'Fame' wins loyalty
By Amanda Balzer
I try to be discriminating, yet equal-opportunity, in my reality TV viewing, giving each show one episode to convince me to tune in again. As part of the recent obsession for finding America's talent, NBC launched the newest talent competition/reality television show several weeks ago -- "Fame." It has won my watchship.
The premise is 24 up-and-coming dancers/singers, chosen through a series of auditions, perform individually and as a group before three panelists, after going through a dancer's "boot camp." The panelists are looking for the "triple-threat" -- dancing, singing and personality.
For the first several episodes, six individuals have performed, with three
of the six moving on to the finals. Wednesday's two-hour show featured several group dance numbers, individual songs and interviews. After this show, viewers could vote, up to five times, for their favorites by calling a corresponding toll-free number. Next Wednesday, two will be eliminated.
Through my viewership, I have begun to realize the establishment of a new acting genre -- the reality TV show host. Beyond game show hosts, these folks are the objective narrators and not-always-helpful mediators between contestants. They range from The Bachelor's moral conscience Mark Wahlberg to American Idol's aren't-I-cute agitator Ryan Seacrist.
"Fame" is appropriately hosted by esteemed choreographer Debbie Allen, who not only gives encouragement and introduces performers, but choreographs group performances. Inappropriately cast as her co-host is N'Sync's Joey Fatone. Of all the boy band members, Fatone is as far from a triple-threat as that oldest Hanson kid.
The panelists include Johnnie Wright, producer and manager, JoJo Wright, a Los Angeles radio station deejay, and Carnie Wilson, formerly of singing group Wilson Phillips.
As Will said on "Will & Grace" this season, "Isn't America great? You gotta love a place that gives Paula Abdul a second chance." I would echo the same for Carnie. Although, I do enjoy her zany comments. She's usually kind, but more objective than Paula Abdul on "American Idol." (No, Paula, they aren't all wonderful singers. Do you have any taste? Oh wait, you were in a video with a cartoon cat; never mind.)
But sadly, there is no equivalent to Simon Cowell. So I have taken it upon myself to crush the dreams of the not-so-talented hopefuls.
Before the individuals perform, Fatone introduces a vignette of the individual practicing and describing their journey to "Fame." More often than not, tears are shed as someone speaks of a break-up over her Fame career or of not being accepted as a male dancer.
My favorite was when Raymond, a tallish, bookish Asian kid, said people think he looks more like a chemist than a dancer. He moved on to the finals with his rendition of the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There."
Fame has a unique slew of characters. From New Yorkers belting out "Cabaret" to an L.A. kid rapping an original song, the performers display their "triple-threats" in many ways. But sometimes too much is on display. The judges seem to maintain a fine line of what's sensual personality and what's over-the-top. A couple of girls, and I mean girls -- they were under 18 -- scared the judges a bit with their overt moves. They did not pass on to the finals.
And the show is not without it's necessary-to-reality-TV scandal. Yet, instead of Idols with battery charges, Allen revealed Wednesday one of the contestants had lied about his age. Harlemm, petite and ageless, said he was 27, but the show recently discovered he's really 36. Debbie hugged him and said age doesn't matter, he just needs to show his soul, plus some other inspirational drivel. He was not disqualified.
The last dancer standing will win a recording contract with Johnnie Wright's label, one year of study at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, a personal agent and a role in the upcoming "Fame" musical, among other amenities.
There's a handful of dynamic divas (Debbie uses this term unisexually) I have my eye on; we'll see if they can bring the funk week after week.