Chapter 1:

The Mistake

Accidentally Idol

I’ve made a horrible mistake. The stress of not picking up an extra shift at the café is gnawing at me. It’s gnawing at my shoes, too. I’ve been wearing this pair for the past year.Bookmark here

I chose to spend my day off doing this. Hiroki begged and pleaded until my resolve was worn down worse than my shoes. “I need moral support,” and “C’mon, when I make it big I’ll pay off your debt!”Bookmark here

“The Idol Factory,” Hiroki says. “This is it. I’ll win the show, debut, and become the biggest j-pop idol in Japan.”Bookmark here

It isn’t that I think my best friend can’t become an idol. He just needs a bit of…professional training. I glance at Hiroki, who is humming off tune.Bookmark here

Even if he’s not naturally idol material, he’s certainly dedicated to his dream. Hiroki has talked about becoming famous since we were little kids. I would just listen and laugh, then tell him not to forget about me when he made it big.Bookmark here

How many times has he failed now? I start to mentally tally the number of unsuccessful auditions in my head. Shit. If I worked half as hard as Hiroki, I wouldn’t’ve failed out of college and be working a dead-end job.Bookmark here

Hiroki’s voice makes me lose count. “Alright man, I’m up next!”Bookmark here

“Good luck.”Bookmark here

Anxiety swirls in my stomach as he walks towards the judges. As his best friend, there’s nothing more I want than to see him succeed. But, after many failed auditions and no improvement, it’s hard to say this one is going to go better.Bookmark here

I cross my fingers.Bookmark here

Hiroki’s introduction is subpar. He has somewhat of a stage presence, but he has trouble getting the judges to laugh or smile. After that comes dancing, which is Hiroki’s strong suit. He ends his audition with a pop song I've never heard before. I sigh in relief as he thanks the judges for their time.Bookmark here

Hiroki walks off stage and I start to follow him. Finally. I can think of hundreds of other things I’d rather be doing right now.Bookmark here

“Hey,” the stagehand says. “It’s your turn.”Bookmark here

Good one. I'm the furthest from idol material. I don’t take care of my appearance, I’m lazy, and I don’t even like j-pop.Bookmark here

“Ah no, sorry. Here with a friend.”Bookmark here

One of the judges stop me as I walk towards the exit. What’s this guy’s name again? I know I’ve seen him somewhere. As I try to remember if he’s a music producer or actor, he barks an order at me.Bookmark here

“Hey kid, you’re up.”Bookmark here

I resume my ‘here with a friend’ spiel.Bookmark here

“If you pass, there’s a bonus of 50,000 yen.”Bookmark here

50,000 yen? For introducing myself and singing on camera? That’s easy money.Bookmark here

“Ok.”Bookmark here

The stagehand appears out of nowhere with a blank contract. I take the clipboard out of her hands and fill in the bare minimum of information. Ignoring the pages of small text, I flip to the last page and scribble my name and signature.Bookmark here

“Um, don’t you want to read that?” she squeaks.Bookmark here

“Not really.”Bookmark here

“But—”Bookmark here

I pass her the clipboard and walk on to the stage. I’m not missing out on the chance for 50,000 yen.Bookmark here

“Uh, hi,” I say. “Do I just sing, or…?”Bookmark here

A brunette judge snorts at his coworker. “You thought he should audition?”Bookmark here

“He might have potential. We just need to get rid of the glasses, change his hair, and get rid of those shoes.” The initial judge eyes me over. “What is your name?”Bookmark here

While the judge isn’t wrong, I’m still a bit insulted. But the slights are worth it for the possibility of 50,000 yen.Bookmark here

“Susumu Tamashiro.”Bookmark here

“Hobbies? You neglected to fill out that section on the contract.”Bookmark here

I also neglect to bring up that I did not come here to audition. “Uh, watching anime and working.”Bookmark here

“Dancing skills?” The initial judge asks.Bookmark here

I almost reply with ‘nonexistent,’ but quickly bend the truth. “Pretty good.”Bookmark here

“Let’s see it.”Bookmark here

For once Hiroki’s obsession of becoming an idol comes in handy. Much to my humiliation, he made me practice dancing with him. The amount of practice peaked in our high school years—before I was a slave to my job—so I’m definitely rusty.Bookmark here

The brunette judge plays some shit pop song I’ve never heard before. To say I’m embarrassed is an understatement. It takes me thirty seconds before I find the beat, and then I seem to forget every dance move I know.Bookmark here

“You’re not particularly charming, and your dance skills are…subpar,” the brunette judge says. “Let’s see if your singing redeems you.”Bookmark here

The only compliment I’ve gotten on my singing is from my mom. She told me I should work as an entertainer at a bar. It isn’t idol status, but maybe it’s enough to win prize money.Bookmark here

“Uh, what should I sing?”Bookmark here

“Hmm…how about ‘So in Love’ by JLZ?” the initial judge suggests.Bookmark here

I look blankly at the judge. JLZ? That sounds like a medical problem.Bookmark here

“You have no idea who that is, do you?” He holds the bridge of his nose. “Do you know any male jpop songs?”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“Surprise us.”Bookmark here

As with all other things in this audition, I don’t think it through. I saw my kid sister a week ago, and she had been singing a song from a popular cartoon. She sang it so much that it is still playing on loop in my head.Bookmark here

I start to sing it. Oh god. Why is this coming out of my mouth?Bookmark here

The brunette judge tries to disguise his laughter as a coughing fit. He can’t contain himself when his coworker lets out a small chuckle, and both judges burst into laughter.Bookmark here

“Did you just…” the brunette judge wheezes, “Sing ‘Leave it Alone?’”Bookmark here

“Er…yeah.”Bookmark here

I can kiss that 50,000 yen goodbye.Bookmark here

• • •Bookmark here

It’s a slow day at the café. I stand behind the counter and watch two girls giggle at my attractive coworker. They twirl their hair, trying to get his number. Unbeknownst to the girls, he is very into men. He has just mastered the art of flirting with women for a higher tip.Bookmark here

I exhale. If only I was charming.Bookmark here

Not so pleasant thoughts run through my head as I start the latte machine. I feel my phone vibrate as the hot liquid begins to pour into the cup. A number I’ve never seen before displays across the screen. I would normally ignore it, but I decide to flip it open.Bookmark here

“This is Susumu.”Bookmark here

“Susumu Tamashiro? This is Mura from Idol Factory.”Bookmark here

Oh. They’re just calling to tell me I failed and won’t get 50,000 yen. I don’t need a phone call to tell me that, I’m quite aware of how bad the performance was.Bookmark here

The latte machine overheats, and hot coffee spills across the counter. I ignore Mura as I wipe the liquid with a rag.Bookmark here

“…need you to be ready Monday, because we want to start teasing promos on Friday.”Bookmark here

Hold on now.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, what?”Bookmark here

“You’ve been selected as one of our one hundred participants. You start Monday.”Bookmark here

“I don’t want to be a contestant,” I blurt. “Choose someone else.”Bookmark here

She pauses. “That’s not really how it works.”Bookmark here

“Why not? I’ll just let my friend Hiroki go in my place.”Bookmark here

“The contract states it must be you. If you do not take part in the show, the fine is—”Bookmark here

I choke at the number of zeros behind the amount. I’ll have to work for five years or borrow from the yakuza to make that sort of money. And to be honest, I’m not sure which sounds like the better option.Bookmark here

She continues to prattle on with details, her description creating a pit in my stomach. Living in a dorm. Makeover. Performing in groups and individually.Bookmark here

“…but we’ll email you with all the information, too.”Bookmark here

“Right,” I manage to croak.Bookmark here

“Congratulations, and we look forward to seeing you Monday!”Bookmark here

I flip my phone shut. If it is possible for the pit in my stomach to get any larger, it does. I brace my hands against the counter, trying not to hyperventilate. I’m so deep in my panic I don’t even notice my coworker approach me, a concerned look on his face.Bookmark here

“What’s going on?”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“I think I just became an idol.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.