snort, and she tried hard not to burst out laughing. She pursed her lips and tried to maintain a straight face while listening to Lee Seung Gi announce the results.
Although some trainees dropped while a few rose in ranking, no one thought too much about it. After all, they were used to this happening from the last two eliminations. As for the top ranking, especially of the debut members, they expected them to remain the same as usual.
They soon hit the debuting twelve ranks, but Iris was met with a bombshell with the very first result.
"With 247,556 votes, in twelfth place is….. Kwon Eunbi."
'Kwon Eunbi? Eunbi?!' Iris's mouth dropped open in a gasp. 'How could she possibly drop this far after steadily ranking at fifth?!' Just like with Chaeyeon in the previous elimination, her friend met a startling development. The girl maintained a brave smile, but Iris knew that inside she was just as shocked and concerned. 'No…this can't be happening.' Iris buried her face in her hands.
'It's okay, she made it through this round. She'll be able to reclaim her ranking for the final.' She calmed herself down. But if Eunbi didn't make the debut lineup while she did, then Iris knew that the group wouldn't the same without her cheerful but steady presence. She firmly and warmly hugged Eunbi before the girl went up to the podium to speak.
"Haha, I guess there's no chance for me now," laughed Chaeyeon with no ounce of real mirth.
Iris grabbed the younger girl's hand and squeezed it. "We'll pass this round and make it to the next round together, okay?"
Chaeyeon swallowed down the lump in her throat. "Even if I'm rank 20, I don't care. Let's perform together one last time."
Iris furiously shook her head. "No, we'll debut and perform many more times together. Together with Sakura, Minjoo, Eunbi…. Chowon, Sae, Sian, Siheyon, Yujin, Yena, Yuri, Gaeun…."
"Unnie, that's more than twelve," giggled Chaeyeon.
"Oops, my bad." Iris grinned with a wink of her eyes before sighing. "Twelve spots really isn't enough, I wish we could all make it."
"Yeah…" Chaeyeon's head dipped a little in creeping sadness.
From Eunbi onward, there were no more big surprises, but Iris grew increasingly alarmed. Chaeyeon's name wasn't called. Iris expected the national producers to save Chaeyeon, especially after she was kicked out of 'I Am.'
'Come on, come on,' she chanted inside her head. Iris was sure that voters would boost Chaeyeon. They naturally responded to drama like this.
Unfortunately, they reached the upper half of the debut spots without mentioning Chaeyeon's name.
At the fourth place ranking, Iris instinctively sat up a little straighter in anticipation. 'My last rank was 3rd… It would be too much to expect that I stay the same, right? These rankings can change quite drastically after all…' As if responding to her thoughts, Lee Seungi Gi called out her name.
Iris exhaled a sigh of relief. In no way would she fuss about losing a rank. After she made her speech of thanks and motivation, she walked up the steps of the pyramid to her seat.
After sitting down, Iris mentally ticked off the names for the contenders of the top remaining spots. Sakura would definitely make the top three, but who else besides her? Before she could deliberate too deeply, Lee Seung Gi revealed another shocking result.
"With 327,445 votes, in third place is….. Lee Chaeyeon!"
Everyone's mouths dropped open before they recollected themselves enough to start cheering wildly. Iris was among the furiously clapping trainees who stood up to applaud the tearful Chaeyeon.
'Rise Chaeyeon, rise!!' shouted Iris in her thoughts. She was truly overjoyed to see her friend get the ranking she deserved. After all her hardship from being kicked out from 'I Am,' the national producers had responded in full. 'This is just like what happened to me, isn't it?' Iris smirked happily. 'Then good. This way is perfect.'
Miyawaki Sakura placed first, and Iris stood up to enthusiastically applaud her as well. Thankfully, her closest friends had made it to the top 19, but after 20th was revealed to be the vocally talented Park Haeyoon, Iris still had tearful goodbyes with those in her HandClap and Rumor groups.
After the third elimination, they had no time to continue crying. The final episode was coming up, and they would be performing their last for Produce 48.
As Iris walked to a practice room, she noticed the hallways of the Produce building were emptier than ever with the less than two dozen trainees left. Iris sighed while remembering how boisterous it used to be. 101 trainees down to just 20 to then finally 12. And after the show ended, she likely wouldn't be able to see many of them again.
"Unnie, going to practice?" asked Eunbi who popped out from another hallway to join Iris. She nodded in response, and they were soon joined by other trainees going to the dance room.
Along with Sakura and Chowon whom she knew the best out of their 'Crush On You' debut evaluation group, Iris knew Choi Yena, Lee Gaeun, and Takahashi Juri from A class. So she was glad to finally be in a team with them. The benefit of the finale was being split up into only two groups. Iris could work with nine other people in the song.
Lee Chaeyeon was in the other song, 'We Together,' along with former A class buddies Hitomi Honda, Jo Yuri, Yabuki Nako, Park Haeyoon, and Ahn Yujin. Miyu Takeuchi was also from A class originally, but since being kicked out by her from BTS's song, Iris felt a little uncomfortable around her. So she was glad to meet new people in her group rather than be in a group with people she knew but had a previous conflict with one other person before.
"Hey miss first place," teased Eunbi with a soft elbow nudge to Iris.
"Stop it," smirked Iris who playfully slapped the older girl away.
"What? You're shy?" Eunbi dragged out her words purposefully to incite Iris who returned with another slap.
"Pft, you're just jealous that you didn't rank in the top three!" Iris stuck out her tongue. She was referring to the voting by the thirty trainees before the third elimination. They each chose who they most wanted to debut with, and Iris had been chosen the most followed respectively by Choi Yena and Lee Gaeun.
Eunbi huffed dramatically and stomped away with her hands on her hips. But she didn't get far as Iris hooked an arm around the other girl's arm and swung her back. She accidentally used too much force, and they ended up toppling over in a giggling mess.
As they struggled to get up while quelling their belly-shaking laughter, Iris felt a blossom of warmth enveloping her chest. 'If only these days could last forever,' she lamented. In the short time of a few months, she had truly made great friends.
In that sense, Bang PD's mission was successful. Iris had made new connections along with honing her abilities while debuting into the public eye and garnering their attention and support.
However, she was still very much unaware of what was taking place at Big Hit currently…
And the last episode of Produce 48 is tomorrow. Hold your Army Bombs for BTS, it's soon time for the debut of a new Big Hit artist!
So, any names for Iris's fandom? XD
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