NEW YORK (Billboard) - When a famous band loses a crucial member, should it replace that person? And is it a good idea to do so on TV?
Australian rock group INXS will find out when it searches for a new lead singer on the reality series tentatively titled "Rock Star," which CBS will air in mid-2005. The band's members, the show's viewers and judges will decide the winner.
Michael Hutchence, INXS' original lead singer, died by his own hand in a Sydney hotel room in 1997. In subsequent years, the band had guest singers (Jimmy Barnes and Terence Trent D'Arby) and an unsuccessful stint with a "permanent" lead singer, Jon Stevens, who quit in 2003 after just one year with the band.
Auditions for "Rock Star" will begin Jan. 20 in various international cities. (More information can be found at http://www.inxsrockstar.com.)
INXS, famed for such worldwide hits as "Need You Tonight" and "What You Need," plans to record and tour with the winner of the contest.
"Whoever the winner is has to be spectacular, because that person has got big shoes to fill," says House of Blues Concerts talent buyer Paola Palazzo. She has this touring recommendation for the new INXS lineup: "They should do 2,000-capacity venues to start. It's better to start small and then build momentum."
Palazzo believes that the successful track record of "Rock Star" executive producer Mark Burnett (who also executive-produces the hits "Survivor" and "The Apprentice") can help the show. "But they have to really make sure that they don't disrespect the fans and the legacy of Michael Hutchence."
Audience participation in the selection process will increase the chances of the show being a hit and of INXS getting a lucrative major-label deal, says Daylle Deanna Schwartz, author of "The Real Deal: How to Get Signed to a Record Label" and "Start and Run Your Own Record Label," both published by Billboard Books.
Schwartz notes, "This show could be very good for INXS' career, because it could bring them a whole new audience. 'American Idol' has shown that people love to feel they had a part in making an unknown person a star."
Could the INXS program be the start of a new trend for famous groups that want to find new members?
TLC will be doing a UPN reality show, "R U the Girl With T-Boz and Chilli," in which the group's surviving members choose a fan to perform with them in a one-off concert and record a song for a greatest-hits album (Tuned In: The Tube, Billboard, Dec. 11, 2004). The winner will not be a permanent replacement for Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, who died in a car accident in 2002.
With their reality shows, INXS and TLC risk ridicule and alienating die-hard fans, Schwartz says. But she believes that with a guaranteed audience of millions, it's a risk worth taking.
Palazzo adds, "At least these types of reality shows are showcasing real talent. The music industry needs a new business model right now, so why not shows like this?"