Chapter 260 Smug Balladeer

One by one, the mentors made their grand entrances. They descended from the ceiling on platforms, wearing spectacular dresses and suits that could rival the most glamorous red carpet attire. The first to descend was Jihyun, who appeared in a flowing gown that shimmered with every step. Next came Bone, the charismatic rapper, who strutted down the platform and stood next to Jihyun. Woojin emerged not long after, an all-white suit reflecting the lights that illuminated the stage. Gun and Hyerin came down as a pair, both wearing red. Hyerin looked sexy under the stage lights, while Gun was nothing short of dazzling. The six mentors stood on the stage, their presence overwhelming. Even those seated at the topmost floors strained their necks to catch a glimpse of mentors on the LED screen attached to the ceiling. The screams and applause were deafening, almost drowning out the music playing in the background. It was already so loud with the mention of the mentors alone. What more if the trainees were actually going to be shown? Meanwhile, some of the trainees backstage were already shaking in nervousness. C-Jay let out a deep breath, gazing at the audience with wide eyes. The others, too, weren't used to this large of an audience. The studio center in Azure, where they usually held the missions, only had a 1,000-person capacity at most. Having more than quadruple of that number was nerve-wracking for the trainees. Even Zeth, the experienced trainee, felt his hands tremble as he took the hand-held mic from one of the interns. They were going to perform first, and they couldn't wait to show their performance to the public. "Good luck," June said, patting Jisung's back. The shy trainee turned around and smiled. "Thanks, bro. I really needed that."

"I'm looking forward to your performance," June genuinely said. "Me too," Jisung responded. Meanwhile, the trainees from June's team started hyping up their competitors too.

Although they wanted to have a better stage than them, they still wanted to wish them luck. As they conversed, June's gaze locked with Lin Zhi. A smirk appeared on the latter's face, causing June to internally scoff. Lin Zhi slowly walked to where June was, weaving through the sea of trainees. "Hey," Lin Zhi said. "Surprised to still see me here?" "Nope," June nonchalantly responded. "It would be more surprising if you didn't make it here with all the connections you got right under your belt." Lin Zhi chuckled, not even ashamed of the dirty tricks he had played. "These connections will also lead me to the top eight. Don't forget to congratulate me, okay?" he boastfully said. "Sure," June smiled fakely. Lin Zhi shook his head in amusement, feeling like June had finally surrendered to his game. "The first team, please get ready," one of the crew members said. The top ten trainees gathered near the stage while those in the bottom ten watched intently. As expected, the crowd burst into a thunderous roar once they made their way to the stage. The other trainees even had to cover their ears. "Gosh," C-Jay said. "Will we have cheers like that?" "If we get even half the amount of cheers they have, I'll be happy," Johnny said. "Don't settle for less," June said. "That's right," Sehun backed him up. "Besides, I'm sure the cheers will subside after they finish their performance," June said. C-Jay frowned. "How are you so sure, bro? Will they really perform an emotional version of the song like you had predicted?" June smirked as the top ten trainees assumed their positions. They stood in a single file, with hand-held mics in their hands. "Just watch," June said, gesturing to the screen. The stage was bathed in a mesmerizing sea of blue lights, casting an enchanting glow on the handsome trainees. The audience held their breaths, excited to hear the upbeat, energetic intro of the signal song they've come to love. However, instead of an energetic opening, a lone violin began to play, its slow notes filling the vast space. The bottom ten trainees suppressed the gasp that threatened to escape their lips.

However, C-Jay had no shame. He gasped loudly, pointing at June like he was some kind of psychic. "It's just as you predicted." June shrugged, his eyes focused on the screen. Lin Zhi, to an extent, was still predictable. The unexpected choice slightly dampened the excited atmosphere, but the audience's love for their chosen trainees prevailed, and they still erupted in supportive cheers. The person at the center of the stage, Lin Zhi, stood with the confidence of a lone star. He began to sing, his voice rich and deep. The others joined in, harmonizing around him, creating a chorus that filled the dome. "In the depths of my mind, I had a vision so clear,

A dream so vivid it fueled my fears.

But I knew deep down I couldn't do it alone,

I needed the strength of those who called me their own."

It was definitely beautiful, like a choir, but not without flaws.

Amidst the harmonious sound, there was a subtle shakiness in their voices, a nervous energy that betrayed the immense pressure they were under. The imperfections in their performance, magnified by the simplicity of their presentation, became more obvious. "Hmm," Jihyun hummed, looking at the top ten trainees with an ambiguous expression. As the chorus approached, the trainees transitioned from their melodic singing to an elegant contemporary dance routine. Their movements were a breathtaking display of grace. Every step, every gesture, was definitely executed flawlessly.

Jisung and Zeth stood at the center this time, and June wanted to applaud them for doing such a great job. "Dreams come true when we're together,

Hand in hand, in stormy weather.

With the people around, we'll reach for the sky,

United as one, our spirits flying high.

United as one, our spirits flying high!"

The chorus, however, proved to be a challenge for the audience. Its complexity, filled with harmonies, left the crowd unable to sing along. The song had also slowed down from its original tempo, so they weren't able to show their excitement.

As the bridge approached, the tempo dropped even further. The trainees used this opportunity to channel their inner feelings and emotions. June shook his head. Lin Zhi should have known better than to beat him at his own game. This stage was ruined from the very start because of two reasons—the top ten trainees were too nervous, and they didn't have a concrete concept. They just wanted it to become emotional. That was it. The trainees' expressions conveyed sadness, their dance moves reflecting their memories from their time on Rising Stars, where they had invested their hearts and souls. Yet, like June expected, there lingered a hint of nervousness in their voices and movements, sensing the audience's less excited response. As the bottom ten trainees watched the performance through the screen, they realized the importance of June's words. Starting the night with a ballad was a risk, and the crowd definitely struggled to immerse themselves in the atmosphere they wanted to build. Lin Zhi, standing at the center of the stage, noticed the audience's reluctance to fully engage in their performance. Frowning, he knew they had to change tactics to connect on a deeper level.

The beautiful arrangement, the well-prepared props with white accents, and the floating clouds on the LED screens were all tasteful, but it seemed they needed something more to touch the audience's hearts.

Determined to win over the crowd, Lin Zhi took a deep breath and decided it was time to break out the big guns.

As the bridge reached its climax, Lin Zhi, driven by the desire to capture the audience's attention, made a bold move. He belted out a high note that pierced through the emotional atmosphere of the performance. However, this unexpected change disrupted the harmony of the group. The other trainees, startled by the abrupt shift, looked away, their faces revealing their unease.

Though Lin Zhi was proud of his vocal feat, his fellow members were not as thrilled. The unity that had characterized their act started to crumble.

June looked away, too, suddenly feeling bad for his friends in the top ten. However, it was good they maintained their professionalism and didn't make any mistakes. With that, their performance ended on an ambiguous note. And the audience's cheers were significantly weaker than when they first entered the stage—just as June had predicted.

Chapter 260: Smug Balladeer
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