Chapter Eight

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It wasn't hard to get caught up with the lad's excitement when Frankie, the security guard we'd been assigned by the show's producers, let us into our flat. It was on the third floor of the complex and it was amazing. None of us had ever seen anything like it, and we ran around the entire place like complete lunatics for about ten minutes until we chose our bedrooms and were dragged down to the car by Frankie to head over to the studios.

Seeing a set that I'd seen so many times when I watched the programme at home with my own eyes was surreal. It didn't look as big as it appeared from the comfort of my bedroom, but that didn't stop me standing in the middle of the stage and looking around me in awe.

"Man, this is freaky." Brad appeared next to me, making me jump. "We're actually here." He was almost vibrating with excitement. Jumping up onto his back, I couldn't stop laughing at the thought of me and my mates being on live telly, watched by millions.

"I know mate. Who'd have thought we'd make it?" There had always been hope when we started on the Big Boyband that we would get as far as we have, and further, but not once did any of us expect or demand anything without being willing to work for any success we may end up with after the show.

"Welcome final twelve acts." Guy Murray's voice filled the air with a boom making all fifty odd contestants jump and turn to the main door where the man himself stood, with a wide smile on his face. We all cheered at being referred to as the final twelve, causing him to laugh as he walked towards us. Once he reached the stage, he sat on the edge and summoned us all to gather around him.

He waited with a smile on his face as all the groups sat around him on the stage like primary school kids at register time. I took a quick look around, and noticed that not everyone had segregated themselves into their groups and were mixing with the others.

"Right, before we get started with the first week's work, I want to explain a few things to you all while you're together because after today, the only times you'll be together like this is on a Monday morning before it all starts again." Behind me, a couple of people were muttering under their breath, nerves beginning to kick in I assumed. While I was nervous, I was really looking forward to the challenges of each theme. I couldn't wait to show people how versatile we could be.

"I assume most of you are familiar how this show works. Unlike others, we don't split you into categories and assign you with a mentor. Throughout the week, you'll work with each of the judges before working with the teams we have set in place. These cover choreography and vocal training, while Mike Hanlon over there," Guy indicated a tall man sat behind a piano across the studio who had been on the show from day one, heading up the music team. "will work with you on how the song you perform each week will be arranged. Now, I don't want any of you to worry, but if you do feel like you might be drowning a little, please come and speak to one of us. That's what we're here for. Any questions?"

With a wide smile at the silence, almost as if he'd expected it, he divided us into four sets of three groups and sent each group to go and meet with one of the judges.

:: ::

We were grouped with a trio and another five piece. Page 23 and Summer Pilots were both strong groups from what I'd seen during The Battle Zone, both groups danced as well as sang, which put us at a slight disadvantage in my mind. I kept thoughts to myself as we went backstage to meet up with Charlie Poole who was going to give us our songs for the first week. Me and the lads were looking forward to meeting him as he was the judge who could empathise with each and every group that sang each week, having been through the same process.

"Morning guys, grab a seat" Charlie was sat on an armchair that faced out across the room which was full of sofas. It was clear this room had been specifically set up for this very use, yet I didn't feel as nervous as I expected to— even with the cameras already recording us. I'd forgotten what it was like to have them follow us. The battles were being aired this weekend, and I knew they'd been around, we'd even spoken into them for our VTs, but this was going to be far more intense, and possibly invasive.

"Before we get down to business, I want to start off by congratulating each and every one of you for making it into the final twelve. I appreciate, from experience as you all know, that you've all busted your arses to get this far and should be applauded for that. But, it only gets harder and more intense from now on fellas." His voice was serious, but he was smiling and somehow it made his words sound less like a warning and more of a friendly piece of advice.

"So, I know Guy's explained the basic process to you, and I get that it's a bit of an information overload, but don't stress about it. Just go with the flow and you'll soon get it down to a fine art." It was weird having this guy who had experienced the highs and lows of fame chatting to us as if we were equals. "Let's get down to business."

Like a school teacher, Charlie stood up and walked over to a flip pad I hadn't noticed in the corner of the room. "This week's theme is..." with a grand flourish, he revealed the first page of the pad. "UK versus US." A few of the others around me whooped and cheered, I stayed silent, waiting.

"So, we just get to pick a song by either an American or British boyband?" One of the guys from Page 23 asked.

"No. We're not limiting songs to just boybands as we want to see how you cope with arranging songs by solo artists and that kind of thing. You all need to prove not only that you're versatile, but that you can adapt; and also Guy wants us, for the first couple of weeks at least, to give you the song so myself and the other judges can begin to assess each group's strengths and weaknesses. We already have notes from you other auditions, but the live shows have the added pressure of not only a full studio audience, but also the knowledge that millions are watching you from the comfort of their own homes."

"Shit." Brad, for all his confidence, was nervous and looking a little green in the face. Without saying anything, I shuffled closer to him and leaned up against him to let him know he needn't worry. I was rewarded with a weak smile. "Thanks mate." He spoke quietly.

"We're all here for each other." I told him, turning my attention back to Charlie who was looking a bit pissed off.

"But what if we don't like the song we're given?" The guy from Page 23 asked.

"Look, Jez. It's not about whether you like the song. Yes, you have to be comfortable singing it, but also each and every one of you need to be pushing yourselves. Never, ever play it safe and stick to songs you know inside out week after week. That shit gets you voted off the show. Challenge yourself and the others in your group to get better with every performance. If you do that, you'll not only grow as a performer, but the viewers will see how much work you're putting in and that's what gets the fans and the votes."

Shaun whistled, low and long as Charlie's words. The passion in his voice made it clear he loved this business and was determined to help us as performers as much as he could. Jez, stupid name, kept his mouth shut for the rest of the session.

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