On the season premiere of ''Rock Star,'' a motley crew of 15 would-be lead singers get their chance to impress Tommy Lee and his new supergroup
”Rock Star: Supernova”: The first auditions
Hello, Cleveland! R U ready to rawk? Are you ready for a summer of Rock Star: Supernova TV Watches? Are you ready for a season of tattoos, piercings, waggling tongues, devil-horn finger salutes, Darwinian competition, and puzzled, barely awake facial expressions from Tommy Lee? Yes? Then let us begin.
A few preliminary observations: First, I have doubts about the whole Supernova premise. On paper, Mötley Crüe drummer Lee, Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, and Guns n’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke have the potential to make a fine Velvet Revolver-ish supergroup, but it could be a lot harder to audition singers for a band without a recognizable repertoire than for one with a catalog of well-known hits, like last year’s Rock Star band, INXS. Second, if you’ve watched the first webisode on the show’s site, rockstar.msn.com, you have a sense of the band’s classic-metal style, as well as a sense of which of the 15 aspiring vocalists might best mesh with it, and what catty dynamics are going on at the mansion where they’re all living. But none of that matters, as these singers will live or die based on their two minutes of glory on performance episodes like Wednesday’s 90-minute premiere.
Example: In the webisode, during a segment in which the singers were called upon to jump cold into the studio and improvise a vocal over a brand new Supernova track, contenders Chris Pierson and Phil Ritchie were two of the best. But on stage during the televised premiere, both bombed with unfortunate song choices, and by the end of the episode, they were already two of the bottom three finishers among early voters. Chris may really have the chops to record with these metal vets, but his shrill, sped-up version of ”Roxanne” on Wednesday probably killed his chances. Serving as judges, the three band members, joined by producer Butch Walker and co-host Dave Navarro, are a pretty generous bunch, without a Simon Cowell among them, but they were uniform in their inability to find anything nice to say about that performance. Said Butch, ”You have to be careful how you rearrange a classic.” Said Gilby, ”Unfortunately, that just sucked.”
As on American Idol, song choice is going to be key on this season of Rock Star. Take the single-monikered Magni, who says he’s already a huge star in Iceland but now hopes to make it big everywhere else. He sang a perfectly passable version of ”Satisfaction,” but unless you’re going to do something special with a song that iconic, you’re not going to make people forget Mick Jagger. Dave thought Magni’s rendition was a little ”on the Vegas tip,” and viewers at home apparently agreed, as Magni finished the show in the bottom three as well. Similarly, Storm Large (she insists that’s her real name) did nothing memorable with the Who’s ”Pinball Wizard,” save for a startlingly Daltrey-esque bellow during the song’s bridge. And Patrice Pike, who covered ”Somebody to Love,” is no Grace Slick, though she’d do in a pinch as frontwoman for a Jefferson Airplane cover band.
On the other hand, Jill Gioia chose Janis Joplin’s ”Piece of My Heart,” which could have been disastrous, but she had the lungs to back it up. Jason aptly compared the Shakira-size singer to a stick of dynamite: ”small package, incredible power.” Likewise, little Lukas Rossi, whose two-tone hair and dark eye makeup made him look like a punk raccoon, didn’t appear to be a guy who might be able to handle ”Rebel Yell,” but his own rebel yell sounded strikingly like Billy Idol’s, and he confidently nailed the song.
I thought the judges were far too kind to several of the singers. Ryan Star (no, not that Ryan Starr — this one’s a guy from New York) was off rhythm and off key on his overwrought version of the Goo Goo Dolls’ ”Iris,” but the girls in the audience seemed to find him dreamy, and the judges responded warmly. Aussie bloke Toby Rand sang an arrangement of ”Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” that neither Bob Dylan nor Guns n’ Roses might recognize, but that only seemed to please Gunner Gilby, who said, ”I played that song a bazillion times. Great change.” Zayra Alvarez’s toneless, thin-voiced cover of Evanescence’s ”Bring Me to Life” showed she’s not in the same league as her competitors, but the guys drooled over her exotic appearance, with Jason proposing marriage and Butch praising her sound as a cross between Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and Bjork. (Uh, no. Not even close. More like Stevie Nicks and Ashlee Simpson.) Jenny Galt never seemed to find the right key for Nickelback’s ”How You Remind Me,” but the guys appreciated the leggy blonde’s ability to sing while playing the guitar.
Others performed well but may have been too polished to fit in with the hard-rock vets of Supernova. Josh Logan considers himself a funk singer; I didn’t hear that in his voice, but he did a solid cover of ”She Talks to Angels,” which Dave found a little too decorous. In the evening’s wittiest comment, he said it was ”as if Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes went to finishing school.” Matt Hoffer deftly hit Chris Martin’s falsetto notes on Coldplay’s ”Yellow,” and he was cute as a puppy; I expect he’ll be eaten alive over the coming weeks. Georgia gal Dana Andrews, who at 22 is one of the younger contestants, displayed a surprisingly booming voice on Melissa Etheridge’s ”I’m the Only One,” but she may be too demure for this competition. And I thought the aforementioned Phil Ritchie did a good job with the rhythmically tricky vocal on Living Colour’s ”Cult of Personality,” but Gilby found the performance ”a little pitchy.” (Guess he’s the Randy Jackson among the judges.) ”Your stage presence kind of lacked that strength and confidence,” said Dave.
Overall, I think the women were stronger singers than the men. Strongest of all was one-named wonder Dilana, whose rendition of Nirvana’s ”Lithium” made me forget Kurt Cobain, as it revealed her otherworldly alto voice, deep and raspy and scary, à la Marianne Faithfull. ”When you stand still, you have this intensity that is just riveting,” said Dave. Which sounds like a nice way of saying, ”You lost us when you started jumping around like a wounded toad during the song’s bridge.” Still, her unfortunate dance moves aside, she’s the find of the season. I’d love to see her go all the way.
What do you think? Who’s your favorite among the Rock Star hopefuls? Who would you like to see voted off? Who will the judges actually boot? And do you think Tommy Lee is aware that he’s being taped?