Chapter 14:

Announcing the first challenge

Bonded by Music

Eloy was the first one to arrive at The Prince Park Hotel. A week had passed since they had successfully passed the audition. During that time, he had made the most of advancing his thesis, foreseeing that the next week would be much more complicated. Also, he and Genta had to fill out some additional documentation for the contest, which included committing to participate in any events to promote the contest, such as the one they were about to attend that early evening.

Eloy started fanning himself. According to the instructions they needed to dress in semi formal attire, which meant he didn’t need to wear a tie, but he was suffering a little with the jacket.


Eloy was startled when hearing that familiar greeting just next to him.

“Damn, you scared me.” Eloy looked at Genta, and he found himself scanning the younger man from head to toe. It was the first time that he saw Genta wearing suit pants and a shirt, and the latter contrasted nicely with the pendant that Genta was always wearing.

“I had nothing at home, so Narumi lent me her old clothes,” Genta explained, misinterpreting Eloy’s stare. “I know I look weird.”

“You look good,” Eloy corrected. His comment took Genta off guard, since the guy snorted softly.

“Come on, let’s go,” Genta said a little awkwardly, walking inside the hotel and forcing Eloy to take a couple of long strides to catch up to him.

The woman behind the counter handed them identification cards which they hung around their necks. The event was being held in one of the seven breakout rooms of the Convention Hall, so they followed the woman’s instructions to go there.

It wasn’t 6 PM yet, but almost half of the contestants had already arrived. Food was being served on the round tables spread across the room, and a few waiters were walking around, offering drinks. There was also a stage on one side with a gigantic screen hanging next to it, which was currently turned off.

“Are you okay?” Eloy asked as they went further inside, sensing Genta's tension beside him.

“Yeah. I just feel really out of place.”

Eloy smiled, understanding that feeling all too well. “Well, I know a couple of tricks for these situations.”

He raised his hand to call for the attention of the closest waitress. He took two glasses and handed one to Genta, who made a slight grimace while accepting it.

“I don’t like wine.”

“Me neither but look to your left. Subtly,” Eloy quickly added, fearing that Genta might stare too intensely. “Do you see that pair there?”

“You mean the two hella awkward guys?”

Eloy chuckled softly at the accurate description.

“Yes. They’re fidgeting and don’t know what to do with their hands. So, the first rule of these events: always have a drink in your hand. It’ll make you look less out of place.”

At that moment, the soft music that was sounding in the background faded a little, and Pink Candy’s voice sounded on the top of it. “Hello everyone~! It will take the lovely judges a little while to arrive, so in the meantime enjoy the food and make the most of meeting each other!

“Okay, here’s the second rule,” Eloy said as the contestants hurriedly approached the table with more food. “Avoid standing next to empty tables; you will stand up too much but also avoid the ones with more popular food so that you don’t have to talk to too many people.”

Genta hummed, looking genuinely impressed. “You’re an expert in the matter. Have you been in a lot of events like this?”

“Well, I’ve attended a few conferences, and the worst part for me is always the coffee breaks.” Eloy grabbed a small toast from one of the trays and took a bite. It tasted good, even if he had no idea what it was. “It’s supposed to be the time where you do networking and try to ‘sell’ your job, give it visibility. But I hate it.”

Genta showed the hint of a smile while grabbing an aperitif.

“So you aren’t as extroverted as you appear, huh.”

Eloy chuckled. “Only with people I get along with.”

At that moment loud laughter erupted from the large group at the nearby table. There were about fifteen people gathered there. Among them, two individuals stood out—a guy and a girl in their early twenties, dressed in expensive, matching clothes, looking like they were straight out of a modeling agency. They exuded confidence and were leading the conversation.

“I’ve just come up with a third rule,” Genta commented. “Avoid plastic people as much as possible.”

Eloy had to bite his lower lip to suppress a laugh. He was about to suggest subtly moving away when the girl suddenly locked her eyes on them.

“Oh, hi there!” She flashed a toothy smile and gestured for them to come closer. "Come on, join us! We're introducing ourselves!"

“Thanks, but we’re fine here,” Genta replied politely yet firmly, causing the woman's smile to freeze. A condescending expression briefly appeared on her face before she redirected her attention back to the group.

“The contest has barely started and we’re making friends already,” Eloy said with an ironic tone that made Genta snort while taking another aperitif.

“I’ve already got a real friend in this contest; I don’t need any fake ones.”

Eloy felt his heart skip a beat. Even though they had been talking a lot more during the past week, he hadn’t been sure if Genta saw him as anything more than a partner for the contest. It seemed that he did, and that realization made him smile.

At that moment, the background music was replaced by a more rhythmic tune. The double doors of the room opened, and half a dozen camera men entered, spreading out among the scattered groups to begin recording.

“What the heck,” Genta muttered next to Eloy when one cameraman practically manifested next to them, capturing a close-up of their confused faces. When they passed the pre-selection, they had been required to sign a document granting permission to be filmed during the contest, but Eloy had expected the filming to take place during the challenges, not at these events.

Following that, four of the six cameramen swiftly made their way back towards the open double doors, each one focusing on one of the four judges who were now entering.

“I don’t know how they’re used to this,” Genta muttered next to Eloy while they joined the rest of the excited contestants in applause.

“Well, Mr. Shin doesn’t look too happy,” Eloy replied, seeing that the composer had a rigid posture that contrasted with how at ease his companions looked, interacting with the camera as if it were an everyday thing to do for them.

Applauses continued as the judges approached the modest stage that had been set up. Shiratori and King took respective microphones and began the opening speech.

As they spoke, the large screen began to display footage from previous seasons of ‘Tune it Up’, as well as snippets from the auditions that had taken place that year. Eloy's mouth fell open as he saw glimpses of their own audition, particularly the part where Genta approached Mr. Shin in anger, followed by his own near-collapse at the end

“Shit, were they filming that day?” Genta exclaimed with confusion. “But where the hell were the cameras?”

Eloy had been thinking the same thing. He wondered if there were also hidden cameras or micros in that room too, recording their interactions without them noticing.

Shiratori and King concluded their speeches and passed the microphones to Pink Candy and Mr. Shin. The latter still appeared a little uncomfortable, and in fact he simply welcomed the contestants before Pink Candy took the spotlight.

“Hello, my sweeties~! So, before proceeding, let me share a little story. Before I was chosen as a judge, there was a bit of skepticism towards me, as the program creators weren’t sure that an influencer could fit in a music contest. However, as my colleagues mentioned, this season of 'Tune it Up' will have a fresher format to engage a younger audience. To achieve that, social media will be key, and being active on it will be crucial to promote both the contest and yourselves.”

Eloy frowned slightly, already having a bad feeling about it.

“So, here’s the first challenge: by July the 1st, each pair of contestants must have a minimum of 10k followers on either instagram or TikTok by posting original, music-related content.” Pink Candy smiled mischievously. “So good luck, my sweeties. Because the countdown starts now.”

While a surprised murmur swept through the room, and an actual countdown appeared in the contest website now displayed on the screen, Eloy and Genta exchanged a shocked glance in silence.

And then, they both cursed at the same time.

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