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by Simon Owen
ITV must be rubbing their hands warmly now. The ratings gamble that was the launch of Popstars has paid off, eventually culminating in a whopping 12 million people tuning in to see the news, good or bad, being delivered to each of the final ten possible band members - enough to almost guarantee a number one position for the then anonymous band. Even if only 5% of those viewers went out to their record shop, Hear'Say would still have reached the top with their first single.
Popstars, for those unaware or uninterested, begun its run in January, sneaking into Wednesday evening prime time for its debut before scampering around the relative wilderness of early Saturday evenings. In it, three judges (LWT's Nigel Lythgoe, Billie Piper's now ex-manager Nicky Chapman and Polydor's Head of A&R Paul Adam) whittled down several thousand screaming teenagers and young adults to a band of five, discarding the arrogant, untalented and eerily strange ones along the way.
To catch their eye, talent came first, apparently, thus meaning that the fact that the final band are all lookers is merely coincidental, but a decent personality (preferably outgoing) was certainly an asset. A fair deal of humbleness was necessary (remember Darius' fate, the talented but annoyingly over-confident Scot), and some smooth moves were also considered important (Chapman, for example - the strange looking thing with the green T-shirt who could sing (just about) but wasn't exactly grooving when it came to the dancing).
Throughout the series, each candidate was tested on solo and group singing and dancing, with the addition at the latter stages of mock press conferences and interviews, being invited back over and over again if they made the grade. By the time the final ten were chosen, they'd all been auditioning, on and off, for three months.
After the thoroughly well-milked audition process had been completed, another manufactured band, now known as Hear'Say, was thrown into the lions' den that is the music industry to join the majority of the rest of the charts in scrapping for the buying public's attention. As if there wasn't enough publicity-centred music in this world, ITV's series had created a band with a budget capable of obliterating the rest of the competition with one swift blow.
Out came the official video of the series, the dolls, the posters and the clothes. The kids loved them. The old-timers, however, continued to grumble about how we had "just another Girl Thing" or "five new Adam Rickitts," ready to be marketed and fed to screaming 12 year-olds.
But when the cameras began to uncover the lower layers of each member, it gradually emerged that there are five personalities under the dollish-looks. Suddenly the concept of a manufactured band seemed less offensive once Noel started crying and Kym started swearing. The truth is, there isn't anything wrong with gathering a band of five strangers and expecting them to work. They cater for a completely different market to the Oasis' and Travis' of this world, and the market love them - nothing offensive and a style of music they like as well. Not everyone can be satisfied by the likes of Eminem and Limp Bizkit of this world, moreover, your average 10 year-old's parents wouldn't want them to be.
As for the fear that they simply won't work together, the chances are, they will - every personality selected through such a laborious audition process is one that will adapt and listen to others, with perhaps the odd firey moment. How else were Darius' "helpful" comments about individual singers' tuning received without him being hit even once? Liam Gallagher would never have been selected, and so the premise that the bands that work together best are self-made is bobbins.
These manufactured bands do no harm, and if anything do the industry good. With singles creating less money than ever these days, the merchandise like dolls is essential to the survival of each band and, ultimately, their record companies. These pop bands are the best people to shift these, and each group, despite their broad similarities, bring a certain amount of life and personality to an industry that is largely bereft of any potential replacements. What's important to remember is that no music is bad music - somebody, somewhere must like it. Let the customers speak for themselves.