''Rock Star: Supernova'': Phil's lack of stage presence dooms him. His fate (and Zayra's) proves it takes more than vocal talent to avoid elimination

By Gary Susman
Updated July 27, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Rock Star: Supernova: Monty Brinton/CBS
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”Rock Star: Supernova”: Phil’s lack of stage presence dooms him

Is it me, or has Rock Star: Supernova officially gone off the deep end? I’m referring, of course, to this week’s shocking ouster of Phil instead of Zayra, who cheated elimination yet again, an upset greeted by the audible and visible astonishment and horror of all the remaining contestants and pretty much everyone in the auditorium.

To be sure, Zayra is the most fascinating performer on the show, not because of any discernible talent, but because viewers watch with anticipation and dread to see how she’ll go off the rails each week. On Tuesday’s performance show, she butchered Blondie’s ”Call Me,” though, on the plus side, she wore a slinky, skintight superheroine jumpsuit that appeared to be made of blueberry Fruit Roll-Ups. (On Wednesday’s show, she wore a silver minidress that also wouldn’t have looked out of place adorning Uma Thurman’s G-Girl.) Her survival offers the other competitors a valuable lesson: Stage presence is key.

Stage presence also explains why Storm, Toby, Lemur King (er, Lukas), Magni, and Dilana are safe for the foreseeable future, why marginal performers like Ryan and Dana stayed alive one more week, and why Jill, Josh, Patrice, and Phil faced potential elimination. Storm (”She’s ready to crash your hard drives one more time,” quipped Brooke Burke, referring to the statuesque singer’s revelation last week that topless photos of her are circulating on the Web) showed her punk side with a fiery version of Dramarama’s ”Anything, Anything” that ended with a stage dive and earned her Wednesday’s encore slot. Toby made up for his slack performance last week by returning to form on Tuesday with Billy Idol’s ”White Wedding,” which Jason Newsted called his best number yet. Dilana mesmerized as always, proving she could turn even a syrupy ballad like Cyndi Lauper’s ”Time After Time” into something dark and dramatic. (She’s overdoing it on the accessories, though. Remember, dear, always take one thing off.)

It’s hard to build slowly to the emotional climax of a six-minute, mid-tempo tune when you have only two minutes to sing, but Lukas and Magni did the best they could with the Verve’s ”Bittersweet Symphony” and David Bowie’s ”Heroes,” respectively. Lukas is still a one-trick pony vocally, with Jason complaining again that he’s constricting his throat (does every song of his have to sound like Billy Idol?), but the Lemur King had the confidence and swagger to carry it off. So, despite a slow start, did Magni, though Tommy Lee felt the Icelandic singer’s concentration was wandering.

Ryan, accused of not having enough fun over the last couple weeks (”Show me some boat, bitch!”), redeemed himself with an acrobatic rendition of Live’s ”I Alone” that Tommy called the ”perfect song” for his voice. Ingenue Dana displayed some grit and anger even though she was performing an acoustic ballad, Nirvana’s ”About a Girl.” (She’s really matured over the course of this series, in sort of the same way that Olivia Newton-John matured into a hoochie in Grease.) ”You are finally looking damaged enough to be a rock singer,” said Dave Navarro, initiating Tuesday’s funniest exchange. ”Because let me tell you, there is nothing worse than a grounded, centered, well-adjusted rock singer.” Dana’s proud reply: ”I chugged a beer before I came on stage.” Role models for America’s youth, everyone. CBS must be very proud.

Jill’s stage routine didn’t go over as well. Accompanied by Gilby Clarke, she sang a Tina Turner-esque rendition of the Rolling Stones’ ”Brown Sugar” that saw her grinding against the Guns N’ Roses guitarist. Dave loved it, saying, ”If you were in my band, we’d be grinding for hours on end.” But she rubbed Gilby the wrong way, and he complained that such use of her sexuality was ”predictable,” ”cheap,” and ”weak.” In a follow-up argument on Wednesday, Jill justifiably complained of the double standard that allows male rockers to flaunt their charms (and Tommy to hit on all the female contestants), and she added that she wasn’t doing anything unprecedented because ”everything’s been done in rock & roll already.” Oops, way not to flatter a group of potential employers who are old-school rockers who do profess to be doing something new.

In fact, Supernova opened Tuesday’s show by playing for the contestants some newly recorded instrumental tracks. Given their pedigree, the result was surprisingly non-metallic; it was more boogie-rock in a Stones/Aerosmith/Black Crowes vein. You’d think Patrice would have fit right in, performing the Crowes’ ”Remedy” on Tuesday, but the judges were bored, complaining that her performances have fallen into a rut. Same with Josh and Phil, who sang soporific versions of Blind Melon’s ”No Rain” and the Wallflowers’ ”One Headlight,” respectively.

Early voting Tuesday placed Josh, Jill, and Zayra in the bottom three, though after the final tally, the endangered singers were Patrice, Zayra, and Phil. Patrice saved herself via her vocal gymnastics on Radiohead’s ”My Iron Lung.” That left Zayra and Phil, both of whom chose obscure songs to win back the judges’ favor. They had asked Zayra to show a side that was more rock and less pop, but she ignored them and sang a drum-free ballad, ”I’m Not an Addict,” by K’s Choice. As usual, it sounded totally wrong for Supernova, but she sang it with Sinéad O’Connor-ish determination. The loose-limbed Phil, criticized Tuesday over his signature head-bobbing move, which an irritated Jason called ”the wobble,” delivered an intense performance Wednesday of Failure’s ”Smoking Umbrellas” that the judges called his best performance to date. Still, it was Phil, not Zayra, whose commitment to fronting the band was questioned by the judges.

Granted, Phil probably wasn’t long for this contest anyway, but even Zayra was shocked at her survival, which she called a ”miracle.” Yes, if by ”miracle,” you meant ”outrage.”

Do you think the judges are keeping Zayra alive only for her value as a train-wreck spectacle? Does she know something about how to use her sexuality on stage that Jill and the other women don’t? And who among the remaining 11 does have the commitment — and the stage presence and vocal talent — to front this band?

Rock Star: Supernova

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