In 2005, Mark Burnett and CBS created Rock Star, where hopeful rocker frontmen and women aspired to sing for has-been ‘90’s pop-rock kings INXS. The lactose-intolerant among us were fed up with the weekly cheese served up by American Idol, and we lapped up the Radiohead and Nirvana covers that Rock Star featured (week after week after week after week…but that’s last year’s recaps). The following year, Burnett & co. attempted to repeat their winning formula, but Rock Star-Supernova quickly sank into reality TV obscurity, proving that Tommy Lee really does destroy everything he touches.
In the meantime, American Idol continued to flourish, and has even churned out a couple of for-real stars in the forms of Carrie Underwood and Daughtry. In fact, it may be the success of Chris Daughtry and his band that made the powers at FOX TV go “hmmm…”, and spawn the latest in reality talent shows, The Next Great American Band. And hey – all you forsaken Rock Star fans? Are you out there? Because there’s some actual, for-real talent on TNGAB. Don’t be fooled by the fact that FOX buried it on Friday nights.
The sizzle comes off the steak
Also, don’t be afraid of host Dominic Bowden’s (New Zealand’s answer to Ryan Seacrest, with about half the smarminess and none of the cultivated chin stubble) pronouncement that there’s 60 bands competing. Tonight’s premiere is two hours, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to sit through 110 minutes of bad audition clip hell. The 60 bands have been transported to Lake Las Vegas, Nevada, which apparently is some sort of swanky resort. This is likely for the comfort of the judges, because the contestants are being housed on some kind of giant houseboat – for whatever reason, the audition stage is outside, on the other side of the lake. An odd setup, but no less odd than shirtless seventh-graders and gothic killer clowns.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here…our judging panel deserves an intro. First up is Ian Dickson, “Dicko” to his adoring public. Hey, it saves me the trouble of making up a rude nickname for him. Dicko works fine, thanks. Next is Sheila E., percussionist extraordinaire, and even though it’s been a while since she played with Prince, that’s some street cred that never gets old. Finally, there’s pretty boy-toy rocker John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, who gets to be a whole new kind of reality music judge, since he’s definitely not as dopey as Randy Jackson and nowhere near as smoking hot as Dave Navarro. The judges are seated quite a ways back from the outdoor stage, either to save their hearing or to avoid being sweat upon by the auditioning bands.
A word of warning here – there are many misguided attempts by the bands to be clever/gimmicky/so-stupid-it-must-be-cool by giving themselves ridiculous names. Sadly, The Sizzling Happy Family is not the stupidest band name you will hear tonight, though it is the first. This contest is the Family’s last attempt at success, and have sworn that it will be their last gig if they don’t make it through to the next round. They almost won my heart with a decent cover of The Guess Who’s “No Time”, and even managed to pull off a guitar solo that Randy Bachman could be proud of. Not content with musical prowess alone, the frontman pulls out a barbeque grill and “roasts” a guitar. John and Sheila giggle and applaud the effort, but while Dicko entreats them not to give up, he also calls them a bar band that can’t sell records. Sheila fights to put them through, but John is swayed by Dicko’s critique and votes no. I’m a bit nervous at this decision – I mean, the first band is decent, but still isn’t deemed good enough to continue. Can we really expect it to get better than this?
Très, très bien
Très Bien is a “retro” band, comprised of a group of youngsters who were raised on ‘60’s music by their hippie parents. They opt to perform an original song called “Your Graceful Soul”, and you know what? It DOES get better. Très Bien’s sound is definitely heavy with Beatles influence, but the young moptops manage to make it fresh and simply fabulous. The judges are rightly thrilled with the lads, and they easily make it through to the next round. Bonne chance, boys.
Run to the hills
Dicko describes the next act, The Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad (see what I mean?), as “Mr. Ed sings Kim Wilde”. The Mr. Ed reference is because the singer (and I use the term “singer” loosely) donned a giant horse’s head for the performance. A pity, because the opposite end of the horse would have been more appropriate for this bunch.
Light of Doom is up next, and as the name suggests, they’re a heavy metal band, influenced by
their mom’s old record collectionthe ‘80’s. Ah, but there’s a twist, my friends – the members of LOD are in junior high. Yes, we have five twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, who not only are fans of Iron Maiden but are also influenced by ninjas, boobs, and explosions. Oh, don’t go gasping in horror – do you know any 12-year-old boys that DON’T love that stuff? Amazingly, these kids are incredibly competent musicians, though the singer’s voice is still developing and cracks slightly at times. The boys sport long hair and spurn shirts, and if they weren’t so obviously talented it would be hysterically funny watching them. OK, it’s still pretty funny, but the comedy aspect is tinged with respect for their musicianship. (Buzzword alert – “musicianship” is TNGAB judges’ favorite. Feel free to take a drink every time it is uttered. Really, go ahead - it’s Friday night, after all.) John and Sheila think they’re awesome, but Dicko is worried that they’re too cute and gimmicky. Sheila again engages in verbal battle with Dicko and again loses, but manages to bully John into a definite yes. LOD’s parents, watching on closed-circuit TV in the houseboat, cheer and fork the devil’s horn sign in the air.
Down the hatch
The Hatch has chosen to cover Bill Withers’ “Use Me”, and while there’s some good things about it – some nice, bluesy guitar work that’s reminiscent of the late, great Canadian band Big Sugar – there’s also some not-so-good things, like if you squint up your eyes you might think you’re watching and hearing Maroon 5. John makes a snotty remark about lead singer Sean being like a “movie star” – guess John likes to be the cutest boy in da house – and Dicko wittily refers to the band as “Maroon 3 and a half”. Sheila goes all cougar over Sean’s glowy white teeth, and after asking him to get up close and personal with her at the judges’ table, she votes yes. The male judges grudgingly agree, because even if The Hatch only sells 70% of the amount of CDs that Maroon 5 does – that’s still a lot of CDs.
The bad, the really bad, and the guy with no arms
We can’t go two whole hours without at least a few stinker auditions, now. Don’t hate the Xenophibes (and if the name doesn’t creep you out enough, one of the members plays a theremin), or Ballroom Dancing, whose frontman looks like a low-rent ‘70’s porn star in a toupee and white tux who sings in falsetto. The featured act this round, though, is Big Toe. Big Toe is a rock band fronted by an armless guy who sings and plays the bass guitar with his toes. You think that’s scary? This dude is also filmed driving a car with his feet. We all want to like Big Toe, but it’s plain impossible when faced with the fact that their sound is turgid bar-band, and while the foot bass-playing display is impressive, it’s not enough to overcome the band’s overall weakness. The judges are kind but dismissive – Dicko says it’s inspirational but not recordable, Sheila calls the musicianship (drink!) a “little raggedy”, and John slams the unoriginal original song.
Any warm fuzzy feelings that Big Toe inspired in the judges are quickly dissipated by the appearance of CJA, an all-girl trio that turn in such a stunningly awful vocal performance, they make the Pussycat Dolls sound like Annie Lennox. Dicko can’t even be bothered to summon up any witty bon mots at their expense, and simply waves them off the stage.
Hallelujah and praise the Clark Brothers
Austin, Adam, and Ashley Clark are three of 11 children (and I, personally, am dying to know if the other 8 kids have names that start with “A” as well). The three boys are The Clark Brothers, and honed their craft by playing at tent revivals, hosted by their travelling evangelist dad. It’s the best backstory I’ve heard yet tonight, and fingers crossed that the boys live up to it. They’ve chosen to perform “This Little Light of Mine”, and it may be that the Clarks are the world’s first kickass gospel-rock trio. One of the brothers turns in a mind-blowing slide guitar solo, and…a word to all the vacant-eyed AI crooners and caterwaulers? This is what Randy/Paula/Simon mean when they say they want to hear real emotion and feeling in a vocal performance. The judging panel is ecstatic, and both Sheila and John comment that although the group lacks a drummer and bassist, it doesn’t affect them negatively at all. Amen!
Dawn of the dead
Day 2 of auditions opens with The Zombie Bazooka Patrol. They claim to be real zombies, and are worried that the Las Vegas desert heat will make their walking corpse selves decay further. Sigh. But for once, this freak show has a happy ending – the Zombies turn out to be a very competent…bluegrass band. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – you can’t make this stuff up. Their fellow competitors are shown laughing and cheering them on, and the judges are nonplussed but impressed nonetheless. Dicko calls them a “fabulous waste of time”, and the Zombies are put through to the next round.
Great Great Great
Dot Dot Dot is the hardest-working band in these parts, performing at least three times a week. (Oh, sure, it doesn’t sound like much, unless you’re a struggling bar band that has to be at work at the insurance company at 8:00 am the next morning.) They’ve opted to cover Burt Bacharach’s “Only Something There to Remind Me”. Yes, really. And it’s good, damn good - the group’s singer is what that little pissant Lukas Rossi wants to be someday – plus, it’s obvious this bunch are seasoned performers. They get lots of love from the judges, who laud the arrangement, and Dot Dot Dot is in in in.
Not Not Not
Northmont’s backstory is about as unoriginal as their music – that is, they’ve swiped Chris Daughtry’s devoted-daddy schtick and his band’s sound. (Which I suppose is okay, since Chris stole it from Creed and Nickelback.) Although the judges heap praise on frontman/vocalist Ward, he really doesn’t have Daughtry’s vocal talent. The performance simply isn’t up to par, and John criticizes it as “desperate” and feels the talent is not there. Sheila is also disappointed in the musicianship, and Dicko thinks that Northmont has a long way to go. However, they decide to give the boys another chance, and they are sent off to consider the judges’ critique and regroup. Ward’s head has apparently swelled from the judges’ comments, and he rips into his bandmates for their lackluster performance.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
The Muggs are the self-proclaimed ugliest band in the world, but quickly prove that pretty is as pretty does. The band’s bassist suffered a stroke a few years back, and his mates stood by him during his recovery, which included learning to play bass on keyboards. And if you love rock n’roll, you will love The Muggs, who are incredible musicians who deliver solid, hook-laden good-times music. They thrill the judges, who call them fantastic, incredible, tight, and sensational. A lot of adjectives, all well-deserved, and The Muggs coast into the next round.
Why I don’t like clowns
Imagine Gene Simmons. Now, imagine Gene Simmons if he weighed 400 pounds and was completely devoid of any wit, charm, personality, and talent. Got it? Then you can easily picture Fifi Larue, The Gothic Killer Clown who lives with his mom and has a recording studio in the basement. Had enough yet? Because I can’t justify risking carpal tunnel by describing this fool any more.
Cute, but not Michael Bublè pretty
Denver and The Mile High Orchestra are 12 members strong, and in spite of the heat are nattily dressed in matching ties and jackets. They’re a 21st-century big band, and fortunately they’re great musicians, with frontman Denver delivering a solid vocal performance. John and Sheila think they’re awesome, but Dicko worries that Denver isn’t handsome enough to win over any female fans. Two words for you, Dicko – “Elliot Yamin”. Handsome or not, Denver and the boys are put through.
Zolar X are bewigged “aliens” – which for this group translates into “creepy looking old guys wearing lipstick, eyeliner, and neon-coloured Spinal Tap wigs” – and are so awful that Dicko resorts to making a Uranus joke. Really, it’s all too soon after the Gothic Killer Clown.
Good to have you here
Sixwire are ruggedly good-looking in that redneck/blue collar way, and claim to be “edgy country”. They’re doing an original song called “Good To Be Back”, and though I’m no fan of country music, edgy or otherwise, these boys are hugely talented. Featured is a definite Lynyrd Skynyrd-influenced guitar-heavy sound, nicely meshing with traditional country vocal harmonies. Dicko calls them the best musicians so far, and it’s big yesses from all the judges.
Cliff Wagner and the Old #7 are bluegrass, and though they’re good, Dicko wants to hear “a cover not done by a 70-year-old raccoon hunter”. Cliff and the boys comply with their version of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”. Very cute, but as Sheila points out, will this kind of thing sell records? John and Dicko love it, though, and Cliff is going to the next round.
The boyz from Philly
Lest TNGAB become known as “white guys with electric guitars”, we are introduced to Franklin Bridge, an R&B/hip-hop band from Philadelphia. FB displays a cool, funky sound, and tight musicianship. They earn a standing O from the judges, who describe them as professional, dynamic, sensational, and Dicko tells them they’ve set a new benchmark. Which would be more of a compliment if this wasn’t the first show in the first season.
There’s a montage of the day’s best/worst suckage, distinguished by a bosomy blonde humping a floor bass. Hell, Keith (“Like A Virgin”) and William Hung don’t have a patch on the freaks in this show. I’m starting to think that FOX put this on Friday nights to avoid the censors.
Rocket is an all-girl pop-rock band that not only play together, but they all live together in the same house, and claim to be like sisters. Gee, they’re practically a reality show unto themselves, aren’t they? The girls, who have bad dye jobs and are dressed in a ragtag assortment of secondhand-shop finery, are going with a cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”. Great song, so-so delivery – if Rocket were a bit more seasoned, they could pass for a modern-day version of the Runaways. The judges like their energy and their grrrl-power, though, and put them through.
So, we checked you out again and…you still suck
Mezcal is a Latin band who is all about impressing Sheila E with their female drummer. We don’t actually have any basis for comparison, though, because when it’s Mezcal’s turn to perform, Sheila springs on to the stage and takes over the drummer’s solo. The band seems terribly pleased to be on TV with Sheila and doesn’t appear to take offence, even when the judges pan their performance and musicianship.
The sad sacks from Northmont are up for their second chance, and to no one’s real surprise, churn out more dishwater-dull FM radio rock. John suggests that the band “heavy up” their sound, while Dicko again laments the weakness of the band, saying that he would happily put Ward in front of one of several of the bands in the competition. John ends up with the swing vote, and as it’s a no, the boys sullenly file off the stage. A dispirited Ward comments that they could “talk about how we almost did it”, and man, it’s just no fun to watch people’s dreams being so utterly squashed.
So, let’s talk about the winners instead, shall we? The 12 finalists are: Très Bien, Light of Doom, The Hatch, The Clark Brothers, Dot Dot Dot, The Muggs, Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, Sixwire, Cliff Wagner and the Old #7, Likes of You (briefly seen in a clip montage), Franklin Bridge, and Rocket. Diverse enough to keep it interesting, and enough talent to make it worth watching. It doesn’t get much better than that, people. Next week, the competition starts – what better way to spend your next 10 Friday nights or so? Hey, at least you’re saving the bar cover charge you’d be spending to see live music, right?
I want a Light of Doom t-shirt. OK, my 8-year-old wants one. PM me if you see them on sale on ebay.