I’ll say this about ABC’s High School Musical: Get In The Picture:it’s certainly no American Idol, and intentionally so. The tone wasset immediately with the very first contestant hopeful, beauty pageantwinner Amy Hooker, a “please” and “thank you” gal who at leastearned this praise from judge Tiana Brown: “Your manners areadorable!” Hooker, who warbled through her rendition of “Part Of YourWorld” from The Little Mermaid (Had to look that up. Honest!),didn’t make it to the next round, but she did get a critique thataspired to be genuinely constructive. “Let in come organically,”beseeched Brown, as if determined to change some lives here. “Believe…”With that parting gift of wisdom, Hooker was released into the warmOrlando sunshine, still not famous but made slightly better by theexperience. And she smiled.

Welcome to the Disneyfication of the prime-time talent show, aworld where niceness reigns and mean people aren’t allowed. The judges(“faculty members” in the HSM:GITP parlance) are uniformlyupbeat—all Paulas, not a Simon in the bunch—who attentively assess eachcontestant and dutifully take notes in their leather journals. Theyseem to think they’re on a hanky-lite, talent-show version of Extreme Makeover or even Three Wishes(“We’re going to make somebody’s life!” gushed judge Jen Malenke),though the reward is surprisingly meager: the winner gets…a part in amusic video promoting the forthcoming High School Musical 3,the next installment in a billion dollar franchise with 400 million fansaround the world. (I know these facts because the show told me.)

Thenagain, maybe winning a role in a commercial would sound a lot sexier ifhost Nick Lachey tried a little harder to sell it. Jessica Simpson’sex-husband emcees with such fake-smile heartlessness, it’s as if the wholething is painfully reminding him that before he became an infotainer,he , too, aspired to be something like a pop star. If you’re trying toinspire kids to fame, it’s probably not a good idea to cast acautionary tale as host.

Unless that’s the point. Is Disney trying to redeem the reality showas we know it? This thing is so humble, so “values”-oriented, that eventhe Amish might watch, if they allowed themselves TV, and darn it ifthe first episode gave them reason to do so by recruiting one of theirown to participate: James Wolpert, a youngAmish-but-doesn’t-dress-Amish lad who “writes in his journal every day”(or so we were told in an on-screen graphic) and who plays in a coverband with a set list that includes naughty rock like “My Sharona.” Wolpertwas one of several contestants who were secretly nominated for the showby a teacher or parent and who received “surprise” visits from thejudges for a final vetting before being brought aboard. But my hunch isthat Wolpert’s candidacy was actually backed by some Amish chamber ofcommerce trying to promote a new image. “I am not the most well trainedsinger in the country,” reported Wolpert, “but I will definitely rockyou so hard.” We have so been put on notice.

Still, as a sucker for all things High School Musical and a card-carrying member of the 400 million, I’m in. And I live in hope thatmy pop culture crush Vanessa Hudgens will stop by for a “mentor visit.”So come back here every Monday for your mini-recap. I’ll be here. I might be diabetic from all the sweetness by the end, but I’ll be here.

High School Musical: Get In the Picture
  • Movie