Robin Antin, the “creator” of the Pussycat Dolls, is at it again. The success of “Don’t Cha” behind them, the Dolls (also known as PCD) now appear as fading showgirls whose flame burned bright and not long. Antin is undeterred by this irrelevance and has launched Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious with the aim of auditioning girls for a new group named… Girlicious.
The “Present” in the title is a function of branding. Antin went through this process once before, when last spring she launched a search for a new PCD member on Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll, also on The CW. Girlicious follows the same format, centered on the travails new girls face performing weekly for a group of judges, including Antin and her bitchy co-choreographer and sidekick Mikey Minden, who either ask them to stay for another week or hang up their fuchsia feather boas and go home.
Girlicious, if it gets off the ground, is granted the PCD brand, also attached to a Vegas casino and a clothing label. Antin describes Girlicious as younger and “more street” than PCD, targeting the lucrative tween demographic, but there appear to be few differences between the two groups except that Girlicious will have fewer members (three compared to PCD’s six).
The series begins tonight, after an apparently exhaustive search across America for girls (and they are always referred to as “girls”) who shake and shimmy through various semi-humiliating demonstrations of their talent. Tasked to “look hot” and parrot pop hits that showcase their singing, dancing, charisma, and “style,” the Girlicious girls are largely indistinguishable from one another.
A multiracial grab bag of reality show clichés, the contestants offer few new twists. They include a diplomat’s posh daughter, a lesbian, and a handful of scrappy underdogs who have battled various adversities (a father’s death, a rare heart disease, an overbearing mom on the fitness competition circuit, being 25 and therefore “too old” for Girlicious). All vow to fight on, hungry to sing and dance professionally. I don’t doubt the sincerity of these girls’ ambition or the real hardships in their lives, but the way the show packages their stories into one-dimensional sound bites reduces their impact.
Along with these sad stories, the show follows reality competition conventions by focusing on the occasional contestant’s showy maliciousness or trauma. Vixen Natalie refuses to lend another girl a pair of boots (!). Jenna is felled by extreme menstrual cramps that turn out to be something slightly more dramatic, resulting in a late-night emergency room visit, easily the most sensational event in a largely uneventful episode.
The premiere episode is also awkward in a couple of ways. First, the real star of the show is Antin. So heavily Botox-ed that she can hardly crack a smile, she seems fixed on using Girlicious to engage in self-promotion. She is repeatedly lauded, introduced and reintroduced by host Mark McGrath and flattered by contestants. Antin’s narcissistic antics, along with the heavy-handed product placement from Interscope/Geffen records (Geffen Chairman Ron Fair is a judge and Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine is an executive producer), frequently overshadow the competition.
Second, Antin’s version of libidinously tinged “empowerment” is rather hopelessly retro. The show makes the tired claim that by being sexually provocative, the girls are de facto feminists, setting some sort of example of women being both sensuous and smart. The problem is, most of the contestants come off as completely one-dimensional, defined more by their ability to look good in hot pants and heels than for appreciation of their personal performance “style,” a vague term of assessment in common use on the many model and designer and chef shows as well.
Indeed, the Girlicious format is nearly indistinguishable from nearly every other performance-based reality show. It’s a tarty trifle that highlights catty disagreements, clumsy cameos (Nelly Furtado appears on the premiere episode), and enough bad singing to fill a season of American Idol preview shows. Sometimes, such trashy business is entertaining, as when Natalie and her nemesis spar about the boot incident. More often, Girlicious is neither provocative nor fun.