The trainees exclaimed in surprise.

"Three stars? He's better than I am! How many will I get, then?"

"Their judging criteria are much stricter than I thought."

"I'm scared, brother. I think I won't get a single star."

"Three stars? It should be at least four stars for him. He dances so well!"

June expected this kind of evaluation. He doesn't know whether the other trainees had watched the previous seasons, but it's only expected that their criteria would become much stricter as time passed by. The K-pop industry is already so saturated with idols who can sing, dance, and rap well. They needed something special.

Besides, it was just the first audition. There are still lots of time to catch up. It's also not a guarantee that trainees with five stars will be able to debut. What's important is getting the most screen time. Even a trainee with zero stars can debut if he is favored by the editors.

After Jisung, the performances were quite mediocre. They mostly got two stars or stars. Their judging criteria also became stricter as the performances went on. More than ten performances had already been done, but no one got five stars yet.

Just then, the large LED screen flashed the word "StarMuse." The applause for their entrance was different from the other trainees. They were the second big company to perform on stage after Harmony.

Jisung leaned on his knees to get a better look at their performance.

"Ah, StarMuse," Hyerin said. "My agency. I'm looking forward to your performance. Don't let me down."

"I hope we get an A this time," Woo-jin said to his co-mentors.

The music started, a strong guitar-opening rattling the trainees. The five boys moved in a synchronized manner, showing off how much they had practiced. They seemed to be a group that had already debuted!

"What song is this?"

"I've never heard it before."

June narrowed his eyes and listened to the music. It's a song he was not familiar with. It may have been from a group that Mei Ling did not listen to.

Or perhaps...an original?

Trainee Yuri sang the first lines, showing off his unique vocal texture and prowess. June nodded in approval. This trainee is the best out of the singers so far. He also has a B grade in vocals. The mentors were also surprised by his vocal techniques.

"In a world where walls divide,

We'll shatter them, side by side.

A melody of unity we'll sing,

Breaking barriers, we'll spread our wings.

No more limits, no more bounds,

Together we'll break through any rounds.

We'll rise above, we'll reach the sky,

With open hearts, we'll unify.

We're breaking barriers, can't you see?

Embracing differences, setting spirits free.

A song of love, a clear message,

United we stand, conquering fear."

The song ended with the five of them in a semicircle. Yuri was in the very middle, out of breath from the magnificent performance. The trainees and mentors applauded.

"Ah," Hyerin said. "It's definitely different."

"Did we make you proud, senior?" Jaxon asked with a charming smile. Unlike everyone from his group, he had a rugged charm, causing Jihyun and Hyerin to become giddy in their seats. He's also another trainee to look out for.

"It wasn't bad," Hyerin said. "You guys did a good job."

"Thank you. Thank you," the five boys bowed respectfully.

"You guys have a good foundation," Gun said. "The dance was well-synchronized, but the routine wasn't the most difficult," he pointed out.

"This is an original song, too, right?" he asked.

The trainees whispered among themselves. An original song of this caliber? StarMuse is really amazing.

"Who made the choreography?" Gun asked.

The trainees pointed to the shortest guy on the team. He had light brown hair and tan skin. His name, "Steel," was something that June noticed. He had a friend named Steel when he was still in White Tiger. He was extremely hairy and big-headed, though. So, they're definitely different people.

June looked at his status window and pursed his lips. This guy was a constant B-. It seems like he's an all-rounder, but he's not the best in each aspect. It's going to be tough for this guy to debut.

"Steel," Gun said. "I feel like the choreography didn't match the song well. However, you dance pretty good, brother. I just don't like the elements of the dance."

Steel nodded his head in acceptance, disappointed in himself.

"We're now going to give you your stars. For five stars--Yuri and Jaxon."

The trainees burst into cheers. They were the very first five-star trainees! So, this was the standard that the mentors were looking for.

"The rest of you get three stars. We look forward to seeing your improvements. Try your best to move up to five stars!" Hyerin cheered. Despite their disappointment, the three other trainees nodded and accepted the results.

"Next trainees, please come in!"

Two boys entered the stage, and June frowned when he saw their stats. Their highest aspect was a C. They also hadn't been training for a long time. June can now guess what's going to happen. Since two big companies have already performed, they're now saving the other big companies for last.

Which only means one thing.

It's time for the comedy relievers of the show.

His time is going to come soon.

The stage was set, the lights dimmed, and the panel of mentors watched as the intro of Fever Dream by SIXC played.

Hyeon opened his mouth to sing the first line, but his voice instantly cracked. The mentors and trainees grimaced. Not only that, but their dancing wasn't synchronized. It looked like something from a school's talent show.

Jihyun looked at them with disbelief. "These kids need a lot of work."

"Zero stars!"

The next contestant, Mike, confidently strutted to the center of the stage. He started to dance, but his moves were stiff and awkward, more reminiscent of a flailing fish than a skilled performer.

Gun chuckled. "Is he trying to imitate a jellyfish?"

Hyerin giggled. "I don't know what's worse--the dancing or the facial expressions."

Mike finished his routine with a clumsy twirl, nearly tripping over his own feet. The mentors struggled to maintain their composure.

"Your voice isn't bad, but your dancing skills are nearly zero," Gun said.

"Zero stars!"

The audition continued with a series of equally amateur and disastrous performances. A hip-looking trainee named C-Jay entered the stage, and a familiar rap song started playing. June shook his head. This guy is a D in rap! He should have focused on dance since he's at least a B on that aspect.

He forgot his lyrics in the middle of the performance and asked for another chance. However, Bone shook his head.

"I think we've heard enough."

"I have one more verse," the "rapper" insisted.

Bone shook his head. "This is enough for a deliberation. Zero stars!"

"What?" he asked in disbelief. "You don't know what you're talking about! How can I have zero stars when I'm the only real rapper in this place?"

The mentors gestured toward the producers, and C-jay was rightfully removed from the stage. The trainees were shocked by his outburst. June smirked as he looked at the producers. Their eyes were practically sparkling in delight.

They loved this. June already knew that they would use this footage in the teaser.

"Well, that was.. something," Minho said. "My head is aching from all the performances already, and yet we only have two five stars."

"Tell me about it," Jihyun said. "I'm getting tired from judging. Should we take a break?" she asked.

Gun nodded. "Yena," he gestured to the main director. "We'll have a fifteen-minute break."

Yena agreed. Having talentless trainees was definitely funny at first, but as time progressed, it wasn't as fun anymore. It just felt pathetic.

The mentors were given coffee, and they also took this time to tell something to the trainees.

"Trainees," Minho said.

The room turned silent as they gauged the seriousness in his voice.

"It's quite disappointing seeing such performances today. We would appreciate it if you at least show something mediocre. The performances just now were only under zero or two stars."

"This is a show where we're looking for idols," Hyerin added. "You can't rely on everything that your company has taught you. Show off your charms as well as your talents. Don't be angry when we give our comments, too. We're telling it for your own sake."

C-Jay looked down at the ground.

"Do you understand?" Minho asked.

"Yes, mentors."

Minho and Hyerin sat down.

"I hope that wakes them up somehow," Minho sighed.

Bone nodded. "Thanks for that. It was definitely needed."

"I do wish the next acts would show us some talent," Woo-jin said.

Jihyun agreed. "I hope a good vocalist shows up too. These kids are too focused on dancing nowadays."

As they waited for the fifteen-minute break to finish, the same female intern approached June.

"Trainee June, please stand by and wait backstage."