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''Popstars,'' like its wannabe singers, has potential

But the WB series needs to boost the personalities and pathos, says Kristen Baldwin

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Popstars: Greg Schwartz/The WB

”Popstars,” like its wannabe singers, has potential

The WB’s ”Popstars” — a reality series about the creation of an all girl bubblegum band — should be a home run. For one thing, girls cry more — and in a show all about rejection and competition, tears and hissy fits make for great dramatic TV. But even though ”Popstars” (Fridays, 8:30 p.m.) scored record ratings for the weblet, it’s not nearly as compelling as it could be. The situation isn’t hopeless, though. All the producers need to do is take a few lessons from the Bunim-Murray folks, the team behind MTV’s ”The Real World” and ABC’s far superior music series ”Making the Band.”

What Jonathan Murray and Mary-Ellis Bunim know is that the key to any good reality show is personal stories. In the first two ”Popstars” episodes, however, all we’ve seen is dozens upon dozens of wannabes shriek their way through diva staples like ”What A Girl Wants” and ”I’m Every Woman.” We have no idea who these girls are. All the attempts to create drama have been ridiculously contrived — as when the judges cruelly picked an obese girl for a callback, clearly because they knew her shocked, weepy reaction made good TV, not because she had a prayer of making the girl band.

The ”Real World” team would have found less forced ways to engage us, probably by focusing on fewer girls and actually spending some time with them. They might show the girls at home with their families, have them talk about their musical ambitions, and ultimately manipulate the viewer into getting attached to the young hopefuls.

So what if ”Popstars” spends three or four minutes on a girl who ends up getting cut? It’ll make her rejection all the more powerful for the reality TV junkies who are now cheering her on. I’m sure the ”Popstars” producers have some getting to know you episodes in the works, but they’d be smarter to get to the point faster — especially in a TV climate where reality series are as disposable as MTV veejays.

I’ve still got hope for the WB’s answer to ”Making the Band,” though, because the second episode featured hints of some of the girls’ personal challenges. There was the candidate who was raised in foster care and wrote on her application, ”paying bills is hard …I need this,” and the single mother who says she’ll sign over custody of her child to her baby’s father’s relatives if she gets the gig. If the ”Popstars” producers are smart, they’ll make like ”The Real World” and wring every last drop of pathos out of these teenybopper sob stories. After all, that’s what reality TV is all about.