The WB jumps on the reality TV bandwagon with the premiere of ”Popstars” (Jan. 12, 9 p.m.), which follows the making of a Spice Girls like girl group. Though it may sound like ABC’s ”Making the Band” (which tanked last fall but will return in March), ”Popstars” is actually an American version of a popular Australian TV show which launched a No. 1 act there. The WB series trails young female hopefuls from cattle call auditions to the pressure packed formation of an as yet unnamed pop group. Still, the show’s producers tell EW.com that their behind the scenes series is different than what you’ve seen on ”Making the Band,” with its focus on the squabbles of a fretful group of musical roommates called O-Town.
Executive producer David Stanley, whose company Stone Stanley made ABC’s ”The Mole” and Comedy Central’s ”The Man Show,” says WB’s take on the reality genre will be ”relentlessly upbeat,” more like ”Star Search” meets ”Miss America.” Expect lots of glamour training, dance sequences, and sessions with fashion stylists. The series, he says, focuses more on the wish fulfillment of making the cut rather than the ”crushing devastation” of going home.
The debut episode covers open auditions in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York – and the audience won’t find out who makes it to the second round of 25 contestants until next week. ”Part of our job in doing this show is to let the viewers live vicariously through the girls’ experience,” says Stanley. ”There’s no drama if everything happens too quickly.”
So when the winners finally do emerge, what will they be like? ”My sole consideration is their singing voice,” says Grammy winning record producer David Foster, who helped select the five tryout tracks and will oversee the ”Popstars” band’s first album. ”I had the finalists sing in my studio, and I only listened. I didn’t look at all.” However, show choreographer Travis Payne, who has worked with Janet Jackson, wanted expert dancers. Stanley became the voice of compromise. ”I had to be the traffic cop and think of who would make the best combination for a hit show and hit record,” he says. The result, in Foster’s words: ”I ended up with three terrific singers and two great backups, just like ‘N Sync or the Backstreet Boys.”
But for the first episode auditions, the real deciding factor was vocal talent – or lack thereof. Some of the a cappella singing is, to put it kindly, not very accomplished. ”I regret having suggested the girls sing Whitney Houston’s ‘And I Will Always Love You,”’ says Foster. ”It’s a brutal song that quickly exposed the real non- talents who showed up.” He should know; he produced Houston’s mega- selling original.
According to both Foster and Stanley, ”Popstars”’ main advantage over ”Band” boils down to its network. The WB, says Foster, is the channel of choice for those aged 12 to 34. ”’Making the Band’ is the right idea on the wrong network [ABC],” he says. ”On the other hand, what teenager doesn’t dream of being on the WB? This is a place the show will get noticed.” (With all due respect, we’ll let the Nielsen families be the judge of that.)
On Jan. 19, ”Popstars” moves to its regular 8:30 p.m. spot after ”Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.” ”She is the perfect lead in,” Stanley says of the Melissa Joan Hart sitcom. ”We’re even trying to set something up so Melissa could come up and talk to the girls.” Still, Foster admits he can’t guarantee the group will go to No.1 like their Australian counterparts. ”Everything’s in place to make these girls a hit,” he said. ”But in the end, no matter how hot we think they are, it’s still up to America.”