Music News

New Sensation

INXS bassist Garry Beers admits that J.D. Fortune, a contestant on last year's reality-TV series Rock Star: INXS, didn't make a great initial impression on either the general public or the band, whose search for a new singer provided the premise for the show. "He was in the bottom three in the first week," Beers points out. "And to be honest, we thought he was a dick, too."

Surprise, surprise: That dick is now INXS's latest frontman, and Beers proclaims himself to be thrilled. He's also pleased with Switch, a new INXS disc that most observers admit is less mediocre than they anticipated. "Whether they wanted to get suckered into the TV show or not, people probably never thought we'd make a good record, but we knew we would," Beers maintains. "We've been around for a while, so we know what we're doing."

Not always. Indeed, Beers admits that Rock Star thrust him and cohorts Kirk Pengilly and brothers Andrew, Jon and Tim Farriss into unfamiliar territory. Pengilly came up with the notion of using television to find a vocalist capable of extending the tradition begun by Michael Hutchence, who committed suicide in 1997, and Mark Burnett, the man behind Survivor and The Apprentice, loved the concept. Nevertheless, some of Pengilly's bandmates weren't particularly excited about being cast in the role of judges à la Simon Cowell. "All five of us didn't go 'This is a fabulous idea. I love it!'" Beers confirms.

Once they finally agreed to move forward and CBS signed on, the musicians literally suffered some rude awakenings. "There were days when we were up at 6:30 in the morning," Beers says. "It was everything that rock and roll isn't." Then, following a ratings dip several weeks into Rock Star's run, he says, "We got some annoying comments from CBS that we were too nice. They wanted to make everything a bit more sensational." And even though one of INXS's biggest hits is called "New Sensation," Beers insists that they are "not sensational people."

Burnett supported the boys, and when the Nielsens stabilized, CBS reps backed off. That wasn't the end of the pressure, though. As the number of competitors dwindled, the reality that one of them would soon be inducted into the brotherhood began to sink in. To prevent a nationally televised disaster, "we had private rehearsal sessions individually, without cameras, to go over our material," Beers reveals. "It's a very organic process, being in a band, and we had to make sure the voice fit with our music." This approach reassured Beers about Fortune, and so did conversations with him: "When we finally got to meet him, we found out that he's a really thoughtful, caring guy."

As a bonus, Fortune, whose timbre often resembles Hutchence's, proved to be a quick study musically as well as personally. "He realized that we needed someone to be larger than life and a star," Beers says, "but we didn't want someone to be a prima donna and a dick."

After all, a little cockiness goes a long way.