A VOICE EXCLUSIVE SERIES – The Popstar Experience, Conclusion

March 19, 2003

A VOICE EXCLUSIVE SERIES – The Popstar Experience, Conclusion

The conclusion of a continuing series about the Canadian Television talent competition, Popstars: The One.

For part one of this series, see: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=382

As the evening wore on, I jumped every time the phone rang, worried that it might be Amaya with another “missed plane” story. Fortunately no call came, and close to midnight we headed to the airport to pick her up. As we waited in the receiving area of the airport’s lower level, we amused ourselves by crowd-watching and speculating on who people were waiting for. One young man was holding an enormous balloon greeting, and he paced back and forth in front of the escalator, practicing his welcome smile. We created a scenario that had him waiting for a long-lost girlfriend who was finally coming home, and he was going to pop the question. An older man, formally dressed, also waited by the stairs, carrying a sign with a name on it. We decided that he was involved in a hot Internet romance, awaiting the first meeting with someone he had fallen in love with online.

As the minutes ticked by, our speculations became even more bizarre as we constructed life stories for each of those waiting. Finally the plane arrived and passengers began to flow down the escalator. A young woman with two small children in tow was embraced by the balloon-holding man, and they headed for the luggage carousel – so much for the long-lost girlfriend story! In the crowd rush that followed we lost sight of the “Internet romance guy.” Gradually the flow of passengers down the stairs slowed….and still no Amaya. We were trying not to panic when finally she came into sight, loaded down with bags – her red curls all askew under a cowboy hat, with a wide smile on her face. As we enveloped her in a group hug, full of relief that she was home; all the excitement, tension and worry of the past week brought tears to my eyes. It had only been a week but it had seemed so much longer!

For the first few days, Amaya seemed a bit disoriented as she became settled again after the experience. The confidentiality agreement she was under prevented us from discussing it with anyone, and since we had no way of knowing what part of the whole thing would be televised, we pretty much left the topic on the shelf until the show began to air in January.

Soon after her return, though, a newly-inspired Amaya decided it was time to actively start pursuing her music dreams. She placed several ads in local musician’s magazines and soon the phone was ringing off the hook. It became quite overwhelming for a while, on some days she’d have two and three meetings or auditions booked. She took advantage of every opportunity to jam or perform as a guest with different bands. Finally she found her niche with a group of players with compatible musical tastes and goals and settled into a regular rehearsal schedule. They are currently working hard to perfect their musical repertoire (a mix of covers and originals), and are working on a demo CD. They haven’t yet decided on a name, although they did jokingly toss around the idea of calling themselves “Amaya and the Popstars!”

There have been many other positives from the experience. Amaya has become a bit of a neighbourhood celebrity, with people recognizing her and making encouraging comments. Most have complained that watching the show gave them no sense of how she can sing or perform, and they are disappointed that they didn’t get to see more of her on the show. Edmonton Journal writer, Liane Faulder, did an interview with the Edmonton finalists, and later told me that her interview with Amaya was the best of the whole group, and that it was a real pleasure talking to her.

The Edmonton Journal also had an interview with fellow Edmonton Popstar finalist Bernard, on March 8, 2003. Bernard was cut from the show right after Amaya, and it was interesting to read some of the things he said, since they coincided so closely with Amaya’s experience. In particular, his comments about Michael Geddes confirmed that Lone Eagle were rather callous in their attitude toward the young people involved. According to Bernard, “I don’t think he cared for any of us. He was all about his show. I can’t think of anything good to say about him” (ed, 2003). Bernard also commented that all that mattered was capturing the camera moments that would boost ratings, saying that “you waived all your moral rights when you joined up with the show…if it’s emotional and it’s good TV, they’re going to air it, regardless of how you feel.” He added, “It’s not a talent show, that’s for sure.”

In retrospect, watching the first eight episodes, it becomes clear that both Bernard & Amaya were correct in their assessment. Because the show was edited long after all the cuts had been made, this gave the producers the chance to do some creative editing; showing the positive performance aspects of those they were grooming to be among the final twelve, while highlighting segments that were controversial or really bad of those they had cut, in order to justify their actions. This part of it was disappointing to Amaya, since she was very proud of many elements of her performance through the week, yet she commented that they showed none of these. I can’t help but wonder if the difficulties surrounding her missed flight might have resulted in much of her positive footage ending up on Lone Eagle’s “cutting room floor.”

Bernard also commented on the off-camera rumour that one of the contestants was a “plant” from the production company, pre-selected to be the winner. This seems to be supported on the Popstars discussion board, where it has been revealed that one contestant has family connections to the marketing manager of a major Canadian record company. For those who truly believe in the “reality” of reality TV, this may be surprising, but after our experience with Popstars, it seems perfectly logical to me. Lone Eagle is investing a fair amount of money in marketing “The One,” and Michael Geddes will be doing whatever is necessary to ensure that the person chosen will reflect the wishes of his production company. He is not interested in promoting young talent and giving them opportunities – he’s in this to generate maximum profit. The “viewer votes” will mean nothing if they don’t agree with the winner Lone Eagle has chosen to promote. The previous winning Popstar groups were abandoned the moment they ceased becoming financially profitable, and there is no reason to believe that “The One” will not suffer the same fate. It’s a fickle, cutthroat business and producers will stop at nothing to market their human “product” successfully.

Writer Leonard Stern discussed this very issue in a recent Edmonton Journal editorial, writing about Russian pop duo Tatu; two young girls who were recruited at the age of 14, and who are now being “pimped” as part of what Stern calls the music world’s “pedophiliac pop” (Stern, 2003). Stern makes some insightful observations regarding the exploitation of young entertainers, particularly manufactured popstars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Tatu. These young women are using overt sexuality to sell records (quite successfully), and he wonders whether they will eventually emerge damaged from the experience. He comments that we’ve “seen in Michael Jackson what can happen to child performers when they grow up – and remember, the young Michael was made only to dance and sing, not commit sexual acts or innuendo.”

When weighing both the positives and the negatives surrounding the Popstar experience, both Amaya and I agree that while it was quite the learning opportunity for all of us, we are glad it turned out as it did. While she could have played the game and gone much further, it would have required that she conform to something contrary to what she believes in, and it would have left her subject to becoming a commodity owned and manipulated by Michael Geddes and Lone Eagle Entertainment. She was reluctant going into the whole thing in the first place because of this, and from the start intended to only take away the parts of the experience that would allow her to grow and develop in her own direction. I believe Amaya has already started to take the positives and turn them into something that will allow her to move forward in her own way. Her time will come, and she will succeed by remaining true to herself and her music.

ed (2003). Death by Television: Exiled Popstars contestant tells all. Edmonton Journal, ed Magazine, March 8, 2002. http://www.canada.com/edmonton/edmontonjournal/archives/story.asp?id=5E563B49-6686-4491-BFB5-5F3AAD1CF097

Stern, L (2003). “Pedophiliac pop’ taints music world: Russian due’s lesbian act a new low in marketing, and an insult to gays. Edmonton Journal, Opinion. March 17, 2003.

Tatu. http://www.tatugirls.com/

To read the entire series, visit the following links:
Part 1: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=382
Part 2: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=395
Part 3: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=411
Part 4: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=424
Part 5: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=441
Part 6: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=456
Part 7: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=471

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.