Reviews

Fame

Michael Abernethy

Through these auditions, viewers are introduced to the one element that distinguishes Fame from similar series -- compassion.


Fame

Airtime: Wednesdays 8pm ET; re-airings on Bravo
Cast: Joey Fatone
Network: NBC
Amazon

I am sick of American Idol. I'm sick of hearing about it, reading about it, seeing ads for it, opening up USA Today to see the entire "Life" section devoted to what happened on last night's episode, turning on Entertainment Tonight to be subjected to nightly American Idol background stories, and every day hearing tidbits about Kelly, Justin, Rueben, Clay, Ryan, and, most of all, Simon. I don't care if Clay got ripped off or if Kelly's CD has been bought by every person in the world except myself. I admit that the four finalists from the first two seasons are all exceptional singers, but they are just that -- singers, not saviors.

What bothers me most about American Idol is the apparent glee that so many people take in watching people embarrass themselves. One of the show's main draws is Simon Cowell, who doesn't have a successful day at work unless he has brought someone to the brink of tears. He's unnecessarily harsh on the good contestants, and he's just cruel to the bad ones. And from what I've gathered, one of the show's most popular features are clips of those contestants who, bless their little hearts for trying, aren't ever going to be stars, not even at the neighborhood dinner theater. The thrill lies in watching these folks fall flat on their faces, so Simon can pounce.

Granted, American Idol isn't the only show to feature this format. Talent-driven game shows have been popular since Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts in the early '50s, but never before has the genre been such a force in tv programming. Now, we can watch people stumble or fly in their attempts to be America's next big country-western star, junior singer, senior performer, comedian, model, director, screenwriter, and sex god or goddess. Not all of these shows feature scathing critiques, although several do, but each makes a point of showing the auditions of the really bad contestants so we can laugh at their foolish dreams.

Surprisingly, perhaps, NBC's new talent show, Fame, does not solicit my disdain. It doesn't for one reason: Debbie Allen, the respected director, producer, actress, dancer, and choreographer. Her association with the concept of Fame dates back to the 1980 feature film of the same name, in which she played the dance instructor at Manhattan's School for the Performing Arts. She reprised the role in the television series based on the film, where she also took on the jobs of choreographer and, occasionally, director. And now, she's the driving force behind Fame-as-reality-tv.

Allen says she's on a quest to find a "triple threat," a singer-dancer-personality. The series' two-hour premiere focused its first hour on Allen's auditions in four major cities throughout the United States. Through these auditions, viewers are introduced to the one element that distinguishes Fame from similar series -- compassion.

Allen is not about denigrating or humiliating those who appear before her. She doesn't insult or ridicule. Instead, she focuses on building confidence in her young subjects. Even those whose auditions were atrocious didn't hear derision from Allen, although she was never dishonest and didn't give contestants false hope. She delivered her comments with a smile or a laugh, and shared with contenders what they already knew -- they just didn't have it. It's hard to imagine that anyone out of the thousands who auditioned left feeling like he or she was wrong for having tried.

Allen's handling of the contestants is best exemplified by her interaction with a 16-year-old girl named Kim. Unable to do the dance steps that a group of competitors had just been taught, Kim walked off the stage quietly and returned to her seat in the auditorium. Allen stopped the others, then coaxed the girl to dry her eyes and get back on the stage. By the time Allen was finished, not only did Kim return, but the other contestants were cheering for her and shouting her name. Kim didn't make the cut, but she undoubtedly was prouder of herself when she left than she would have been had she been in the room with Simon Cowell.

Allen again demonstrated people skills during auditions in Chicago, the third set. During one group's dance routine, she singled out one young lady and asked, "Where do I know you from? Wait. You auditioned for me in New York, didn't you?" After seeing hundreds of contestants, the fact that Allen remembered her made the young woman feel special, and on this occasion, she did make the cut, which she hadn't done previously.

Allen encourages her contestants all the way to their performances in the finals. The 24 finalists in this first episode were sent to Allen's dance studio for intensive training and rehearsal. She was tough and precise, and worked diligently to turn those whose specialty was singing into dancers and vice versa, relying along the way on a variety of pep talks. Still, Allen doesn't come across as a cheerleader. She is always professional, but clearly believes in showing young people their potential, if not in the entertainment field, then in life. Once each contestant makes his or her finals appearance, Allen is on stage with words of praise and congratulations.

For all the good that Allen brings, she is not the series' focal point. It's the contestants. The finalists are all competent, but pretty much interchangeable with the contestants from Star Search or Idol, aspiring performers who have yet to learn that good music has nuances and that belting out every note or running the scales may not be the best approach to every song.

And while their dancing is serviceable, a few of them could use some pointers from host Joey Fatone, the most energetic dancer in 'NSync. Here he's agreeable, although at times, it is clear that this sort of gig is new to him. This is most obvious in his bantering with the judges -- manager Johnny Wright, singer Carnie Wilson, and DJ JoJo Wright, who are all tactful and honest in their appraisals of the contestants. Still, Allen is the highlight. Her energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and she is the reason I sat through all two hours of the premiere, and why I returned this week for the second episode.

To be honest, it really doesn't matter to me who wins, although some of the contestants are obviously more deserving than others. If you are drawn to talent game shows to evaluate potential new stars, then Fame may be of interest. If you are drawn to such shows to laugh at the foolishness of folks in over their heads, Fame is definitely not for you. But if you would like to spend part of your summer with a woman who is a positive role model for kids and adults, someone who knows the value of positive reinforcement and how far a few kind words can carry a soul, then spending your Wednesday evenings with Debbie Allen is a must.

Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.