“I don’t get it,” I hiss into the phone. “How do I rank 7th place?”
Hiroki snorts. “It probably has to do with the fact you told people not to vote for you.”
I went viral, but not for my bad dancing skills. When Idol Factory released my profile, people went crazy over the ‘don’t vote for me’ line. Now I am, ironically, getting votes.
“Let’s see what Twitter is saying,” Hiroki pauses, and I hear his keyboard clacking. “’Lmao this guy is wild.’ ‘Officially my number one pick.’ Oh, this one is—”
I interrupt Hiroki. “I’m not supposed to have contact with the outside world right now.”
Per the contract, I’m to remain indoors until filming starts and not discuss the show with anyone. Something about “no spoilers” and “building hype.” It’s only a week, but it feels more like two years.
“Pretty sure you broke that clause of the contract immediately after the photoshoot.”
“Umph.” My groans are muffled as I rub my hands along my face.
“Dude, you start filming tomorrow, right?”
Tomorrow I’m going to move into the dorms. After that, I’ll meet and begin practicing with my randomly assigned group. The contestants had been randomly sorted into twenty groups of five, and each group needs to choreograph and perform a routine. In two days.
I should be happy about that amount of time because it means I get to go home sooner. But I’m cringing at the thought of having to perform on camera, especially with half of twitter watching me.
“I don’t want to live with ninety-nine other dudes,” I grumble.
Hiroki cackles. “You do like your privacy.”
“And I’ll now have zero. Less than zero, if that’s possible.”
• • •
The other contestants and I are packed on a bus. It’s six in the morning, and I didn’t have time to make coffee. No amount of makeup can get rid of the dark circles under my eyes.
Everyone else is in a very different mood. They chatter amongst themselves, whispering about moving in, performing, the judges. All the crap that comes along with this contest.
The camera crew is already set up when we arrive at the dorm.
“So stupid…” I mutter under my breath.
“Eh?” The guy sitting next to me responds.
“Are you carsick? You look terrible.”
Carsickness sounds a thousand times better than being here. He looks like he’s about to ask me something else but pauses. There’s a look of recognition.
“Hey, you’re the dude who ‘doesn’t want to be here.’” He laughs. “That was a risky way to get yourself attention. It paid off, though.”
“I wasn’t lyi—”
I'm interrupted by a producer walking onto the bus. All the contestants turn to look at the unfamiliar face. The man claps his hands, which is stupid in my opinion. We’re already looking at him.
“Ok,” he says. “You will exit the bus and grab your belongings. After you have gathered your things, we need to get a shot of everyone walking towards the dorms looking excited. Understand?”
All contestants say some variant of ‘yes.’ Mine is a halfhearted grunt.
The other contestants and I exit the bus and grab our things. I feel like an idiot as a stagehand arranges us in a good ‘group walking’ position. We’re literally just going inside a building. What is the point of this?
“Ok,” she says. “As you walk make sure to look excited!”
That is literally impossible. I try to imagine the building filled with something that would make me excited. Anime figurines. Manga. Merch of my waifu.
I think I stop grimacing.
The videographer reviews the footage with the director. They’re talking about something, but I’m not really sure how much commentary they can possibly give on fifteen seconds of video.
“Some of you didn’t look excited enough, we’re going to film it again.”
• • •
It took five takes to film. My relief from the final take was quickly halted when I learned we had to film a ‘walking into building’ scene. That took three tries.
The living quarters are so small that there is no room for bulky camera equipment. Good. I’m sick of having those things in my face.
My disappointment returns when I see a camera anchored in the corner of the hallway.
We’re going to be recorded 24/7. I let out a string of expletives as I walk into my room. A boy who arrived there first looks at me.
“Are you practicing rapping?”
Three twin bunk beds have been crammed into a room meant for one queen bed. Each looks equally unappealing, but I walk to the bottom bunk in the right corner. The camera mounted on the wall follows my movement, and I glare at it.
“Can you believe we’re here?” The other boy starts to babble about the contest and how excited he is.
I’m getting really good at half-listening. His words don’t register at all, but I still somehow manage to nod where appropriate.
Our other dorm mates file in one by one, choosing their bunk. I ignore them. Claiming what little real estate for my possessions sounds better than talking.
I hang my shirts from the top bunk to create a semblance of privacy.
“Hi!” A boy hangs upside down from the top bunk.
I jump in surprise. I had been ignoring everyone and hadn’t seen him come in. “Jesus.”
“Sorry to scare you! I’m Eita Yamamoto.”
“Nice to meet you.”
It’s not, really. But I don’t want to be rude.
“Likewise! Can you believe…”
Ah yes, more of this I-can’t-believe-it’s-happening chatter. I ignore Eita as he talks a mile a minute, using his hands for emphasis. A particularly enthusiastic sentence makes him knock his glasses off. I sigh and pick them off the floor.
“Thanks!” Eita says, hopping down from the top bunk. He grabs his head. “Oh. I shouldn’t’ve hung upside down so long.”
“Oh! You’re the ‘don’t vote for me’ guy. Did you know or hope reverse psychology would get you votes? Cause that’s pretty bold if it was the latter!”
I’ve failed every time I’ve tried to tell someone I’m serious about not wanting to be here. Maybe I should just stop. I shrug at Eita.
He won’t shut up about my ‘strategy.’ The kid will probably analyze it for thirty minutes, so I pivot our conversation.
“Why are you here?” I ask.
“Oh, that’s easy! I want people to see me.”
“At my high school, no one notices me. And I think…I have talent! So maybe, if I win the show and debut, they’ll finally see me.”
Eita’s glasses slide down his face, and he pushes them back up. Hold on, why is he allowed to keep his glasses? I silently curse my stylist.
He suddenly looks embarrassed, which I realize is from my lack of response. “So um, hopefully that’s not a dumb goal or anything.”
“It’s not! Sorry I was just…thinking.”
“Oh! Why are you here?”
I scramble to come up with another reason than the truth. Fortunately, the PA system interrupts our conversation.
“Move in is over. Please report to the commentary site.”
“Commentary site…?” I say.
“Ah, yeah! It’s like you give thoughts how your day went. They might splice it in when they make the episode.”
Eita looks excited, so I manage to keep my thoughts about the ‘commentary site’ to myself. As we walk over, he practices what he’s going to say, fretting at every detail.
“…how does that sound?” he asks.
I wasn’t really paying attention. Which made me feel bad, sort of. Eita is just a kid and is really excited to be here. I should keep that in mind when I’m around him.
He waves goodbye as he jogs over to a seat. I watch him mouth what he had probably just been saying to me.
“Hey, it’s your turn.”
One of the videographers calls me over. He has me sit down in a chair that’s in front of an ‘Idol Factory’ background.
“Ok,” he says. “Tell me your thoughts about today.”
“That’s pretty broad…”
He sighs. “How did moving in make you feel? Were you excited? Nervous? Monologue a bit.”
“Well, it was horrible. I had to get up at an ungodly hour. Then, we finally get here, and we spend an hour and a half filming walking towards the building. When I finally thought it was over, we had to spend another forty-five minutes filming walking into it. Now I’m sardined in a room with five other guys, and all they want to talk about is how excited they are about this competition. Oh, and cameras follow me everywhere.”
The other man pauses. “That was…different.”
“Oh! And now I have to go practice a stupid dance routine, when all I want to do is sleep.” I bite my thumb. “Do you think I can opt out of that?”