WB's thrush rush 04/14/2004
Tue Apr 13, 8:00 PM ET
Josef Adalian, Variety
After weeks of secrecy and subterfuge, Mike Fleiss and the WB are about to unveil the ultimate spoof of "American Idol."
Dubbed "Superstar USA," skein will take the musical talent competish format and give it a wicked twist by tossing the truly talented participants -- and rewarding the misguided souls who are clueless about being tuneless.
"These people believe they're the next pop superstar, even though they're horrible singers," Fleiss said of the show, which he's exec producing via his Telepictures-based Next Entertainment. "It's not funny seeing bad singers doing karaoke. This is about people who are clearly delusional and watching them butcher song after song."
Fleiss calls the skein a "bizzaro version of 'American Idol' " in which the Clays and Kellys get the boot, while the William Hungs of the world triumph.
First two episodes will feature footage from open auditions held in Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Miami and Minneapolis. During the course of the show, 12 wannabe superstars will get complete fashion makeovers and be treated to a glimpse of the celeb life -- complete with fake fans.
Skein's judges -- or "panelists," as reps for the show insist on calling them -- are forced to keep a straight face as they heap mounds of praise on crappy crooners and tell truly talented singers they're going home.
Participants aren't told the true premise of the skein -- i.e., it's not a competition, it's a hoax -- until the final episode of the show, in which two finalists compete for the bogus title of Superstar USA.
After the winner is crowned, all the participants are told the truth -- and to ease the embarrassment, the "winner" (or "last person standing," as producers phrase it) gets $100,000 and a recording contract.
"I swear, the finale is the most incredible 20 minutes of television I've ever seen," Fleiss said, calling "Superstar" a buzz-building reality event in the tradition of his infamous "Who Wants to Marry A Multi-Millionaire."
"People will be calling their friends saying, 'You won't believe what they're doing,' " Fleiss said.
For TV industry insiders, "Superstar" will also be seen as a not-so-subtle bit of revenge from Fleiss against his longtime friend and rival, Fox reality topper Mike Darnell. Latter exec has spent the last two years launching a slew of skeins inspired by Fleiss' signature series "The Bachelor."
"Mostly, this is about a great idea and a great show," Fleiss said. "But if there's a little bit of payback, that's just icing on the cake."
"Superstar" wrapped a lightning-quick four-week shoot Tuesday night and will premiere almost as quickly: Monday, May 17 at 9 p.m. Scheduling of the seven hourlong episodes is still being finalized, but Frog plans to air the CAA-packaged show twice a week -- Mondays and Tuesdays at 9 -- with the finale airing in early June.
Mike Nichols and Jason Carbone are co-exec producers.
In keeping with the "Idol" mojo, "Superstar's" three-member panel of judges features an African-American music vet (rapper Tone- Loc), a 1990s popstar (Vitamin C) and a really snarky guy (Chris Briggs, who's actually a producer). Former MTV veejay Brian McFayden hosts.
"We don't have a British guy, and our host is named Brian," Fleiss quips, alluding to Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest.
WB co-chairman Jordan Levin believes "Superstar" is the kind of high-octane reality skein that can help the Frog finally break through in a big way in the unscripted world.
"We can make some noise with this and have some fun with the form," he said. "We have a young audience that's very literate and very savvy when it comes to this genre. The idea of deconstructing and twisting it was appealing to us."
Fleiss said he came up with the idea for "Superstar" last year and pitched the project to the WB barely two months ago.
"The timing of this is certainly right," Levin said. "As the nation contemplates who's the next American Idol, we're really questioning issues of celebrity and talent. And we're having fun."
Critics will likely raise the issue of whether it's cruel to essentially spend seven hours mocking ungifted singers, but Fleiss actually found making the show inspirational in a way.
"These are people who believe in themselves unconditionally, who wouldn't let anything stop them from pursuing their dream -- even the lack of a singing voice," he said. "It's a little bit mean at times, but people thought 'The Bachelor' was mean."
"They do get the fame and fortune," Fleiss added. "It's just not how they thought."
Runner-ups will also be compensated, and Fleiss hopes to release a "Superstar" album and take the final 12 on tour.