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UK Popstars 2: This Time, It's Warby Phil Lewin -- 08/11/2002
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It was all so simple in the first UK season of Popstars. Thousands of pop wannabes performed before a panel of judges from the music biz and were whittled down to a final five. They formed the band Hear'Say and, propelled by the publicity and hype surrounding the programme, sold lots of singles and albums before starting to implode (but that's another story). So, for the second season, you might expect the show to keep the same winning formula. Well, no. Perhaps encouraged by the public's perceived lust for sharing the highs and lows of other people's success or failure, this time the show has adopted a bizarre new format which is designed to perpetuate an ongoing element of ruthless competition throughout its run.
The audition process for Popstars 2 - The Rivals starts in traditional manner. A cattlecall of young hopefuls perform songs before a judging panel (who we will come back to). Over the first few weeks, the numbers will be reduced to ten boys and ten girls. And then the fun really starts. In a radical new idea, which has definitely not been copied from any other well-known reality show, the two groups will be placed in two neighbouring, gender-separated houses. For each of the next five weeks, the viewers will then phone in to evict one person from each house. It is not clear at the moment what the criteria for elimination will be; whether the housemates (or should that be popmates?) will be judged by the public solely on their musical ability or whether they are going to be given lots of drink and evicted on the grounds of who does or doesn't have sex or argue or fight with their cohabitants, just as in the other reality show which this one is not copying. Just to add to the peculiar sense of déjà vu, the host of Big Popstar, er sorry, Popstars will be the ubiquitous Davina McCall, although she is admittedly a near-statutory presence on any Saturday night ITV programme.
Once down to the final five boys and five girls, the element of competition will not end. Instead of one band, there are going to be two. Admittedly two bands also emerged from the first season of Popstars, as the 'losing' five contestants from the final ten waited for the hype surrounding the series to die down then launched as Liberty (later renamed Liberty X because of legal complications) and are now doing well on their own merits. This time, however, the bands - one all-boy and one all-girl - are going head to head. Both will release singles at the start of the week before Christmas and will battle against each other to reach the number one position in the Christmas singles chart.
A few words of explanation may be needed about the UK singles market. Unlike the Billboard Top 100 in the States, the UK singles charts are compiled purely on sales figures rather than radio airplay. The majority of sales take place in the first week of release (especially if the artiste has a large fanbase) and so it is not uncommon for singles to debut at the number one position. Both the aforementioned Hear'Say and no less than three of the finalists of UK Pop Idol -- Will Young, Gareth Gates, and Darius Danesh -- have achieved this feat on the back of their exposure, and so it is not unreasonable to assume that the Popstars 2 winners would enjoy the same success. Topping the Christmas chart has a particular significance in the UK. It is the time of year when singles sales reach their peak as thousands of grandparents who usually venture nowhere near their local Virgin megastore suddenly flood in to buy gifts for their loved ones. Of course if the kiddie is given a Westlife or other boy band single when s/he is a Limp Bizkit or Slipknot fan, s/he may not fully appreciate the sentiment, but this is of little consequence to the record companies' healthy seasonal profit margins.
However, the hype surrounding this chart battle is clearly going to assume a far greater significance than the actual talents of the band members. With both bands being deliberately pitched against each other, there is only going to be one winner and therefore, in the eyes of the media, one humiliated loser. The gender element makes this all the more intense. We can expect all sorts of publicity stunts during the days up to Christmas as the respective managerial teams of both bands do their utmost to gain each a higher profile that will convert into sales. It will expose the pop marketing machine at its most vicious and the collaborating tabloid press and gossip magazines, who always enjoy a good scrap, will further whip up the hype. Then finally on December 22nd, the Christmas chart will be unveiled and we will have a winner. Unless by some mischance, another single that has nothing to do with Popstars whatsoever beats both bands to the number one position. Two years ago the Bob the Builder theme song famously saw off big releases from Westlife and Eminem, so nothing is guaranteed at a time of year when CD-buyers often undergo collective insanity.1 2 Next-->
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