The savvy demographic Mok describes is a lot like the basketball fans who obsessively watch the NBA draft. It's more than the audience's perceived curiosity about the shape of music or sports to come that drives television's packaging of what used to be a closed negotiation. There's an unflattering hint of self-congratulation visible on ESPN during the draft -- and on Making the Band and its distaff cousin, the WB's Pop Stars. The last, which concluded this spring with the unveiling of girl group Eden's Crush, isn't really a document of how to become a singing star; it's backroom synergy between the music and television arms of AOL/ Time Warner marketed as Cinderella-story entertainment.
In the same Time article, Eden's Crush's Maile Misajon responded to a question about the group's contract (which even the average "sophisticated" young music fan couldn't decipher without a phalanx of lawyers, an advantage the fledgling stars didn't have, either) this way: "I would really hate to answer that question. I'd probably go in a direction I didn't want to go." Like toward the unemployment office or over to UPN.
In conversation, Misajon, at 25 the oldest of the Eden's Crush glass-slipper recipients, brightly deflects any attempt to blow the fairy dust off the quintet's tale. "I loved filming the show," she says from the Eden's Crush bus, which is winding through Cleveland to a photo op at a children's hospital. "We had laughs and cries and fights, which they couldn't capture all of, but there was never anything like conflict. We learned about being in the public eye. I miss the crew and production company taking care of us. It was our TV show. Some of the girls were relieved when the show was over, but I was bummed."
Misajon and the other "girls" -- Rosanna Tavarez, Ana Maria Lombo, Nicole Scherzinger and Ivette Sosa -- have more in common with your average Real World cast member than with Britney Spears. (The youngest is 22.) Each auditioned for Pop Stars with a nebulous desire to make it in showbiz rather than an exclusive ambition to sing. The dominant college major among them is theater; Tavarez stopped just shy of getting a master's of fine arts in dance degree from Ohio State. Most of them had performed professionally before folding their talents into Eden's Crush. But being on television as a hopeful beats a steady backup gig for Julio Iglesias Jr. (Lombo's former gig), right?
"There's tons of pressure," Misajon says. "But we try to do a good job, the best we can do." (Quotes from Eden's Crush members wouldn't sound out of place on ESPN.) "We try to be as tight as we can be and get out there and sell records. We want people to buy our album."
The extent to which Eden's Crush can claim its debut disc as its own is minimal. A visit to the Pop Stars Web site reveals an emphasis on the star-making process, not the new stars. There are makeup tips, a smug advice column from a voice coach and notes on how to prepare for a singing and dancing audition such as the one the WB requires for its next season of Pop Stars. It takes a couple of clicks to get to the women and their rote biographies; it's easier -- and more interesting -- to check out interviews with the teams of producers and songwriters hired to cobble together the album.
"When we went in the studio," Misajon says, "we were given demos a couple of days in advance. We'd hear them and make them our own, do what we wanted to do. What came out was a combination of five different voices molding together. It's a cool process. But there's a lot of leaving it in the hands of the producers." Misajon says the five recorded only individually, a fact the producers corroborate on the Web site by explaining that each woman sang the songs "top to bottom four or five times," with the results heavily edited and "corrected" for pitch. Which means the women endured a rigorous rehearsal schedule -- six hours a day for two and a half weeks -- before their first promotional tour last month, having to learn the songs again as constructed by the studio Drs. Frankenstein.
"It's really hard to get everybody in the studio doing different takes of everything," Misajon says, implying that the challenge of physical proximity alone prevented a more seamless approach to recording.
You can't blame the producers and writers behind the album (there aren't any musicians to blame -- most of the disc was programmed by some combination of writer and producer) for achieving a commercial sound by any means necessary. Hiring David Foster alone must have cost a small fortune. (Foster was a judge on the show and had a hand in the album.) The money trail is evident looking at the disc's cover and sleeve, which shows the five women dressed the same throughout. (Even O-Town probably got two photo shoots.) Though the show was green-lighted with a guaranteed record for the resulting group -- an expensive bit of insurance -- success in a fickle marketplace can never be taken for granted. Fortunately for Eden's Crush, no Britney Spears album is expected until September, leaving a gaping hole on the charts. So far, the single "Get Over Yourself" has filled that hole, but the album's other tracks are less spontaneous -- and less interesting -- than a Caribbean cruise with Kathie Lee Gifford.
Misajon says she writes lyrics and is learning piano and that two other Crushers have taken up guitar. "By the time we headline, we'll have our own band and more input in the recording," she promises, "as soon as we get the go-ahead for the next album." But the label isn't paying for their lessons -- or, judging from Misajon's relatively downbeat tone, even encouraging them. The money is being spent on promoting the group and the album like a cure for cancer. A considerable payroll balances on the quintet -- hairdressers, makeup artists, engineers, publicists. A lot of people are depending on that uncertain second disc.
"I think we have two audiences. Maybe more. Maybe tons of audiences, actually," Misajon contends. "A TV show was built around us, but we did not know we'd gain fans from people who aren't just normal music fans but TV fans. Basically, we have to establish a new fanbase. All those TV fans bought the album, but we want a huge variety of people to buy the album."
Life for Eden's Crush will be simple if every fan of the show picks up a copy of the disc. Pop Stars was one of the WB's highest-rated programs, which still puts it well below Nielsen gold. But a pathetic network TV audience still comprises millions of consumer faces (in Pop Stars' case, about four million to seven million -- better than most of MTV's programming draws), and making the show was cheap compared with producing episodic drama or comedy.
The group has inaccurately been compared with The Monkees, whose musical career also stemmed from a television show. The women have said they're flattered at the thought, which shows how little they understand music history or the ways critics find to deride those of dubious talent. But what makes the claim false isn't that The Monkees eventually clamored for the right to play and write their own songs, or even that the songs they didn't write were penned by the venerable likes of Neil Diamond and the team of Boyce and Hart. The Monkees capitalized on a musical moment -- the British Invasion -- to popularize a comedy program. Pop Stars is a product of the reality-TV craze that just happens to feature musicians. There were few surprises in seeing how pure product is manufactured; the reality part will be the moment the members of Eden's Crush face their product's expendability.