This one may balloon to huge proportions again like the season 2 LOST review. That being said, I’m officially starting it on Friday August 18th… we’ll see how long it takes to finish.
I’m not so much the fan of “reality TV”. Call me a TV snob, but I find the amount of manipulation in the genre to be completely too much. Manipulation of people to do certain things. Manipulation of actual events to make things look a certain way. Manipulation of audience emotions to make us feel empathetic or hateful. Certain people who are even more cynical than I am about such things might say that all of these manipulations are used in any sort of narrative/fiction work, and so therefore I shouldn’t be complaining, because nearly all of my favorite shows are fictional. The difference here is the illusion of reality that exists in the non-fiction genre. Shows like Laguna Beach, Survivor, Big Brother, and yes, even “The Real World”, all have producers influencing actions of characters, the editing of actions to portray people in a certain light, and of course the casting of people to fill certain roles on the show… because without an antagonist, there’s no drama, and without drama, there’s no point. And they manage it by making us believe that these are people without outside influence… as they really are.
Of course in competition reality shows, usually that antagonist comes in the form of a person who isn’t performing upto the standards set by the other competitors, but miraculously does not get voted off, with a much more solid competitor taking that bottom spot. Then there’s always a big “shock” when a popular contestant gets kicked off (once a year without fail), and somehow the one we all seem to hate stays on for another week, until finally they get shelved and we all rejoice.
Where am I going with this? I’m still gonna need another paragraph to get there. You see, I always hated American Idol. HATED it. Even when I was forced to live with it at work every single day of the week. That might’ve actually made me hate it more. The next January though, I was among a high concentration of people who wanted to watch the audition episodes. I knew where it was going to go. A slew of bad singers hoping to be the next William Hung were going to come on and be completely oblivious to their lack of talent and then be exploited to sell advertising space. AHH America! What I never realized though, was that these horrible singers were actually selling the remainder of the season. Sprinkled in with the talentless souls are a handful of people who are either gorgeous and good singers, or they’re unattractive but have overcome obstacles in order to be able to sing the way they do. And while you think they’re just telling you more about the person, they’re filling your head with sympathy or lust. And that’s where they hook you. The personalities. American Idol is a personality contest as much, if not more than it is a singing contest, with terribly bland arrangements, stiff contestants who are oftentimes “pitchy”, and don’t really know how to entertain a crowd for the most part. And product placement. Lots of product placement. Of course I fell into the trap, but I thought I was being anti-Idol by rooting for the completely awesome Bo Bice (still the best contestant they’ve ever had on the show). “The Man” still won though, because by being the provider of such “anti-Idol” material, they got me to watch it. CURSE THEM!
I realized that American Idol was like that terrible contestant who nobody seemed to dislike enough to get kicked off. It’s flashy, attractive and diverse/bland enough for EVERYBODY to like something about it. The problem is that it’s not good. But last year after Idol’s season ended I found a show on CBS that did everything that Idol did, nearly five times better, but nobody really knew about.
Rockstar: INXS was a talent competition to find a new lead singer for the band INXS, probably unknown to most people my age. The show had incredible production design, better camerawork, better direction, better judges, a much much better results show, a phenominal house band, better arrangements week after week, and at least six singers that probably could’ve won Idol. In fact, the top six contestants were so uniquely awesome that any one of them could’ve had a successful solo career had people actually watched the show. There was half-hour backstage episode every week that took a look at the personal interactions of the contestants, challenges and sort of rockstar-seminar things, and song selection/arrangement, which was a very interesting supplement, but got moved to VH1 because of bad ratings. Also, the show had Brooke Burke wearing conveniently revealing outfits. And it was all on during the summer, when nothing else is on. What more could you ask for?
Season 2 definitely has a different feel, and for good reason. The contestants are auditioning for a different band, a new band without any released material, and without a former lead singer. Called Supernova consists of Tommy Lee, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, and former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke, who, like INXS in season one, serve as judge and executioner. I’m going to break this all down in good and bad as compared to last season.
First the good.
1. The judges are better than last year. Call me ignorant, but I never knew who INXS was, and I could never tell the band members apart when they were giving their comments to the singers. Not only does Supernova have members that stand out on their own, but are telegenic, and give really good advice much of the time. Of course Tommy Lee is gonna flirt with all the women, and there’s gonna be all sorts of innuendo, but there’s also genuinely constructive criticism.
2. The shows use of alternative media is staggering. They took the backstage show off the air, and put it where people who really would make the effort to watch it have the ability to watch it… the internet. The show’s website has a plethora of activites and information, including “mix-tape” tracklist of contestants, band members, and the houseband’s favorite songs, which you can then buy from MSN.com’s service. You also can vote for your favorite performer online, as well as by phone. During this week, viewers were actually able to vote which songs contestants would sing, from a list of four per singer.
3. No INXS songs. Even though it served all of its purposes in season 1, I couldn’t help but be a bit bored by performances of these songs, mostly because I didn’t know them. I understand that this was partially done so I could get to know them, and that people who once liked INXS would probably like them, but I didn’t. Because Supernova doesn’t have any previously recorded songs, the people in the bottom three pick which songs they’re going to sing for survival. I’m not exactly sure at what point they pick their songs or rehearse with the house band, but it always comes off great.
4. Zayra Alverez. This woman could easily go under the “Bad” column, but I’m gonna count her as “so bad it’s good”. She’s not bad in a William Hung way though. Zayra is what Bjork would be if she were a Latin music performer. She obviously never stood a chance of becoming the lead singer for this band, yet she somehow managed to escape elimination twice… I think because the band thought she’d make good TV, and they knew they’d kick her off eventually. Watch for yourself here. The best ones are Razorblade, and 8675-309. Trust me when I tell you that you have never seen anything on TV like it. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up in the air, but at the very least, it’s incredibly compelling TV.
5. The job to be won is a much more difficult one. Becoming the new lead singer for INXS is tough, no doubt. But you’ve already been given a blueprint and a catalogue of songs to work with. Here, not only will you be creating your own original sound and direction for the band, but the winner is also going to have to hold his own with these three incredibly charismatic musicians, something that INXS didn’t have. Thus the competition is harder and therefore makes for better TV.
1. Brooke Burke. I really hate to say it, cause she’s freakin gorgeous, but she’s got no personality this year. Not that she was amazing last year, but she had some life to her. This year, it’s like she forgot how to read over the summer, then started learning again, just in time for the new season. Complete lack of energy, enthusiasm, and sincerity. Come back old Brooke.
2. “ROCKER”. I hate this word. I hate hate hate hate hate this word. I hate the fact that it supposedly stands for individuality and anti-authority, but has become both a stereotype and a tool of the man. When American Idol took it and used it as their own word…. exclusively using it to refer to two or three people, rather than calling them singers, it got to me. It reminds me of how the wrestler A.J. Styles in TNA has to be referred to at all times as “The Phenominal” A.J. styles. Or how wrestlers in WWE are ALWAYS referred to as “Superstars” and not wrestlers. Not only is it lumping all the singers into one stereotype, but they’re using the same word over and over again. I swear I heard the word “rocker” used 4 times in the first five minutes last week. Seriously, I know you’re trying to prove yourself as the anti-Idol, but get a damn thesaurus, and make the script sound a little more natural. Looking on the website, “Rockers” actually has a capital “R” because, obviously, it’s a proper noun.
3. The SAME songs. They have changed it up a bit, but for every “Zombie” by The Cranberries, there’s a “We are the Champions”. How many times must I hear “Creep”, or the four overplayed combined hits of Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. Does Nirvana really deserve to have had eight performances of their songs? And if i have to hear Interstate Love Song, Bring Me to Life, or Cult of Personality one more time, I’m totally going to illegally download the Supernova CD instead of buying it. And I’ll convince all my friends to download it instead of buying it as well. That’ll show them. It’s just like stealing from them, but I deserve it for having to sit through repeats. Please, more songs like “Starman”, “One Headlight”, and “Helter Skelter”.
4. Tommy Lee acting like a sleazebag. I guess it’s hard for him not to, but come on. Grow up.
5. Dave hasn’t played guitar yet. Granted, there still four weeks to go I think, but it’s about time we see him show off his guitar chops and see if the singers can keep up.
6. Enough with the voting info. I understand the need to make it clear to the audience, but it’s way too much to give me the info 15 times in an hourlong show.
As far as contestants go, I’d say that last years group was stronger, but I can’t really remember anyone other than the top six. We’re still at seven right now, so I’m sure that with two more weeks of showing off and getting better, the top five could probably match last years top five. After all, I wasn’t the biggest fan of last years top two, instead liking 3rd-6th place a lot more. This year’s group is a little more hard-edge with the obligatory tatoos and piercings than last years was and that’s for good reason, because the band and its music is more that style. While Mig had last year’s breakout performance with this song, so far there have been at least two really memorable performances this one and this one, both by Ryan Star. His “smoldering intensity” might just be enough to get him to the finals, and as he’s due to sing an original song this week, we’ll see how far his skill set goes. Even if the top six aren’t better than last year, whoever makes the top three has the potential to surpass the IXS top three. It’s all a matter of whoever has the better single, which, in my opinion is why J.D. Fortune won last year.
What I’ve seen of this year’s Rockstar: Supernova show gets a 3.5 star rating by showing constant improvement, a willingness to be different, and the potential to give the band a really tough choice when it comes to the top three. If only Brooke Burke would be able to stop using the word “Rocker”.