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Fame: Can It Hold a Candle to Idol?by Nicole Albertson -- 06/03/2003
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Let me start by saying that I was more than a little skeptical about NBC's new talent competition show, Fame. How can it possibly compare to the emotional roller coaster that is American Idol? Isn't it just another cheesy knock-off trying to grab ratings and moolah while AI is on hiatus? Now that I've seen Fame, which premiered last Wednesday night, I can say that it doesn't compare to AI, but it's not a cheesy knock-off either. It's a whole new ball of wax.
Basically, AI is all about singing talent and singing talent alone. But what about Clay's presence or Ruben's personality, you say? It's true those attributes played no small part in the immense popularity of the Idol singers. However, the initial criterion for selection on Idol was simple: Sing or Die. Fame is different in that it focuses on the whole package. These contenders have it all, or so say the show's producers. They can sing, they can dance and they have that ever elusive "star quality."
From everything I saw, this is at least somewhat true. Debbie Allen, co-host of the show, made a vague attempt to explain these people's qualities by stating that "they have something inside them." Well, I certainly hope so, but besides internal organs, the performers we saw did seem to have a certain spark. Of the 24 contestants who managed to make it through the rather grueling process of advancing to the semi-finals, we only saw six compete to move on in the competition. Each did seem to have an awareness of the stage and how to use it. No microphone-tappers (Trenyce) or hip-tappers (Carmen) in this crowd. The Fame contestants have a presence that reminds me of AI's Kimberly Caldwell. She was hardly the best singer in the AI2 group but she had an alluring quality, something that made you want to watch her. It was that spark that got her into the top 12 and that spark is clearly what the Fame producers decided to emphasize in their candidate selection.
Of course, spark alone won't win anything, as the aforementioned Kimberly knows all too well. Talent is required and the competitors seem to have at least some in each category. We haven't seen a Kelly Clarkson in this group, at least not yet. Of the three who advanced to the next round, all had a bit of warble in their singing performances. I'm sure nerves had a lot to do with that and those anxieties will fade away as the competition continues. Still, when you are used to the caliber of talent that we have seen on AI2, it's hard not to notice the difference. When the dance factor is added, one has to acknowledge the talent these young people possess. We may not have seen any jaw-dropping singing, but those kids sure can shake and shimmy across the stage. I was impressed by two of the performances, those of Alex Boyd and Garry Adams. I wasn't awed, inspired, or blown off my chair, but I was entertained. After all, the goal of these performers is to entertain. And make truckloads of dough. And be adored by millions all over the world. But I'm sure it's mostly to entertain.
Possibly the biggest difference between Idol and Fame is the overall attitude taken by those running things. Simon is famous for his harsh criticisms of Idol contestants. In fact, my favorite part of Idol is finding out what Simon is going to say next. That's probably just because my own feelings of inadequacy compel me to belittle and humiliate others in order to validate my own existence... but enough about me. Conversely, Debbie Allen seems to have taken these kids under her wing to guide and encourage them. She strongly defended one of the contestants who received some criticism from the judges, saying that she didn't think they appreciated her potential. When the three winners were selected, she shuffled the rest off the stage, telling them to come to mama. Imagine such words out of Simon's mouth... frightening. I think her positive approach is a refreshing change and is entirely appropriate for the Fame competition. They are there to work, after all. They wouldn't let us forget that as they shouted it at us incessantly during their little intro rap/dance. Allen knows how hard they've been working and she should be there to support them through thick and thin.
As an Idol fan, I will be watching Fame and would recommend it to others. It's not Idol but it's not All American Girl either. Fame has a different tone but I think it will appeal to much of the Idol audience. Whether the whole country will be talking about who will win remains to be seen. But even if it's not as intriguing and engaging as Idol, it can definitely entertain on a lazy summer evening when there's not much else to do.
Nicole is homeschooling mother of two who watches reality shows purely as an escape mechanism and writes to preserve her sanity. Feel free to contact her at email@example.com as it will be the only adult contact she has all day.
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