A VOICE EXCLUSIVE SERIES – The Popstar Experience, Part one

January 29, 2003

For those who read last week’s notice, you are aware that one of my daughters, Amaya, is a finalist on the third season of “Popstars: The One” that began airing several weeks ago. Last Thursday she made her cross-Canada TV debut when Popstars featured auditions in Edmonton and Newfoundland. During the coming weeks I’ll be sharing with readers what the experience has been like for her and our family.

Our adventure began last July, although in some ways it started when Amaya was five years old and won her first musical theatre award for her rendition of Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World.” Music has always been a central part of our lives, and all of my daughters have enjoyed many onstage performance opportunities over the years. With Amaya, however, music is more than just a passion – music defines who she is.

Amaya has always been an independent, unique personality who “follows her own drummer.” During a difficult period of adolescent rebellion, however, she got involved in a very destructive relationship that inflicted serious damage on her self esteem, a situation that took her completely away from her family and her music for several years. Fortunately she managed to escape that situation and during the past year has been working hard to get back on track and find her music again with the love and support of her family.

In June, 2002, we started hearing the Power 92 ads – “Popstars 3 – The One” auditions were coming to Edmonton during the Klondike Days festival. Open auditions were to be held over two days, with the first 250 registrants each day being granted a spot. Of the 500, some 50 would be chosen for a call-back, with a further opportunity to be selected as one of the 5 city finalists to go to Toronto for a week-long boot camp. This process was to be repeated in nine cities across Canada, for a total of 45 Canadian semi-finalists.

As a professional musician who has been around the business all my life, I do not have much use for the manufactured, synthetic pop star. Most “real musicians” tend to agree, preferring the musician who achieves success through hard work, drive and talent. Yet the popularity of the manufactured pop star is undeniable – Britney Spears, Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys – the list is endless. The “create a star” reality series is also widely popular, with shows like American Idol setting ratings records. Canada has been much less successful at creating these types of groups, however, and both previous Popstars groups – Popstars One “Sugar Jones” and Popstars Two, “Velvet Empire,” disappeared from the charts shortly after their first single.

Since I’m ever alert for opportunities to help Amaya get back to her music, I suggested that she might want to consider auditioning for Popstars: The One. She discarded my suggestion, citing reasons like, “I’m not a Popstar type,” or “no one takes Popstars seriously,” and “the last Popstars groups never went anywhere.” I agreed with all her reasons, but pointed out that this time they were seeking a single artist, which allowed an individual more freedom to make what they wanted of the opportunity. I reminded her that Alanis Morissette had been a Popstar when she was younger, yet she had taken advantage of it to eventually become a superstar performing her own highly unique brand of music. Amaya respects Alanis as a serious talent, and in fact had met her a few months previously when her older sister won a contest and took her along.

She agreed that I had a point but remained unconvinced. Over the next few weeks we all got involved in the debate, and the question around the house became, “should she audition?” Everyone finally reached the conclusion that it was too good an opportunity to miss:everyone, that is, except Amaya. We continued to offer encouragement and support as the day drew near.

On Saturday, July 20, the first day of auditions, Amaya made excuses to not go, continuing to bring up the argument that she “didn’t want to be a “?Popstar.'” Two of her sisters went and watched a portion of the first 250 contestants and came home inspired. One of them stated that she was going to audition herself the next day. At this point Amaya reluctantly agreed that perhaps she would consider it after all.

Auditioners were required to sing 30 seconds of a song, chosen from a list of ten. The list of songs was really awful, nothing that allowed a singer any opportunity to showcase their talent, and nothing that was particularly suited to a strong female voice. Among the choices were Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated;” Shakira’s “Whenever;” Red Hot Chili Peppers “Under the Bridge;” Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me;” and several rap songs. None of these particularly appealed to either of the girls, but finally Amaya decided on “Under the Bridge” and her sister on “How You Remind Me.”

Sunday morning Amaya was still hesitant and unmotivated. She got ready very slowly, complained that she didn’t know the lyrics and generally dawdled around. Rather than arriving before the gates opened as planned, we arrived late and immediately got separated from Amaya and her friend. Line-ups to get into the fair grounds snaked around the block, and I was sure we’d never make it in time to be part of the first 250 to arrive at the Power92 booth. The sun was blazing down and by noon it was already well above 30 degrees. After almost an hour in line we managed to enter the grounds and pushed our way through the crowd to the Power92 booth. Amaya had reached it first and was already registered, number 56. Her sister registered too, and then we tried to find a shady spot where we could wait several hours until the auditions started. Amid the roar and hubbub of the midway rides, all around us paced nervous wannabe divas; girls in outfits ranging from sequins to sleaze, guys with spiky hair and attitudes, and friends and parents offering advice.

I looked at Amaya and sighed. Although her sister had dressed up elegantly and taken special care with her appearance, Amaya’s curly red hair was dishevelled and she was wearing baggy pants with boxer underwear hanging out – she certainly wasn’t going for the well-dressed look!

Finally the competition started. They brought the eager hopefuls on stage five at a time, and each did their 30 seconds. Some were obviously very talented. Some were embarrassingly awful, but we applauded every effort. We tried to figure out what the judges were looking for, but were left puzzled when many very talented singers were not called back. It was difficult to even determine if there was a particular look they were after, since many with clear “star quality” were passed over, while others who were mediocre at best were selected.

At last it was Amaya’s turn. She did a decent performance, but certainly not her best, and I was not feeling particularly hopeful. To our surprise and delight, she received a call back! She cheekily slapped her number on her forehead & went to have her picture taken. A little while later, however, we had our first taste of disappointment when her sister auditioned. In spite of the fact that she gave an excellent performance, she was not called back. We puzzled over it, but given the erratic judging we had seen, could not begin to guess why it had occurred. However, we’ve been around competitions for enough years to know that a single audition is no indicator of ability or talent. We were thrilled for Amaya, but were realistic too – you are only as good as your next performance.

Several days later we received a call to advise us that callbacks would be held at the Citadel Theatre starting at 8 AM – on Amaya’s 19th birthday!

Pictures, bios, episode summaries, and other information are available on the Popstars website at http://www.popstars.ca

NEXT WEEK!: The call backs.

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students Union.

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