Mystify Me – Rock Star: INXS

In excessSpangles, top hats, affected shimmying – these are not rock ‘n’ roll items. But they are in the bright orange world of the CBS summer reality laugher “Rock Star: INXS.” 14 vocalists of various midline and also-ran renown – the former frontwoman of 90s alt rockers Joydrop, for example, or a commune-raised hippy blues howler who I swear was on “Big Brother” once – these are what the remaining members of INXS have to choose from. One will be their new lead singer, picked to replace the infamously deceased Michael Hutchence (Suicide? Well…), who on the show is always spoken of with reverence and then a pause. Yes, the man died prematurely. But to “Rock Star” he’s an intersecting apparition of Jesus and Jim Morrison. If host Brooke Burke had a 40, she’d pour a little out on her Edmundo Castillos. The godhead eulogizing of Hutchence and the contestants’ high wattage rock affectations (expect plenty of mascara abuse and no shirt/vest combos) are part of the show’s overplayed sense. But figure in the usual amounts of forced reality TV drama – “Have you ever heard of nodules?” one hopeful asks another with vindictive concern in her eyes – and it’s difficult to see how any of this will land INXS a legitimate lead vocalist. Still, in the fallows of summertime programming, “Rock Star” is better than a “Two and a Half Men” marathon.

On the show, the hopefuls perform obvious classic rock and alternative era nuggets for a crowd of busty ringers seemingly imported from the “Hit Me Baby” set. They SCREAM with rabid enthusiasm for each contestant – it’s just like the adulation for, say, Glass Tiger on “Hit Me Baby,” and just as suspect. Burke appears periodically in curvy fringe to say things like “That rocked,” “This guy rocks,” and “Are you ready to rock?,” and INXS themselves sit on a raised platform out in the room, which resembles a rock club version of Jabba’s lair on Tatooine. They observe the contestants’ performances with the house band, who play with the precision and lack of soul unique to studio professionals, and after each abbreviated version of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” advise with the usual “Watch your pitch” Randy Jacksonisms.

There’s always a mansion in reality TV, and “Rock Star” is no different. Between performances the gaggle of five o’clock shadows and exposed bra straps retire to a cavernous Spanish-style manse complete with hot tubs, drama nooks, and a view of the Hollywood Hills. They’re musicians, so acoustic guitars come out and “jam sessions” ensue; there are hugs and handshakes, but it’s creepy because you know 90% of these types will get the boot soon enough. Then again, they’re all part of the desperation fraternity (“Didn’t I see you at the “Star Search” audition?”), so some mutual respect is expected. “Rock Star” also allows viewers a vote, though it stresses that INXS will make the final decision. No word on whether exec producer Mark Burnett has been installed alongside the Farriss brothers and Kirk Pengilly’s moustache as a tambourine player/”consultant.”

And then there’s Dave Navarro. The Jane’s Addiction and RHCP guitar wailer acts as an emissary from the land of rock and articulated facial hair, helping along the contestants and making weird reactive comments to their performances like (holding up a tattooed paw) “See this? Chills, sugar, chills.” He’s kind of like Paula, only shirtless. Navarro’s a cartoon, but there’s something likable about him, too. It’s the same quality that saved his MTV show with wife Carmen Electra; it’s the “I know this is bullshit but fuck it” wink that catatonic inkblot Travis Barker never had on “Meet the Barkers.”

The guys in INXS seem sincere about this. And in the early going (the third episode airs tonight) Jordis and Brandon have the most potential behind the posturing. Her voice is effortlessly powerful, and he actually sounds a little like Hutchence. But all the contestants sing with an amplified gusto that’s out of phase with rock and roll in the 21st century. They flail wildly; they consult the stage moves manual backstage. In episode two Jessica – a blond everygirl from Chicago – actually did the running skip/shoulder shuffle combo, and a catwalk provides the dudes with ample opportunity for pelvic swagger. It’s like the producers want a general rock aesthetic, a black leather reaction to the hammy sugar of “American Idol.” Problem is, the overstated performances and shoehorned-in reality melodrama always remind us of the show’s two-dimensionality. We don’t really care who wins; the contestants are just Harlows or Soulcrackers to us, flickersticking their way through another heavyhanded reality showdown. And INXS has to live with the consequences. Good luck with all that. “Rock Star: INXS” – with this kind of sickening guilty pleasure, it’s hard to believe we need a place called hell.


10 thoughts on “Mystify Me – Rock Star: INXS”

  1. Still, in the fallows of summertime programming, “Rock Star” is better than a “Two and a Half Men” marathon.

    while not the greatest show on the tube,theres no way two and a half men is worse than a bunch of tools trying to replace a deceased singer in a band that was basically a wash up when michael hutchence was alive

  2. Dave Navarro is a nice guy, but he pretty much ruins any band he associates with, so some of that magic is sure to rub off on INXS.

    And I guess Johnny doesn’t like Charlie Sheen. Fuck you man.

  3. Yeah, Dave really ruined Jane’s Addiction, didn’t he Billy? I mean, I guess helming the guitar for 3 of the greatest rock albums of all time just proves how much he sucks, right genius?

  4. Ok, well, I don’t like Jane’s Addiction. Get over it. There’s no reason you have to stop listening to Strays becuase of my opinion.

    And damn straight I am a genuis.

  5. I’m still going to fight anyone who claims “Shabooh Shoobah” and “The Swing” were the work of minimal talent Aussies with a penchant for good looks. The fact is that every Inxs song was co-written by a member still alive, and this reality show serves as a bitter attempt to demonstrate their abilities. Hutchence provided them with a reason for the camera and record player to focus. “Rock Star” gives us a reason to get even more defensive about how good a band they actually were. I’m confident the paychecks from CBS is more new revenue they’ve made collectively since “Welcome To Wherever You Are,” but I’ll be damned if it’ll help with catalog sales, even with all of the Hutchence glorification.

    The disappointing thing about this is having a little bit of understanding of Inxs’ history. The band, Michael especially, would often cite the influence of down under punk/diy (Nick Cave’s Birthday Party is an example) as a reason for doing music. A quarter century later, it seems obvious the reason for doing it now is a paycheck. “Everybody’s down on their knees” takes a whole new meaning.

  6. Go ahead, watch this show. But if this abomination miraculously gets better ratings than Hogan’s Heroes reruns, get ready for the Summer 2006 search for a new douche to replace the dead guy out of Milli Vanilli.

  7. How could you say that about Two and a Half Men. Is it your connection with Dennis Richards or what? I mean, like, what the? Mother!!

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