The boy band Emblem 3 on the CBS lot in Los Angeles: Wesley Stromberg, 20,… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)
Week after week, Emblem3 made teenage girls swoon as the band played sunny renditions of other artists' hit songs on the Fox competition "The X Factor."
A fusion of pop, ska and hip-hop — think Sublime, only dreamier with washboard abs and tousled hair — the young Huntington Beach trio was also a favorite of the judges.
Yet in a move as puzzling as the success of the show itself, the band was eliminated, losing its potential spot in the final three to an underdog act.
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So why weren't Emblem3's members devastated by the loss? Because these days it's often better to be a finalist in a singing talent show than an actual winner.
Look at One Direction, Jennifer Hudson, Daughtry and Adam Lambert — all losers who ultimately ended up becoming bigger stars than the winners of their respective competitions. It's likely that as this year's "X-Factor" winner (country crooner Tate Stevens) signs a $5-million recording deal through Sony Music and "X Factor" judge Simon Cowell's Syco Music, Emblem3 will secure a hefty contract of its own with the help of Cowell.
Cowell mentored the trio throughout the show, meaning that Emblem3 had the advantage of being developed by someone who's mastered the art of catapulting acts from reality shows to the charts.
So it makes sense that the band — brothers Wesley and Keaton Stromberg and best friend Drew Chadwick — was eager for its run on "X Factor" to end.
"Going into the competition, I personally didn't think it would go anywhere," Keaton Stromberg, 16, said a week before the trio was kicked off the show. "I went in thinking, 'Whatever happens, happens.' It's going to get us exposure, no matter what."
"We just needed the jump," interrups Chadwick, 20. "You sacrifice some things doing the show, but it's an awesome way to get your name out there. We just kind of took advantage of it."
Some of those sacrifices? "Singing Katy Perry songs," Chadwick says with a shrug.
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The three, originally from Sequim, Wash., prefer the punk music they grew up listening to. They began emulating the style in their own band as pre-teens. "Blink-182, stuff like that," Chadwick said. They moved to Huntington Beach to be closer to the industry.
They spent the last year gigging at landmark venues such as the Roxy, the Whisky A Go Go, the House of Blues and the Hard Rock Café. They won Rock N' Road's Orange County battle of the bands in 2011.
There was hesitation, they say, to step in front of reality television cameras (this year they tried out for NBC's "America's Got Talent" but dropped out), but after producers asked them to submit a video audition, they saw it as a sign.
"It's a double-edged sword," Keaton said. "It could all work out and the TV side could make you look awesome and you could work perfect or …"
"We were scared of being turned into a boy band, because they edit things," Wesley interjects. "We love the show, they are awesome, but they can edit and make it not what you were going for."
Despite reluctance, the trio gave it a shot. They wowed the judges with a jazz and R&B-inflected rock original called "Sunset Boulevard." An acoustic take on the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" secured them a spot on Cowell's team of groups.
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Since Cowell was responsible for their song selections, comparisons to One Direction (which was put together by Cowell and placed third on the British version of "The X Factor" in 2010) and criticisms that Emblem3 had become another manufactured boy band came fast and furious, especially from judge Demi Lovato.
It didn't help that one episode featured a clip of Emblem3 being mobbed by fangirls at the mall before a performance of the Monkees hit "I'm a Believer" (even if it was Smash Mouth's take).
"They aren't like One Direction in the slightest," Cowell said. "They're very West Coast. They represent that surfer kind of vibe. And they do write their own material."
"We want people to respect us because we are musicians … not because we are quote unquote 'cuties,'" said Chadwick.
But being "cuties" has worked. "Sunset Boulevard" soared to No. 16 on iTunes (sandwiched between songs by Green Day and Foster the People) after Emblem3's audition, before the show took the track down.
Still, the boys couldn't hide their growing aggravation over the antics that came with a reality competition.