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Fame, Episode 1: I Came to Work!by Donna Reynolds -- 05/29/2003
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Set aside all of your preconceived notions. This show is nothing like any of its predecessors. From the outset that much was clear. Fame is about business! It is fast-paced, streamlined, and focused – without a lot of fluff and filler. It has great energy and never slows down. It’s not about the host, Joey Fatone of ‘Nsync, and it is only marginally about Debbie Allen. This show is about the performers and their quest for super-stardom.
The Fame theme song opens the show to a live audience. Fatone introduces Debbie, fawning over her briefly (“I’m not worthy,” he moans). Debbie gets right down to it, calling herself a “search engine” and explaining that this show is looking for a “triple threat” – someone who can dance, sing, and who has “star quality.”
The first hour concentrates on the audition process. From New York to Miami to Chicago and finally L.A., people stood in line waiting for an opportunity to spend a long, grueling day singing and dancing in an attempt to make the final cut. The auditions started early in the morning and people were eliminated round by round with the final cut being made early the next morning.
First stop – New York. Debbie is amazed by the level of talent in the “Big Apple,” but not surprised considering all the opportunity there. These people are slick, polished, and professional. Each contestant sings a cappella and then they are put into groups and taught some dance moves. Debbie takes copious notes and offers occasional criticism but is generally supportive, especially when these people crack from the strain. In an effort to make the final call-back, one young woman in New York, Lisette, ended up getting in a car wreck as well as getting fired from her job. Allen actually gets on the phone with the girl’s boss and tried to help her out. The girl makes the cut!
Debbie is so impressed by the New York showing that she selects seventeen to go to L.A. rather than the twelve originally planned.
It’s on to Miami where the energy level increases and the talent is equal to that in New York. The talent in Miami is, in Debbie’s words, cross-cultural and diverse. “Something’s going on,” she says. The audition process is the same as New York and it is obvious that by the end of the day, everyone is exhausted. We do get a few minutes of the “worst,” with a clip showing sixteen people singing, screeching, and hollering bits of Alicia Key’s “Fallin’.” No problem, at least we aren’t tormented by bad audition after bad audition in an attempt to fill the two hours (or two weeks!).
Chicago draws a great crowd as well and Debbie comments on it being “Oprah’s town,” noting that Chi-Town has a lot of theater and other venues where performers can hone their skills. Again, Debbie is no-nonsense but supportive when necessary. One young woman breaks down during a rehearsal of the dance number and Debbie gently talks her back on to the stage. I like her already! We see a familiar face in Chicago. One of the girls who didn’t make the cut in New York has come back to try again. She tells Debbie that if she doesn’t make it this time, she will go to L.A. The girl makes the cut. This is the kind of determination and drive that Allen is looking for – people who won’t stop at the first “No” and who want this so badly that they will go to any lengths to get it.
The final stop is Los Angeles, where momentum has built and even more people turn out to try and catch their dream. The L.A. group is pretty typical of that town and includes a drag queen who is actually pretty good (he/she didn’t make the cut). The male dancers are particularly good here, doing some wild, acrobatic stuff up on that stage. One guy actually puts his legs up around behind his head while spinning around. Debbie is amazed by this and compares it to Cirque du Soleil.
I have a couple of observations about the first hour of this show. One thing that I noticed and that was appreciated was the placement of the commercials. The hour was divided roughly into quarters. Each quarter featured one city’s entire audition and then we cut to commercial. The show resumes with the next city and again, the audition process from that locale is uninterrupted. This keeps the show flowing and the viewer’s interest intact. The second thing that I noticed was that, although there were a few clips of people who really shouldn’t have been on the stage, this show doesn’t dwell on the bad but instead focuses on the good as well as the process. Fame is taking a higher road and there is not a lot of excessive criticism or gnashing of teeth. It felt more like the real thing.
The second hour promises to introduce us to the “top 24” and kicks right off with Debbie praising those who had the “courage and chutzpah” to come out and audition. We see a couple of clips of some people who were examples of this, including a guy who looked like Jesus wearing bright green shorts and my favorite of the “bad,” Andy Freedman. Still, it is a brief acknowledgement that there were some folks who were a tad below par and we aren’t beaten to death with this for ten minutes.1 2 3 Next-->
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