'This is it.' Iris breathed slowly and deeply. The finale had come quicker than expected. Severals months of Produce 48 passed both slowly and quickly. She would miss her days on the show and meeting everyone. She even missed the anxiety brought on by the competition factor, for it only elevated her stage and desire to become better.
As expected, the twelfth place last, and Lee Seung Gi started at 11th place. In a sense, the 11th place trainee was the luckiest. She would be given good news the quickest.
"With 227,061 votes, in 11th place is... Kim Minjoo!!"
All of the twenty trainees were standing up on two rows with one elevated higher than the other. Thus, Iris could immediately hustle over to Minjoo to hug and congratulate her friend. Although she hadn't worked with her since the first evaluation stage, she had kept up her friendship with Minjoo.
When Minjoo had to rap for her performance, the first person she searched for was Iris. Instead of seeking guidance from girls who had true rapper positions, Minjoo felt more comfortable with Iris. It wasn't just Minjoo who felt this way. Iris had become a big sister to all of them despite not being much older than many of the younger trainees.
Indeed, after 10th place Kim Chaewon was called up, both 9th place Honda Hitomi and 8th place Yabuki Nako also looked for Iris weaving her way to congratulate them. The two Japanese trainees who made A-class in the class re-revaluation had quickly befriended the friendly and helpful Iris.
In the American girl's eyes, the two Japanese trainees were just too adorable. And since all of them were hard workers, their work ethic clicked instantly. Iris always joked that she would want the two of them as little sisters. Nako didn't mind the thought, but Hitomi always cutely protested otherwise. But then Iris would squish her characteristic puffy cheeks.
While Iris didn't know Chaewon as well, she still knew of the sweet girl's temperament. Chaewon really did fit the innocent and youthful type. If Iris were to debut with IZ*ONE, she wouldn't by any means mind being with the three in a group.
After those three, another familiar name was called up.
"....in 7th place is...."
At the mention of her closest friend, Iris nearly toppled the older girl over in a jumping bear hug. For sure, without Eunbi, Iris felt that the lineup would be incomplete. Eunbi was both an all-rounder and great teammate that could greatly contribute to the group's success.
Just as her joy was building up, and her nervousness hadn't completely taken hold, Iris received another piece of welcome news.
Yujin was another trainee who made A-class in the class re-evaluation. Iris hadn't spent as much time as she would've liked with Yujin just like others in class A that she had befriended but had never been grouped with in evaluation stages. Regardless, Iris was ecstatic about Yujin making the lineup since in the previous evaluation, she had been kicked out of the top 12.
And similar to Yujin, another trainee who hadn't been in the top 12 during a ranking announcement since episode five made it into the final lineup.
Since Yena was right next to Iris, she was the first one to congratulate the talented younger girl for ranking in fifth. Iris considered Yena to be one of the top all-star, younger trainees. Others shared her opinion as Yena was voted second in the most want to debut vote by their fellow peers.
While Iris had met Yena back in A-class, she was glad to have gotten to know her even better in their last stage together. Iris was all for Yena being the center of their final evaluation song instead of herself. She had written Yena's name in the top spot for voting. And because of her vote for someone else rather than herself, Yena ended up becoming the center of 'Crush on You.'
It was now the 4th place ranking result about to be announced. Iris gulped as this was her last ranking result in the previous episode and third elimination. She couldn't be too sure of her place in the final lineup considering how much the top 12 changed. From one elimination round to the next, it seemed pretty consistent, but in fact, when looking at each episode's ranking, it was apparent how unsteady the actual ranks were.
For instance, Miyazaki Miho had placed first in episode 9 and second in episode 11. Miu Shitao also entered the top 12 ranks for the first time in episode 9 like Miho and ranked high. Other trainees like Miyu Takeuchi, Jang Wonyoung, Lee Gaeun, Jo Yuri, Miru Shiroma, Lee Chaeyeon, Miyawaki Sakura, and Han Chowon hadn't yet been called but had also ranked in the top 12 at least once during the past 3 episodes. With only five spots left including 12th, it was anybody's game.
'Ah, I really can't expect too much, but I really do hope my name is called. Please, please 4th place Iris Huang!' She inwardly chanted with growing anxiety and desperation.
"...4th place.....Jo Yuri!"
Iris's heart dropped a little, but she clapped for her friend. To be honest, along with Choi Yena, Iris had expected the two of them to called up into the final debut lineup the least. They definitely had a chance based on their history, but like Choi Yena in the fifth episode, Yuri had las placed in the top 12 in episode 8 at 10th place.
'It can't be....did I drop? Is that why some of these results are somewhat unexpected? I feel for feeling disappointed but..... I hope..... Maybe I'm 12th place?' Iris was conflicted. She didn't mind being 12th place if that was the end result, but it definitely would cause her a lot of stress in the meantime. Additionally, she wasn't confident enough to place first or second. So, she put all her hopes on the third rank.
Instantly, Iris crumbled inside, but she kept up a stoical face and forced herself to brighten up for the fourteen year old girl. "Happy Birthday Wonyoung-ah!" She embraced the 'giant baby' who stood three inches taller than her. "Pretty nice birthday present, huh?" Iris managed to joke lightheartedly after releasing Wonyoung from the hug.
The young girl laughed and wiped the corners of her eyes that had become a little wet from emotion. "Yes, it is unnie!! Thank you!"
As Iris watched the August 31st birthday girl go to her 3rd place seat ranking, she signed inwardly.'Lucky 3, eh? Last time it was lucky 13 for me. What's up with 3 anyway? Well I don't want to rank 13th this time for sure. Twelve could be 1+2 = 3, so maybe that's it?' Iris smacked the side of her cheek to stop the silly thoughts. 'Stupid mathy asian brain. Stop making irrelevant connections to numbers!'
At that thought, Iris was reminded of her college days. 'Failed college drop-out? I hope I'm not that... One day, I should finish my education and get my degree. At the very least, I probably did enough to debut at Big Hit, right? That was the whole idea anyway, get exposure and experience before debut and pass the time in order to wait for TXT to debut..... Yeah.... that's the plan. So I'm getting ahead of myself for expecting anything greater.'
Iris resigned herself to lower expectations in order to not disappoint herself. In a sense, she was reverting back a little to her unconfident and unsure self when she had been training restlessly at Big Hit or even before she had become an idol trainee.
She inhaled deeply and held her breath, making her cheeks bubble up like a chipmunk. Slowly, she exhaled as Lee Seung Gi continued the results announcements.
"And the first place center candidates are....."
Everyone looked up at the screens in anticipation. After a few seconds of suspense, the screens flashed to the images of two trainees. Iris looked up and saw Sakura Miyawaki. The Japanese trainee was on the right screen and directly in the straight sight of Iris. 'As expected.' She turned toward the other screen, but just as her gaze landed on the girl in the screen, Lee Seung Gi's voice resounded loudly in her ears.
"Sakura Miyawaki and Iris Huang!!!"
Iris choked on her gulp of air. The Producer Representative Seung Gi had announced her name exactly at the same time that she saw herself on the screen. She was utterly flabbergasted.
'No way... NO. WAY. OMG--!!!!' Iris's head exploded, and unknowingly, she made her meme Irishook expression. It took the sudden jump-hugs from fellow trainees before she snapped out of her daze.
'I guess I rose in rankings just the others?! That's really unbelievable....' She really couldn't fathom the support that she had received. Little did she know that BTS had asked their fans and Iris's fans to vote during the live show because those votes counted the most. A live vote from a phone number counted as seven votes.
Although BTS had supported her throughout the competition, they knew that too much support could backfire on Iris. And as it was, she was doing well by rising on her own efforts. Nevertheless, a shout-out during their two Korean concerts couldn't hurt as a last push.
On the way over to the two podiums, Sakura and Iris held one another all the way up before splitting to stand on the circular platforms. Iris was given the microphone first, and she was flustered for a bit as she never imagined that she'd be one of the first place candidates on Produce 48.
"Do you think you'll be first place?" prompted Lee Seung Gi according to the script.
Iris started speaking slowly. "I'm... honestly shocked right now. Just a moment ago, I was thinking that I didn't make the top 12 because it seemed that many talented girls that I thought would make the lineup wouldn't with only three spots remaining... So first place? I can't imagine it. I'm just so happy and relieved that I actually made the deb--" She choked on her last words. The emotion welling up was too much to bear. "--debut lineup." She managed to eek them out before the top half of her body collapsed over, and she bowed in both overwhelming, tearful joy, relief, and gratitude.
Like Iris, Sakura didn't quite answer Seung Gi's question and instead mentioned the remaining trainees in front of her. In particular, she made an emotional shout out to Lee Chaeyeon who was still waiting. For Chaekura fans, they felt choked up at their international friendship.
Similarly, Iris and Sakura held hands as they waited for the first place announcement. It was at this moment that people truly felt that the premise of Produce 48 being a show to produce an international girl group was true. Here was a Chinese-American girl and Japanese girl who were going to be Korean idols. A music survival shows had brought different nationalities and corners of the world together.
"The first place is...."
Since Iris hadn't raised her hopes further and expected such a result, she smilingly went over to embrace Sakura who almost instantly began tearing up. But the Japanese girl held back her tears and returned the hug.
Since Sakura was first place, Iris was prompted to speak first. This time around, she was more prepared. After giving her utmost thanks to everyone and the life-changing experience she had on Produce 48, Iris ended her speech with words she had wished to tell the people involved in person.
"Mom, Dad, I'm sorry for leaving you both alone back home after you didn't want me to become a trainee over a year ago. I know you only wanted the best for me, but I still shouldn't have broken contact with you after—" Iris broke down crying and hastily tried to stop the flow of tears and push down the growing lump in her throat.
"I'm really sorry Mom and Dad. I had to chase after my dreams. But thank for supporting me still after what I did. I saw that you quietly liked my social media posts, but we didn't know what to say to each other. So, I'll say this now upon making my debut.
"I hope to make you both proud."
And with that she bowed deeply for a long moment and then wiped the last of her drying tears.
After Sakura made her winning placement speech as well, the two headed up to their respective seating positions. Now it was time for the lucky twelfth place reveal.
Iris was conflicted over who she wanted the last trainee to be. But since Sakura had mentioned Chaeyeon, Iris couldn't help thinking of her first. Additionally, she was the closest remaining friend that she had too.
The four potential twelfth place ranking trainees were revealed and one by one eliminated. It was soon left at Han Chowon and Lee Chaeyeon. Iris was leaning over in her chair with her elbows on her knees and hands on her face with only her eyes showing. Sakura was similarly positioned.
She knew that Sakura was hoping for Chaeyeon, but Iris was torn. Both were great singers and could add a lot to the group. However the reality hurt. She was glad she didn't have to chose between the two.
"With 221,273 votes, in twelfth place is....."
And Sakura collapsed to the ground as her legs gave out. Tears of joy racked her body as she rejoiced for her dearest Produce 48 friend. Iris too felt her throat tighten in the same emotions. It was a difficult choice, but that didn't reduce her happiness for Chaeyeon who had a turbulent time on Produce 48.
'So, this is the final group....' mused Iris. "IZ*ONE." The name rolled softly off her tongue. "Ah." Iris released a sigh layered with many emotions. Years of hard work back from her k-pop cover dance days to training alone at Big Hit to now all flashed by in her head.
'Finally,' She thought. 'A new beginning.'
Extra long chapter that's exactly 2377 words according to WN in order to end the P48 arc in one shot! Hope you enjoyed it! Now it's onto the meat of this story after all that exposition to build up realistically to this point. XD
The next chapter is not a content one, it's to merely explain what I changed in this chapter from the original P48 events. It also includes some personal opinions on how I thought the show should go. You don't have to read it to understand the story though.
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