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Rob and Fab, After the Fall : Ex-Milli Vanilli Duo Confident They Can Sing on Their Own

January 15, 1992|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Said Pilatus: "As I stood there crying that night I thought, 'My God, look at it. My son is growing up exactly the same as I did--without a father.'

"I never knew my dad, and my real mom was a prostitute. I grew up in an orphanage. My real parents were never there for me. And somehow I have allowed the same thing to happen to my son. Seeing him made me feel so sad and so guilty, I just couldn't stand it anymore. That's a big part of what pushed me over the edge."

Morvan said news of his partner's suicide attempt caught him off guard. But what surprised him most was the flippant reaction of the entertainment industry.

"What kind of a world is this that people make jokes about someone's suffering?" asked Morvan. "Here my best friend tries to kill himself and I hear people mocking us like it was some publicity stunt. I swear, sometimes it seems like the farther we fall, the more people enjoy hammering at us."

Last spring, Pilatus and Morvan attempted to resurrect their career by starring in a chewing gum commercial that spoofed the lip-sync hoax. They also appeared in music videos by Hammer and the Traveling Wilburys and were featured as animated characters in an episode of "The Super Mario Brothers" cartoon show on NBC.

Hoping to branch out into film and television, the duo began taking acting lessons in August and signed a deal with Parker Public Relations, a Los Angeles-based firm that represents Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although the pair is negotiating with Alliance Productions executive Michael Weisbarth to develop a TV-movie script in which they will play themselves, no production date has been set for the project.

Re-establishing their credibility in the music business hasn't been easy, either.

"The day after the scandal broke the industry just slammed the door in our faces," Morvan said. "We couldn't believe it. One morning we were rich and famous. The next day, nobody wanted to talk to us. Not the record company, not the agent, not a single one of our so-called friends. Everyone abandoned us."

Everyone, except Taj Records President Robert Foreman, that is.

Foreman, whose tiny record label scored a Top 10 hit single last year on Billboard magazine's R&B chart with Gerald Alston's "Slow Motion," contacted Pilatus and Morvan immediately after the scandal broke to express his support. Three weeks later--after subjecting them to a technical singing test--he offered the duo a record contract.

"The way I see it, this is one of the most peculiar stories in the history of pop," Foreman said. "I sat out here in Reno and watched the entire industry turn their back on this huge-selling pop act and I thought, 'Hey, why not give them a chance? What we have here is an opportunity to make history. Why not roll the dice?' "

Foreman, who says he has invested more than $500,000 in the recording project so far, acknowledged that his interest in the duo's future is not entirely altruistic.

"Of course, the bottom line for any record company is profit," Foreman said. "These guys have a very loyal fan base and this album has the potential of becoming a major hit. Not only will it definitively prove that Rob and Fab can sing, it's going to blow people away when they hear just what good singers these guys actually are."

Foreman hopes to land a distribution deal overseas this weekend at the MIDEM music conference when he showcases Pilatus and Morvan's new single--due out here in March--for representatives of the world's major record labels.

But the duo's former producer, Frank Farian, who will also be attending the MIDEM conference, doubts if Foreman will find any takers.

"In order to succeed, a record producer needs good singers," Farian said from Frankfurt this week. "You can't just rely on pretty faces and fancy dancing. The biggest problem with Robert and Fabrice is that they aren't musicians. That's why I never allowed them to perform on my records. I can't imagine that they can sing any better now than they could one year ago."

Farian is not alone in his assessment of the pair's talents. Few observers in the music industry have expressed any confidence that the former Milli Vanilli frontmen can stage a successful comeback.

"Their reputation definitely proceeds them," said Ken Barnes, senior vice president and editor of Radio & Records, a weekly trade publication that tracks airplay at more than 1,000 radio stations. "I think the likelihood of them having a hit is less than if they were a brand-new artist."

Even Morvan and Pilatus wondered for a while whether they had what it takes to be professional singers.

"We lost confidence in ourselves for about six months there," Morvan said. "At first, when I heard myself singing on the tape I was not pleased with the results. People can only treat you like a joke for so long before it begins to affect your work."

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