By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
As a "content provider," Backwash feels a moral obligation to shun reality programming on TV, and I await the day when American networks exhaust the public's appetite for ready-made voyeurism and have to start hiring actual writers. But I gotta confess, I love American Idol, which entered its second season late last month. Maybe it's something about the way the show so plainly illustrates the often vast gaps between an aspiring star's own view of his talent and the cold, hard truth: Many of the would-be contestants sing beautifully. But some of the most self-assured performers turn out to be mind-bendingly awful -- and they are shocked when ballsy British judge Simon Cowell tells them so. ("I think you may be the worst singer in the world," he told one incredulous male auditioner, who presented an unspeakably odd reading of "Like a Virgin.")
The televised talent show brought big money to both the Fox network and a couple of major labels; naturally, everyone else was quick to get a knockoff on the air. CBS revived Star Search, God help us, while Sony Music Nashville and the USA Network recently announced they're collaborating on Nashville Star -- essentially American Idol in a ten-gallon hat.
But how much can these shows really do for the performers who compete in them? Is it possible to take a "star" seriously after we've seen her flitting about, feigning affection for her competitors and gaily performing in product-placement spots for the Ford Focus and Coke? True, last year's Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson, was plunked into the consciousness of an audience that follows television, if not the music industry; in the process, she scored a number-one chart single and a record contract. But insta-fame has its unglamorous side, too: Looking puffy and thoroughly un-diva-like, Clarkson recently told an interviewer that she isn't too keen on the attention after all, and that the process was horrible and exhausting.
Maybe Clarkson really needed an agent or lawyer to read over the fine print before she agreed to act as a kind of indentured servant to Fox execs. Then again, such a move might have blown her chances from the get-go. It did for Dustin Bogue. Bogue, a local country artist who was discovered by scouts at a recent Nashville Starshowcase at the Buffalo Rose, was selected as one of twenty finalists who vied for inclusion on the show. If he won the whole thing, he'd be immediately rewarded with a record deal. But even if he didn't, he'd have to sign off on a lengthy contract that seemed to give the show the rights to any material he performed on the air.
That didn't sit right with Bogue. If he performed one of his tunes on the show, would he lose all claim to it? Could Sony sell it? What was all of this legalese, anyway? When Bogue called with questions about specific parts of the contract, he was ignored. He kept calling. (So did Backwash, whose messages requesting interviews with reps at Sony Nashville and USA Network were not returned.) Eventually, a Star producer left Bogue a voice message announcing that because he hadn't returned the contract, he'd forfeited his spot in the contest.
"It was very tough to walk away. I had this opportunity in front of me, and then it was gone," he says. "It just seems like there is such competition to be on these shows; you're not supposed to act like you're unhappy about any part of it. I was excited to be on the show, but I wasn't going to throw away my claim to my music in order to do it.
"There was some other weird stuff in the contract, too, like a clause that said I had to accept any medical treatment they wanted to give me. I don't know what that means. Did they want me to have plastic surgery? I was just trying to sort that kind of stuff out."
So, what happens to a career dream deferred? Bogue says he'll keep doing what he's always done: play the country circuit, write songs, look for gigs. (He's currently doing a stint in Las Vegas with his band, Rough Stock.) And the Nashville Star experience had its moments, he adds, even if he never got his moment in front of the camera. Along the audition route, for example, Bogue performed for Charlie Robison, songwriter and husband to the Dixie Chicks' Emily Robison and a hero of Bogue's.
Still, reality TV got a little too real for Bogue. "I don't really care to watch those shows too much anymore," he says.
Spoken-word artist and author Rick Mackin brings a different kind of reality programming to the Breakdown Book Collective (1409 Ogden Street) on Wednesday, February 12. A "consumer defense poet," Mackin is known for his two collections of letters in which he takes CEOs of major corporations to task for disingenuous advertising or company mergers; the responses he's received are uniformly generic, disheartening and disinterested. Although his book is designed to be less funny than others of its ilk -- he's no Father Guido Sarducci -- Mackin's performance should be entertaining, like an anti-WTO speech with a beat. Dig it.