Chapter Four

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Arriving at the TV studio by the Thames in a beat up old camper van with my four best mates was the best feeling in the world. It was the final round of auditions, known as The Battle Zone in which all acts perform twice in front of the judges to snag a place in the final line up, before the live shows started. More than anything, we needed to be pitch perfect for our performances in this stage as it was at the end of it that the judges would pick the final twelve to go forward to deal with the public votes.

We'd rehearsed so much over the two weeks we'd had 'free' since auditioning for the judges at the Lyric, and every spare moment, between school, college, and my job was spent in Brad's garage. Wanting to make sure we could prove we were versatile, we practised as many different songs, covering as many eras and genres as we could to ensure we wouldn't be put off by any song choice the judges would throw at us.

"Morning guys. Head to registration, and then into the waiting room please." A steward greeted us, and pointed us in the direction of a huge room, already full of people. Some we recognised from the arena auditions, others were new faces.

"It's weird looking around thinking that these people are our competition." Shaun commented as he trailed after Brad towards the registration desk.

"If we get through, it's going to kill you living in the complex with no girls around, isn't it?" I teased.

"Awww, man. Why did we decide on Next Big Boyband instead of that new show that's starting up next year? The one that allows all kinds of performers." I could tell he was considering leaving, not that he would actually do it.

"Because you wanted to be able to chat up Katja." I reminded him

"Man, I want to do more than chat her up." He had a wistful look in his eyes.

"Shaun, she's what, six years older than you? She's not going to ruin her career for a fling with some lad on a TV talent show. Forget about it and think about the possibility of them giving us backing dancers."

"Give up Katja? Never, but backing dancers... flexible. I can work with that." He'd lusted after Katja Baldwin ever since he'd spent last Easter at his aunt and uncle's house, and his young cousins woke him up watching the shit kid's TV show she used to present. The moment she popped up on screen dressed as a horse, she'd gone straight into his wank bank, and he'dd obsessed over meeting her ever since. Or so he'd told us when we decided to apply for the show.

"You, Shaun Preston, are a complete letch." Brad said it like it was a bad thing and something we were all unused to. "Anyway, I'll get us registered. You lot go and find somewhere to sit." Boss man was back and taking charge.

:: ::

Cameramen and the two presenters were floating around the waiting area, chatting to the potential contestants as they milled around getting to know each other. I guess it made sense considering that the acts going through to the live shows would be living in the same swanky apartment complex in Central London for as long as they remained on the show.

"I'm off to mingle, check out the competition." I told my bandmates as I stood up and stretched. "We've been sat here for four hours already, and I'm about to lose my mind."

"Mind if I tag along?" Josh stood next to me. Although he was the youngest, Josh was the second tallest, after me, and would most likely end up taller by the end of the year

"If you want." Side by side, we began by walking over to the vending machine on the other side of the huge room. I was beginning to regret not taking Josh mum's advice and bringing lunch snacks.

"Man, I'm starving." Shoving my hand in my pocket, I pulled out a handful of change and bought myself some chocolate and crisps. "Not the perfect lunch, but it'll do." Josh did the same and grabbed himself a packet of mini cookies and a drink. Someone on the production team had mentioned that food would be provided, but I couldn't wait until they were ready.

"So, honestly, do you think we'll get through to the next round?" I could hear the nerves in Josh's voice.

"Look, mate, naturally I think we're fucking brilliant, but I don't get to make the final decision. But, I'm hoping the judges take the crowd's reaction at the arena into consideration. Plus, they'd be crazy to turn us down."

"Why's that?"

"Because we have you. Anyone would be crazy turning you down. You're the baby, and let's face it, you're adorable." I pinched his right cheek, making him blush.

"Gerroff me, you dick." Laughing, I patted his cheek, not very gently, leaving a red mark.

"Just getting you prepared for the paps Josh my boy. With those big blue eyes, and that blonde hair, you're going to be a media darling."

"Yeah, okay. What about you? What will the media say about you?"

"I, of course, will be the 'mysterious on' of the band. No one really knowing me, and I'd be able to do all sorts of weird shit and the fans would lap it up."

"Oh, of course. I can see it now. Posting weird artsy Instagram posts and cryptic tweets that have the fans in a frenzy." Josh was laughing at me, which was what I wanted to achieve; to stop him worrying.

"Piss off. I have no idea how any of will be portrayed, but I'm taking bets on Brad being the 'father figure'." That had us both cracking up, laughing so loud that a lot of the other acts were giving us strange looks. "Let's go chat some of these losers up."

"Stop saying that." Josh hissed at me, looking round to make sure no one had heard me. I didn't really care, but it bothered Josh and none of us liked to have him upset or worried. He was our baby brother and we looked after him, which included keeping him happy and smiling.

"Sorry man. It's the nerves shutting my filter down." Looking round, I spotted Shaun waving at us. "Think we're needed." I grabbed Josh's arm and we walked back to rejoin the rest of the lads.

"We're all being called through in five."

It was starting, and I wasn't sure I was ready.

:: ::

"Right, I know many of you have watched the show at home, but I'm still going to explain what's happening over the next few days." Guy Murray was taller than he looked on telly, and broader. Whenever I'd watched the show before, I assumed he was quite a little bloke, but he was pretty big, which could be seen as imposing. I guess it helped in his line of work in many ways, keeping snotty nosed kids in line during their first year of fame, that kind of thing. "The Battle Zone is an intense contest within the contest itself."

I felt my throat go dry at his words. More than anything, I wanted to grab a bottle of water and down it in one, but that wasn't the kind of attention I wanted to bring to myself.

"Currently, we have sixty groups here, and we need to get those numbers down. So, starting tomorrow, each group will sing in a battle with another group. After each group has sung, myself and the other judges will get these numbers down to thirty acts. Then you battle again, and after that, we will pick our final twelve."

Silence descended on the room.

"Shit's just got real." Leighton muttered. All I could do to answer him was to give him a sly fist bump.

"Take the rest of the day to practice, practice, practice. You'll need it." With one last look at all of us, he turned and left the room. It took at least five minutes before people began to nervously chat to whoever was sitting next to them. Before anyone could get to know the band next to them, a runner announced lunch was ready.

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