You know who’s a real starlet? Mario from American Idol. You know who’s not? Any of the 10 young women who have been competing over the past few weeks for the promised title in The Starlet: an I-got-talent reality show addictively wicked enough to demand that its camera-ready contestants not only act like themselves (which is, natch, the real entertainment in all reality shows, whether set on islands, on catwalks, or in boardrooms) but also, like, act. And, while they’re at it, act like competitive bitches in a cathouse, disciplined, American Idol-style, by a dish-the-sass black chick (Kill Bill‘s Vivica A. Fox), an acerbic gay guy (casting director Joseph Middleton, the Addison DeWitt of Project Greenlight‘s first season), and a cosmetically armored diva — that would be Miss Faye Dunaway, introduced as ”one of the all-time great starlets.” (Hold that thought, I’ll be back to Miss Dunaway after this message from Garnier Fructis. . .)
By the time the season concludes April 5, we will still have no clue about the actual, bankable thespian skills of babydoll Michelynne (if she doesn’t catch the brass ring of fame, her impoverished family will lose its house!), sultry Mercedes (body issues about her ”huge” size 4 butt made her weep!), or pugnacious, freckled Katie (who almost beat the crap out of her hated housemate Lauren during Anger class!). But at least we’ll have been entertained, won’t we, by ersatz girl-on-girl hate crimes and synthetic casting-office debate: ”She has the look of a starlet, but she doesn’t have the game.” ”Uncover your blocks.” ”Baby, get thicker skin.” (Weekly unspoken but implied advice: ”More. Lip gloss. Now.”)
Oooh, the show is deep in its shallowness, this Splenda-frosted Twinkie. And it’s profound in its unintended satire: The 10 ambitious bonbons living on their own Hollywood desert island with reward challenges of ”coaching sessions” and immunity challenges of ”screen tests” are apparently the last innocents in America not to know that the very term starlet denotes a presence, a perfume, a whatever-it-takes will to be famous (kudos to you, Mario) that has little to do with acting chops. We can see what they can’t, that this is their starlet moment, this fleeting spotlight. Whoever wins the smackdown — and with it a ”career-launching role” on One Tree Hill — will never get another moment like this (cue Kelly Clarkson), as a reality-show contestant representing the state of Hollywood wannabe-dom on The WB — the Starlet Network.
None of which explains the presence of Miss Faye Dunaway, who has always been a star, my friend, never a starlet, and whose participation has become a must-see reality show in itself. ”This is not the Paris Hilton School of Acting,” she admonishes sternly; other career guidance is delivered while peering over handsome reading glasses artfully used to express emotion in contrast with her sphinxlike visage. But, of course, it is. The Starlet compels because it contracts all of performance, all of fame, all of reality TV, and all of American ambition to the impacted condition of the P.H. School of A, where a powerful sense of entitlement in pursuit of a dream can’t be taught.