At some point this summer — actually, I know exactly when, July 19 — television’s experiment in participatory democracy went horribly awry. On that night the Big Four networks aired 6.5 hours of programming (So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, The One, and Rock Star: Supernova) that asked Americans to dial in and vote. No one could blame even the most civic-minded of us for being embittered.
Of the four series, Rock Star should be the strongest — for its pedigree (Survivor producer Mark Burnett) and the assorted crew (and Crüe) who have joined forces to create the unfortunately titled band, Supernova. The gang includes: guitarist Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses) and bassist Jason Newsted (Metallica), who look about as rock & roll as a pair of dads pushing strollers through a food co-op in Berkeley, Calif.; and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (remarkably lucid, all things considered). Former Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro returns — with his apparent aversion to buttons, snaps, or any other shirt fasteners — to advise and critique the contestants gunning for Supernova’s lead-singer spot. He’s joined by another partially dressed host, Brooke Burke, who is a constant reminder of how deftly Ryan Seacrest performs his American Idol duties.
It’s hard not to think of Idol — especially when there’s a competitor named Ryan Star (see Idol, season 1), and when Taylor Hicks pops up in a Ford ad during one episode, perhaps to make sure we don’t forget who was bringing in 30 million viewers each week. In fact, strip away the tattoos, pleather pants, and rocker histrionics and you’re pretty much left with Katharine McPhee singing ”Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” At least McPhee was taken seriously. Supernova treat the women as if they’re auditioning for lead groupie, not lead singer. When one of them tried to turn it around on the guys — ebullient Jill Gioia, who did a bump-and-grind against Gilby during her performance of ”Alone” — the incident became the show’s ugly ”sugar tits” moment. ”[Heart’s] Ann Wilson has never had to stoop so low as to hump me,” chastised Gilby. Jill’s retort: ”Everything’s been done in rock & roll already.”
Actually, the fault of this series is that everything has been done in televised rock & roll already. The drama is minimal, since the performances are taped and viewers aren’t actually sending someone home: Supernova choose the loser from the three contestants who get the fewest votes. With Rock Star heading toward the seemingly inevitable coronation of pink-tressed, multipierced Dilana, or Magni, the Icelandic missing link between Moby and Vin Diesel, the show should follow Gilby’s advice: ”We need someone who’s gonna do something…unpredictable.”