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A Star is Formulated
Chico Alexander

First off, I'll admit two things.

One, I don't like country music. I don't get it. Sure I know it fathered rock'n'roll with R&B, but that's it.

Second, I have never watched Nashville Star religiously. Usually I'll get the happenings from Gordon as he writes it up or it'll play in the waiting room at the hospital where I work. But from what I do gather, series three has been... well... interesting. I thought I could accurately describe what went on during the season using quotes from the 30 or 35 country standards I do know... but I can't. So you're getting just generalized quotes on the nature of reality.

"What is real? How do you define real? If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain."
-Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, "The Matrix"

As you are no doubt aware by now, the winner, Erika Jo Heriges, is about to graduate high school, if she hasn't done so already. She was one of about four or five singers who didn't look a day over 30. In fact, her prom date was third-place finisher Jody Evans, also a young'un himself. But this story isn't about him or the others. In fact, if you want to be abstract about it, this story isn't even about Erika. At least not in the centric sense.

This is more about comparisons, and how sometimes you have to be careful for what you wish, because you just may get it.

It's no secret that the third season of "Nashville Star" was quite different than the first two. After all, executive producer Ben Silverman wanted to make the changes to attract a younger demographic. Let's take a look at what exactly he did.

First, the host. Nancy O'Dell of "Access Hollywood" had some deep roots in the red-state audience of the show, as she was a beauty queen from South Carolina before making it big as a presenter. She hosted the first two seasons. Then came season three, and without so much as an explanation, she was out, and country-pop crossover LeAnn Rimes was in. I speculate age difference and name recognition factored into the equation somewhere.

Then there were the judges. Country-music insiders such as Robert Oermann, Charlie Robison, and Billy Greenwood? Gone. And in their place... Frontman for Poison Bret Michaels. Bret Michaels!? The same guy who gave the world "Every Rose Has Its Thorns"? Who'd've thought? Especially in an industry where outsiders, trendsetters and not-so-good-ol'-boys aren't looked upon too kindly?

And in the end, we have winners. Season one: Buddy Jewell. Season two: Brad Cotter. Both established mature men. And then there's Erika, who joins the ranks at a barely-legal 18.

Sure this was all procedural, and in the world of reality TV, procedurals are par for the course. People come. People go. It's only business. Up until editing, of course. In the case of reality competition, the real business is not in creating the contest, but creating the story behind it. You don't believe me? Check the credits of your favorite reality TV program and look for "story editor". Essentially, a glorified use of the title "writer".

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it."
-Tommy Lee Jones as Kay, "Men in Black"

Picture this: there are 168 hours in one week. If you discount sleeping, that leaves 112 hours. Eating bumps it down to at least 81. And since this is a performance-oriented production, let's go ahead and knock out the hour that the show's on every week. Now in 80 hours, you could see the complete story, but we don't have 80 hours. We only get a few interstitials between performances in a 45-minute show.

"How to squeeze 80 hours of week-life into 40 minutes?"
"Hmm... we could look for traits and create a character around those traits."
"Sounds good. Coffee?"
"No thanks, I'm trying to quit."

And so the trial begins to create make-believe from realism. We have Justin David as the slacker who never brings his A-game. We have Tamika Tyler as the vanguard of a so-called old-versus-young split. We have Jenny Farrell as the... okay, so that was real. That was so real...

That wouldn't be a problem in and of itself if we were talking, say, a series in which the participants are in control of their own destinies ("Amazing Race," probably the best example you can think of). But when you have to rely on public voting to determine the outcome, then you have a problem, because there's that possibility that the story editor, under authority of the powers that be, could create a situation where the public can vote out someone to "add to the drama."

Hell, it worked with the first season of "Big Brother." It just worked poorly.

Therein lies the rub. If you are a story editor on a show like "Nashville Star", you're essentially shaping the outcome... at best. At worst, you're committing a federal felony by rigging a game show.

Why fix what wasn't broken to begin with? One word: demographics. The execs at USA have notoriously noted that the average age for "Nashville Star" has been going up. Bad if you're in the business to make a profit at the end of the day at the whims of advertisers. So as long as money is your incentive (and you get that), some jaded kid gets to live the life of a country superstar (and you get that), and everyone's okay with it (of course you get that), who bloody cares what's real and what's not?

Well, I know of a few people...

"The truth is kept secret, swept under the rug.
If you never know truth, then you never know love.
Where's the love, y'all? I don't know.
Where's the truth, y'all? I don't know."
-Black Eyed Peas

Chico Alexander is really curious as to where, indeed, the love is and who is this man in black anyway. He can be reached at

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