In October, Trevor Penick was living in Rancho Cucamonga, studying theater at Cal State Fullerton and working at a nearby golf course.
"Now I'm in a limo with Diane Warren, who's listening to a tape of me singing a song she wrote," he says, with eyes very wide in the presence of pop's premier hit songwriter, whose credits include such smashes as Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart."
This song is "Baby I Would," a romantic ballad that cried out for five-part boy-band harmonies. That is just how it's rendered on the tape by Penick along with Ashley Parker Angel, Erik-Michael Estrada, Ikaika Kahoano and Jacob Underwood, who are sitting with him, filling the limo with shiny teeth, shiny eyes, shiny-scrubbed features and a clean-cut casual look right off the slick pages of youth fashion magazines.
And if this alone seems like a dream come true, Penick takes it up a notch, readily ruminating about a future filled with such limo rides, plus an added bonus attraction: hordes of screaming girls waiting for the fivesome--the boy band O-Town--to emerge.
At this point, though, no one on Sunset Boulevard in front of La Do^me, where they're about to have dinner with Warren, has any clue who these guys are.
Penick's dream isn't so farfetched, though. Consider who else is along for this ride. There's a film crew following the group's every move, and there are several reporters as well this day.
And in the limo with them, crowded next to Warren, is a jolly, roly-poly man--not Santa Claus, but the equivalent in the world of teen-pop. It's Lou Pearlman, the Orlando businessman behind the creation and global pop domination of boy-band phenoms the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. Now he's trying to do it again with O-Town.
But there's a new wrinkle this time, and that's where the ever-present film crew comes in: While Backstreet and 'N Sync were developed off the pop radar screen before being launched to schoolgirls worldwide, O-Town is doing it all on screen. Every waking minute, the young men are on camera and microphone, whether dining with pop power brokers or clipping their fingernails.
The creation of this group was commissioned for a TV reality series chronicling the creation and launching of a hit boy band. "Making the Band" is set to premiere Friday on ABC as a spring and summer entry in the teen-targeted "TGIF" lineup. It's the brainchild of MTV Productions, the folks behind the music channel's "The Real World"--the popular program in which various young strangers have been thrust into living together while cameras chronicle the drama of the resulting human petri dish.
"Making the Band" expands the voyeuristic formula to the pop music world. In the course of the series it will show the whole process, from initial auditions held from Hawaii to Orlando in October. We'll see the selection of an initial batch of 25 candidates and the weeding down to eight finalists, tossed together into one Orlando house and the pressure cooker of Trans Con's boy-band boot camp. From there it's on to the ultimate selection of the official five members through the process of grooming, rehearsals, recording sessions, personal tumult, rivalries, tantrums, triumphs and--in theory--the explosion of massive fame, all in living color.
Think of it as "The Real World" meets "The Monkees"--though the group bristles when you mention the '60s Prefab Four.
"The Monkees were actors," sniffs Angel, at 18 the youngest of the crew, in a meeting room at the Century Plaza Hotel where he and the other four from the limo are joined by Mike Miller, Bryan Chan and Paul Martin to fill out the roster of these eight finalists.
And indeed, these kids were selected for their singing talents and personalities, not merely to pretend.
"We are all here to make a band," says San Diego-raised Underwood, 19, who with his slightly beach-punk look fills the required "rebel" role of the boy-band formula. "There's no script."
Adds Angel, "It's all real life."
Well, yes, as long as real life is done through auditions, with the assistance of top-flight songwriters, producers and choreographers for eight young men living in one house, constantly under an electronic microscope.
The fact is, though, this is real life for boy bands--except for the "Truman Show"-level coverage.
"The Backstreet Boys had a house, 'N Sync had a house," says Pearlman.
And they had auditions, too, as Pearlman in the late '90s transformed his Trans Continental Corp. aviation empire into the premier wellspring of teen pop by conceiving, casting and coaching Orlando-based youth into hit-making machines.
For Pearlman, the beauty of "Making the Band" is that the public will get to see the hard work that goes into these successes.