Sitting with the other trainees in the small auditorium, Iris waited for her name to be called. Lee Seung Gi was handing out cards that told each trainee which room to go to. They wouldn't know what concept song they got until all the trainees were inside each rom.
Iris was especially nervous about this concept evaluation. Even though she didn't her desired songs in the previous two evaluation rounds, she had a song or two that she wanted to perform. But with the six songs available, she was stuck with indecision.
She liked the three songs "1000%", "See You Again", and "To Reach You", but none of them fit her concept. They were much too sweet, cutesy, or bubbly for Iris's image or persona. Now she liked tropical pop a lot, but "Rollin' Rollin'" which was that category of song was actually the one she surprising disliked the most. She was off-put by the synthesized instrumental that was more grating than pleasant to her ears.
That left "I Am" and "Rumor." She loved the latter the most on a pure musical level, but the attitude and meaning behind "I Am" really appealed to her. However, both of their dances made Iris….draw a blank.
Growing up with strict and respectable asian parents, she had been engrained a sense of decorum that had affected her previous k-pop cover dances. Iris couldn't dance anything remotely 'sexy' without unleashing the sharp disapproval from her parents who monitored her actions on their cover team's YouTube account.
Thus, she was instilled with a sense of discomfort while watching the choreography for both of these dances. Iris also didn't know whether the national producers at home would want her to do a bright, fun song because of the previous group songs. Would they be able to pick the right song for her?
She wondered this as her name was called, and she walked to the room listed. Inside, she scanned the place for anyone who entered before her.
"Iris-unnie!!" The single girl in the room jumped up from sitting on the ground. She stood still in place with a huge smile on her face.
"Eunbiiii~~!!" yelled Iris ecstatically.
"Irissss~~!!" mimicked the older girl in a similar, dramatic fashion.
Then they both made a beeline toward one another and jump-hugged. "I'm so happy we're together again!" giggled Eunbi. They exchanged light conversation about their nervousness and curiosity about their assigned song. They also caught up about the last evaluation round when they weren't in the same group.
"You joined the enemy group last round," joked Iris, referring to Ahn Yujin and Choi Yena who were in Eunbi's "Sorry Not Sorry" group and who they had just barely beat out in the first group battle when they were together for "Very Very Very."
Eunbi laughed. "Those two are always together somehow. I bet that'll happen this round too!" And in actuality, those two happened to be grouped together in another room.
As their room filled out, the Produce told them to take off the first sheet layer covering what the song was on a poster by the door. Iris did the honors of ripping off the sheet in dramatic fashion.
"Moombahton Trap -- Rumor," the poster read.
Everyone in the room screamed. Some were over the moon about their assigned song while others were disappointed. As for Iris, the camera focused in on her reaction. Both the trainees in the room and the viewers at home couldn't help laughing out loud at her blankly baffled face.
Indeed, Iris was conflicted about "Rumor." On one hand, she wanted to shout for joy at getting the song she liked the most, but at the same time, she dreaded having to dance the choreography. 'Can I pull it off? Did national producers really want me to perform this song?'
The more she thought it, the more her face relaxed. If they believed in her, then she would fulfill their wishes and belief in her. And deep down, Iris had secretly wanted to try this alluring and strong girl crush-vibed type of dance.
Every song room had to split into two temporary teams with a center in order to practice. The final six team members would be decided after the second elimination and the numbers of trainees in each song was reorganized.
Iris ended up being the center and leader of one team while Eunbi became the leader of the other with Kim Sihyeon as the center. Iris's team trusted her for both roles as they knew of her capabilities and leadership talent.
But to Iris, this made her perplexed. "Although I did want to try being the center, how come you chose me in the end?" she asked about their voting decision.
Sae Murase from her previous HandClap team explained first to the best of her abilities. "You're a great leader, and we believe in your strength at capturing the crowd as the center!" she said in broken Korean mixed with Japanese and some English.
The other members seconded this opinion. Iris had won first place in the position evaluation, showing that she was a strong contender for gaining audience votes. Because the whole team would benefit from winning first place in the concept evaluation, everyone put the team ahead of themselves as individuals.
With that and the distribution of the song settled, all the trainees began practicing. But a heaviness laid in their hearts as the day of the second elimination approached. Despite all their efforts, it was possible that they would be going home and never perform the song that national producers had given them.
Soon, the day approached. Like the first time, the trainees gathered in the seats in front of the Produce 48 pyramid containing only 30 seats. Half of them would be eliminated today.
Iris gulped and watched one by one as the trainees from 29th to 13th got filled. 'Rank 13...that was my last rank. Will I be higher now? I got the 105,000 vote benefit... Maybe rank 10 or 9?' She fidgeted in her seat as she waited for her name to be called.
But one by one, other trainees got called instead of her.
"With 765,985 votes, in 9th place is...." announced Lee Seung Gi while Iris anxiously listened. The higher the rank went, the more she worried that she had dropped instead. 'I'm not possibly the 30th place am I?'
"Cube Entertainment, Han Chowon."
Iris clapped her hands and cheered for her new friend in her Rumor group. Han Chowon had previously won the vocal/rap vote benefit, so it quelled a little bit of Iris's nerves. 'Surely if Chowon reached this high up, then I likely would be around her rank too, right?'
But then Lee Gauen was called up for 8th place. It was a complete shock to everyone as she had placed first in the previous elimination round. And following her, Miyawaki Sakura placed next. Both of them had dropped in rank, making Iris's worries increase once again.
"With 860,341 votes, in 6th place is..... Urban Works, Kim Minjoo!"
Iris congratulated her friend. 'Ah little Minjoo has risen this high!' She hadn't been able to see Minjoo much since their 'Very Very Very' days. Minjoo had ranked first in her team "Touch" by Little Mix position battle performance.
But despite her genuine feelings of happiness for her friends, Iris kept thinking back to her herself. 'This rank is too high, there's no way I jumped from 13th to here! Or did the vote benefit really help that much?'
5th place.... Thankfully, her close friend Kwon Eunbi had stayed steady at rank five. But then 4th placed passed with Ahn Yujin. And Iris freaked out internally even more. 'Yup, I'm definitely rank 30.' She zoned out for a bit, lost in her brooding thoughts. The seats to the left and right of her were now empty without Eunbi and Chowon.
A violent shake on her shoulders snapped Iris out of her daze. She looked up in puzzlement at the trainees in the row above her who had shook her shoulders.
"What's wron--?" She didn't even get to finish her sentence as they both pointed and spun her head to face Lee Seung Gi who was announcing the results.
"I'll say that again. 3rd place, Iris Huang!" the MC representative repeated with a chuckle.
Iris's head jolted back at the news. "W-what? Me?!" She pointed to herself in disbelief. Everyone laughed and cheered for her as she slowly stood up in shock. Walking to the small stage at the base of the pyramid, Iris's hands were now on her face covering her ajar mouth. The mic in her right hand also covered part of her face.
But before she could make her speech, tears started rolling down her cheeks, and Iris sunk to the ground in emotion. She waved it off and hoisted herself up.
"Sorry sorry," she began with a soft laugh. "Ahh...I really can't believe this." She looked over everyone and blinked the remaining tears away. "I was starting to think that I didn't make it when my name wasn't called much earlier. But to think I actually placed third.... thank you so much national producers. I'm so grateful for you all in helping make my dreams become reality. I'll make sure to work extra hard in order to be worthy of this rank." Iris bowed deeply and then thanked the staff and her team before heading up to the pyramid.
As she sat down on the third place chair, she trembled a little at how high up she was on the pyramid. 'I finally made it to the debut lineup... This really is amazing.' She gazed over the trainees down below in lingering astonishment, and her eyes caught Lee Chaeyeon. Iris waved to her friend who smiled brightly back.
Unfortunately, the sweet and hard working girl had dropped from the debut lineup and ranked 17th. Iris was troubled by this development and prayed that Chaeyeon would bounce back. She really hoped that she and her friends would all debut together.
Those who saw Produce 48, you might wonder what happened to Kang Hyewon who was originally in 3rd place. Due to the timeline changing with the inclusion of Iris, MNET didn't broadcast Hyewon's friendship with the low ranked Japanese trainee. Instead, it showed the friendship of Iris and Choyeon in their HandClap group with the three Japanese trainees.
Essentially, Iris took Hyewon's screen time. What this entails will be revealed in the next chapter, perhaps you can even guess what happened...
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