The Azure building was filled with excitement as young teens queued in line and waited for their turn to enter. Numerous cue cards were in their hands, and even with just the airing of the first episode, it seemed like the fourth season of 'Rising Stars' was bound to become another hit.

At the front of the line were Na-ri, Soo-min, Wei, and Jia. They had been here since dawn since the group of friends wanted to stand at the front row.

Of course, not all of them was excited about this.

"Until when are we going to wait?" Jia asked. She had been dragged here by her friends despite her obvious reluctance.

"Not much longer," Soo-min responded.

"I'm hungry," Jia whined. "We've been waiting here since early morning!"

"And it's all worth it," Wei said. "We're going to get front row this time. Here," Wei opened her bag and gave Jia some of the snacks she had packed. "This will do until lunch."

Jia tiredly sighed before popping the biscuit in her mouth.

"Please enter the studio in an orderly manner," one of the guards said, finally opening the barricade.

The girls zoomed to the front row, and they cheered when they were able to secure the barricade.

"Oh my gosh. We're so close!" Na-ri exclaimed.

"I feel like I'll see their pores at this point," Jia said, causing her friends to glare at her.

"Don't say that," Wei said. "Idol trainees don't have pores."

Jia rolled her eyes. Her friends have such glorified perceptions about idols. At the end of the day, they're people too!

The girl next to her didn't seem to be enjoying the loudness of the studio either.

"Were you also dragged here?" Jia asked, trying to start a conversation.

"No," the girl said, still with a frown. She showed Jia the "Casper" banner in her hand. "But I only came for one person."

"Oh," Jia said, not bothering to talk to her anymore.

Fortunately, it didn't take long before Kang Minho entered the stage. The cheers were amplified a hundrefold as Minho stood at the center with a dazzling smile.

"Oh my gosh. He's so handsome!"

"I don't think I've ever seen someone so handsome in my entire life."

"Ah, I might become a Minho stan at this point."

"Good morning, starlights," Minho exclaimed. He was greeted with much louder cheers.

He chuckled yet remained professional. "Today marks the first live performance of our aspiring idols. It is entitled—Artist Battle."

The crowd whispered among themselves, and even 'Rising Stars' enthusiasts were unfamiliar with the concept.

"This year, we have divided the groups based on the artist they want to perform. 6 different legendary artists have been chosen for this challenge. Teams who chose the same artists will go head-to-head with different songs."

The crowd started to understand what 'Artist Battle' meant.

"After every performance, you are given the privilege to vote for the most eye-catching trainee in the team. Aside from that, after every team battle, you shall decide whose performance you liked better. Lastly, at the end of the show, you're also going to vote for the team who did the best out of everybody else. Is that understood, starlights?"


"Alright, now, let's get this show on the road!"

"Make sure to vote for Jaeyong's team, alright?" Na-ri said.

"No," Soo-min exclaimed. "What if he's battling with Zeth? I can't afford not to vote for my baby."

"Let's hope they aren't going against each other," Wei said. "And I also hope my baby Lin Zhi's in a good team."

Jia clicked her tongue. "Just vote for the better team," she said.

Her friends looked at her with wide eyes.

"It's not that simple," Wei said. "Yes, we can vote for the better team when our faves aren't involved, but at the end of the day, we need to help our biases the most! This is a competition, after all."

Jia sighed. "You guys are so complicated."

"Let us now welcome the first 2 teams on the stage. They shall perform songs from LUMINOUS!"

The girls cheered as the first 17 boys trudged to the stage. They introduced themselves in such a cringy manner that Jia had to look away for a second.

Why the hell is their group name "Light Bulbs?" Jia bets she can create a better team name than that.

The first team took the stage, and the music played. The crowd cheered once more as the amateurish stage of the boys was shown.

"They're not that good," Jia said.

"Of course," Soo-min said. "It's only the first teams. They wouldn't show the talented trainees until the end."

"Why not?" Jia asked.

"Duh! Who else would watch these first few stages if the popular trainees are already done?"

Jia shook her head. Azure definitely knew how to give people a run for their money.

The stages continued, and Jia remained bored while watching them. Sure, there were some good performances, and there were some arguably very talented trainees in the competition too.

Still, she didn't find them special. The market is already saturated with talented idols, and she doesn't see a point in making a new one when it's just going to become a duplicate of all the other existing idol groups.

If Jia could pick a trainee she's most interested in, it would be the guy from zero-stars who was wearing a pink mask. Out of all the trainees, she feel like he's the most different.

And until now, he hasn't performed yet. His bright pink mask wouldn't be hard to miss.

"We are now down to our last two stages!" Minho said. "This might be the most controversial artist pick of the season. I present to you the teams that will perform songs from GIRLS' EVOLUTION!"

The crowd gasped and chattered among themselves.

"A girl group song? This has never been done before, right?" Soo-min asked.

"I'm so excited!" Wei exclaimed. "I want Lin Zhi to perform this."

As the trainees entered the stage, the crowd burst into their loudest cheers of the night.

The main focus of the crowd was on Jaeyong's team. Truly, their aura was different from the past teams that had performed.

They appeared to be more handsome and put-together.

The trainees backstage watched in awe as Jaeyong's team was shown on screen.

"This is unfair. They're so handsome."

"We didn't get that much cheers, did we?"

"Of course, what can you expect from trainees and idols that are already popular?"

"Good day, starlights! We are team Kingz. Please look forward to our stage!" Jaeyong's team said in unison, causing a frenzy in the crowd.

After their introduction, it was only then that the crowd finally faced their competitor.

They already felt quite bad for the team that Kingz would be facing. In their minds, the outcome was already obvious.

Jia, on the other hand, had her gaze focused on the other team from the very start.

She tilted her head to the side as she looked at one of the trainees. Their eyes met for a second, which made her heart beat faster in her chest.

This guy? Is he the one wearing the bright pink cat mask?

"1…2…3…," June quietly said. The group assumed a charismatic poise.

"Welcome to our world," Akira said in a deep voice. "We're team Abyss."

The camera panned to each member one-by-one, and the trainees gasped when June came to view.

Jisung looked at the screen with wide, sparkling eyes.

Instead of his usual bright pink mask, June was wearing a black cat mask, similar to the one that cat woman wears.

"Ah, June's fucking cool."