April 15, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

It was probably only a matter of time before reality guru Mike Fleiss fired back at reality rival Mike Darnell, whose Fox shows have often been twisted versions of Fleiss’ ”The Bachelor.” Now, Variety reports, the WB will air Fleiss’ ”Superstar USA,” a ju-jitsu flip on Fox’s ”American Idol,” in which the talented Kellys and Rubens are eliminated while the William Hung-types advance. ”Mostly, this is about a great idea and a great show,” Fleiss told Variety. ”But if there’s a little bit of payback, that’s just icing on the cake.”

In ”Superstar,” whose seven episodes have already been taped (the premiere airs May 17), the contestants aren’t in on the joke. ”These people believe they’re the next pop superstar, even though they’re horrible singers,” Fleiss said. ”It’s not funny seeing bad singers doing karaoke. This is about people who are clearly delusional and watching them butcher song after song.” Nonetheless, the singers receive lavish praise from the show’s panel, which, à la ”Idol,” includes an African-American music-biz vet (rapper Tone-Loc), a faded pop diva (Vitamin C), and a blunt and insulting guy (producer Chris Briggs). Hosted by former MTV VJ Brian McFayden, ”Superstar” gives its clueless competitors real showbiz makeovers and fake fans. They are not told the truth until the ”winner” is crowned, though that person still gets a $100,000 prize and a recording contract. (William Hung, watch your back.) ”They do get the fame and fortune,” Fleiss said. ”It’s just not how they thought.”

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