#86: Superstar USA
The WB (May 17th - June 14th, 2004)
Text by Brian Henegar
It’s hard to explain, but for some reason, we as human beings seem to enjoy watching other people fail. It’s the reason why MST3K was such a wonderful show. Psychologists have a word for it: shadenfruede; literally “taking pleasure in other people’s pain.” We laugh at horrendous TV Shows, awful movies, and cringe-worthy video games simply because failures fascinate us somehow. However, you can go too far. The jokes can get too personal, too mean spirited, and too hateful. When this happens, it stops being funny, and you begin to feel really sorry for those people being mocked. Which brings us to “Superstar USA.”
When “American Idol” debuted on Fox in 2002, the tens of millions of viewers were separated into three distinct categories:
1) Watches because he genuinely wanted to find out the next breakout music star.
2) Watches because he is rooting for/is friends with/is related to one of the contestants.
3) Watches to see all of the God-awful singers in the early “audition” rounds.
It is true, some people in this world are embarrassingly bad singers and yet they think they are the second coming of Enrico Caruso. And since “Idol” was giving anyone who fit their requirements a chance to audition, many of these earnest but tone-deaf people showed up, hoping to wow the judges. And they did…in a spectacularly bad way. One of these people was UCLA student William Hung, whose notorious rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” became a sentimental favorite. So much so, that he managed to get a record deal out of it. Though this surely angered many good musicians toiling away in nightclubs hoping to get noticed, it also helped pay credence to America’s long-standing fascination with the underdog. The execs at the WB network saw this, and came up with a truly…unique idea.
It would in fact, be one of the most mean-spirited TV Shows in history.
“Superstar USA” would essentially be “Idol” in reverse. Ostensibly a spoof of “Idol”, it would claim to be looking for the best singer in America, but instead they were looking for the worst. The show had all the elements of “Idol”:
Smarmy Host? CHECK! (Actor Brian McFayden)
Acidic British Judge? CHECK! (Actor Christopher Briggs)
Perky female pop starlet to fawn over everyone? CHECK! (Singer Vitamin C)
Black record producer who says “dawg” a lot? CHECK, DAWG! (Rapper Tone Loc)
The only thing it didn’t have that “Idol” had? A heart…or shame.
Much like Idol, The show held several national auditions, but whenever they found a genuinely good singer, Briggs would insult them caustically, causing many hard-working singers to break down in tears. Meanwhile, the horrible vocalists, particularly the ones with big egos, were told they were the next Mariah, Britney, and so on.
So we are already playing with people’s emotions, using them for cheap laughs, and treating them like circus freaks. But “USA” didn’t stop there. Once they had enough contestants they moved on to the “performance rounds”, and just like “Idol” they went into competition with each other. But the masquerade didn’t stop there. Everyone from the judges, to their vocal coaches (who were encouraged to make them sing EVEN WORSE!) kept feeding them the same lines of their amazing talent.
“But wait!” I hear you crying out as you reach for the barf bags, “Wouldn’t the audience have laughed at these singers, booed them out of the building, and tried to lynch the executive producers?” Yes…but it is here the “USA” earns the dubious honor of the most soulless TV Show ever made. See, Maury Povich might turn paternity tests into a quasi-game show, Jerry Springer might bring on his daily freak parade, And Howard Stern might have the mentally ill on his show to mock them for laughs…but they don’t hold a candle to “Superstar USA.” Why? Because in order to ensure that the audience wouldn’t boo at these kids, thus breaking the illusion, Producer Mike Fleiss went out on stage, and told the audience that all of the contestants were terminally ill, and that this whole contest was done by the “One Wish” Foundation to grant them the wish of appearing on “American Idol.”
I will say this again…because it bears repeating.
The Executive Producer of this show, told the audience (presumably without the knowledge of the contestants, mind you) that the contestants were TERMINALLY ILL…SO THEY WOULDN’T BOO THEM…SO HE COULD SCREW WITH THE CONTESTANTS’ EMOTIONS EVEN FURTHER!
Excuse me for a moment.
*walks away from computer, leaves house, walks into an open field and screams a loud string of angry obscenities and profanities for the next two-and-a-half hours. Returns to computer.*
THIS IS THE SINGLE WORST TV SHOW I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE! IT IS THE MOST HATEFUL, SPITEFUL, SOULLESS, HEARTLESS, UTTERLY ABYSMAL IDEA FOR A TV SHOW THAT HAS EVER EXISTED IN THIS HISTORY OF THE WORLD! KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE! THROW ALL COPIES INTO A VOLCANO AND DESTROY IT! KILL IT! KILL IT! KILL IT! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
*ahem* Sorry about that. I’m better now. But, wow! You know, I am rarely speechless in my life, but this it people. This is as low as TV can possibly sink. It’s bad enough that we are toying with legitimately good vocalists, breaking them down emotionally and giving them God-only-knows how many psychological problems. It’s not even enough that we are warping the minds of bad singers. But to stoop so low as to claim that you are representing a organization as purely sweet, selfless, and altruistic as The Make-A-Wish Foundation (yes I know he didn’t exactly say that, but come on, the connotation is right there) just to ensure that your precious little prank won’t get broken…You have EARNED your seat in Hell right next to the furnace.
For the record, the winner of this show was a young lass named Jamie Foss, who won a total of $100,000 in cash and prizes…which should just cover her therapy bills. Oh, and of course, just to twist the dagger even further, at the end, McFayden admitted that the whole thing was a joke, and that she was the worst singer in America. All class, those guys.
Listen, if you want to see a good spoof of “American Idol,” find a copy of the British mini-series “Britain's Got the Pop Factor, & Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice” by comedian Peter Kay. It brilliantly skewers everything about Reality talent contests, and gives them a good tribute as well. While you’re at it, if you can, make a donation to Make-A-Wish. They do good work.
Oh, and Mr. Fleiss…if you’re reading this…I hope you like warm weather…jackass.
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