THREE messy-tressed, black-clad boys in studded belts nervously stand on stage as a cluster of starry-eyed blonds in bustiers scream for them from the crowd below. They're veritable nobodies. But by summer's end, millions of people are likely to know their names, and one of them just may win the gig of his dreams.
The "stage" is actually an air-conditioned soundstage at CBS studios, and the groupie-esque gals probably got their tickets from Audiences Unlimited, to say nothing of the fact that it's a very un-rock 'n' roll 10 in the morning. Still the tension is real as the trio awaits their fate on the new season of the CBS reality show "Rock Star: Supernova."
There is some irony in the name "Supernova" given that the group is being newly constructed from the detritus of some of rock's most legendary (and infamous) groups -- Motley Crue's Tommy Lee, Metallica's Jason Newsted and Guns N' Roses' Gilby Clarke. Now they're in search of a lead singer, and there are 15 "Rock Star" wannabes vying for that spot.
It might seem like just another in the "American Idol" vein with contestants locked in weekly sing-offs, their future in the hands of an audience armed with phones and a panel of judges. But "Supernova" comes at a good time for rockers, who've seen their music take a back seat to pop and hip-hop -- in sales and media-wise -- for several years.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 18, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Tommy Lee: A photo caption with a Sunday Calendar article about the TV show "Rock Star: Supernova" described Tommy Lee as an ex-Motley Crue drummer. He is still with the band.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 23, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Tommy Lee: A caption with an article about the TV show "Rock Star: Supernova" last Sunday described Tommy Lee as an ex-Motley Crue drummer. He is still with the band.
The rock world has always prided itself on being rebellious and iconoclastic, but these days, a mainstream approach may be the necessary evil that keeps it viable. Dave Navarro, the guitarist for alt-rock's Jane's Addiction, who is back anchoring the panel of judges, agrees. "We're putting rock in the forefront of American prime time culture," he says.
How'd the audition go?
IT is Week 1 of Season 2 for the show. Now they're facing the first elimination round. On this night, the lowest vote getters turn out to be the cute and shaggy, not-quite-bad-boy types, who try to play it cool, huddling like they've been hanging out for years, filling excruciating downtime by showing crew members their ink as cameras circle them. Finally, Lee and his mates take their "judging" couch across the room and announce who will stay and who will go. Lights, camera, action ... and one hopeful's rock star fantasy is over.
Already the contestants seem to be closely bonded, and when cherubic Matt Hoffer is sent home to Chicago (he sang a limp Duran Duran tune) the atmosphere goes from seismic to somber.
The show models its basic structure after "American Idol," even down to host Brooke Burke's suspenseful, Ryan Seacrest-like pauses before announcing who'll be sent packing. The band, the contestants and the producers see this as a genuine -- if widely exposed and extended -- audition. The tattoos, the piercings and the pedigrees, not to mention the notorious pasts, are authentic -- and so is (most of) the talent on stage. The fact that it happens to be on TV is incidental. Or is it?
The show's first season, "Rock Star: INXS," which sought to fill the shoes of the Aussie band's deceased singer, Michael Hutchence, was a hit last summer. It featured three shows a week that pitted a similarly colorful collection of musical miscreants against one another. But some critics felt it was a tasteless and desperate move for the group, which hadn't had a hit since the early '90s, to replace its much-beloved front man via a television show. Others questioned whether the grit and rebelliousness of rock could be maintained and captured within the confines of a reality show lens, especially one produced by a hit powerhouse like Mark Burnett ("Survivor," "The Apprentice").
"God love pop, but at the end of the day, those other shows are shaping somebody into a pop artist," says Navarro. "They tell them to wear their hair differently and give them a new stylist and package them, whereas with a rock star, it's so much about the heart and the soul, there's really no way to teach it. If it's there, it's there; if it's not, it's not."
It's these intangible qualities, even more so than technical vocal ability, that "Supernova" seems to be looking for.
Meet the band
AFTER the taping, Clarke, Newsted and Lee convene in the CBS greenroom, which is done up much like the show's set, an over-the-top hodgepodge of Maya and Moroccan tapestries, pillows and accents. It's packed with personal assistants, PR people and the obligatory hangers-on, all of whom listen intently as each discusses the new band and the show. Whether it started out that way or not, this is more than a made-for-TV grouping. The guys say they've been friends for years and have always wanted to play together.