To be or Not to be Famous: Vh1’s ‘Confessions of a Teen Idol’

I know you want it but are afraid to admit.  You can tell me.  I won’t tell anyone.  I think I want it too.  Some, not a lot.  Just enough to get by but not too much so that it gets in the way.  Don’t act like you don’t know what I am talking about…Fame, silly.  I understand once you’ve had it — the red carpet moments, the VIP treatment,  your name on everyone’s lips — you forever crave it like a powerful drug.  And once you have lost “it” — fame — you, like the addict you have become, will strive to get “it” — that illusive “it” — back.

Such is the challenge facing the participants in the VH1 reality series, Confessions of a Teen Idol (Sundays, 8 p.m. EASTERN). These seven former teen idols’ notoriety ranges from the more obscure represented by Jeremy Jackson, who played David Hasselhoff’s son on Baywatch to the more well known of Christopher Atkins, who romped on a deserted isle with Brooke Shields in the teen movie classic, Blue Lagoon. Now that fame has come and gone, these men have to figure out if they want it and what they have to do to get it back.

Assisting them in this quest are Cooper Lawrence, a psychology expert who specializes in celebrity (Forget about teen spirit. Smells like bullshit to me.), and executive producers, Jason Hervey (The Wonder Years) and Scot Baio (Charles in Charge, Happy Days and most recently, Scott Baio is 46 and Pregnant).

Like the typical reality show along the lines of  MTV’s From G’s to Gents and  Vh1’s (Name that) Charm School, the guys are given tasks in which to participate such as auditioning for a Aussie shampoo commercial and attending a faux “red carpet’ event.  They also have regular group sessions with Cooper who allows them to vent their feelings about the tasks — which, at times, can be both humiliating and illuminating — while she schools them on the current fame game.

One task, which was particularly painful to watch, was the focus group.  In one room, 12 women were asked to view both old images of the teen idols and images reflecting how they look today.  Led my a moderator, they were instructed to comment on both.  All the while, the men, unbeknown to the women, sat in an adjoining room and watched the women’s reactions.  And those broads ripped those poor guys new ones.  Comments included:  “…too big to be sexy….looks like an overpuffed mattress” (said of Billy Hufsey, former of Fame); “…looked like a character on Prison Break” (said of Jaime Walters, formerly of Beverly Hills 90210);  “…scary looking…(looks like) a rapist, drug addict” (said of Jeremy Jackson, who ironically, is a recovered addict). Only Christopher Atkins received positive responses, the women likening him to Robert Redford.

Needless to say, the former teen idols’ confidence was shaken leading them to question, yet again, if the pursuit of fame was worth it. And, as always, Cooper reassured them that it was as she noted that in today’s fame game, the audience has the power.  It’s all about image. One great picture on the red carpet, they are told, can grab the attention of producers and/or casting agents who could call them in to audition for what could be the opportunity of a lifetime.

When I heard about the premise of this show, I thought there was going to be a whole lot of hot mess brewing — of the ass whopping, bed hopping, drunken stupor type. But not so.  The men, who seem to be more emotionally fragile than they should be, are respectful of themselves and supportive of one another.  And the show serves a study in what we, as a nation, have become — a group of fame obsessed souls.  Fame, in all of its perverted forms, from sex tape sensations (like the show’s Jeremy Jackson) to YouTube warblers, has become both the means to the end and the end itself.  It is the fastest way to getting noticed by someone, by anyone.

“Without fame, who cares? ” said Scott Baio during one contentious group session. “Fame is not a bad word…The more famous I got the more choices I had [to do with work I wanted]”

Added Cooper, “Plenty of great actors are out there you haven’t heard….You have to be good actor AND do everything to get you out there.”

The downside to today’s quest for fame is that the often spoke of 15 minutes has now become 15 seconds.  If the men recapture “fame”, it will be more ephemeral than before. Fame ain’t what it used to be.  For example, TyTy Bank’s  America’s Top Model proteges have their time in the spotlight while on the show and shortly thereafter. But no girl has ever gone on to become the next top model along the lines of a Gisele Bundchen, a Heidi Klum or even TyTy herself.  And the most successful American Idolers have not been the winners but 7th place finisher, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and 4th place finisher, multiplatinum selling rocker Chris Daughtry.

In addition to the new fame being fleeting, it is also not as far reaching. The truth is, in fact, most celebrity, with rare exceptions (Brangelina, Brit Brit, Hohan), is of the mirco sort because of the fragmented nature of the media landscape. No one person is known by everyone, everywhere.

Think about this:  I asked my public relations class, a group of hip 20-somethings about Rachel Maddow, the Sapphic darling of the liberal media, star MSNBC’s  The Rachel Maddow Show and clone of pundit, Keith (Lurch) Olbermann, if they had heard of her. Only 3 out of the 25 students raised their hands. And no one had ever watched her show or Keef’s.

Those who did know Maddow knew her from her recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Now, if you had judged Maddow’s notoriety by the amount of press that she has gotten the past  3-4 months, you would have been led to believe that she was a national sensation, the name on everyone’s lips.  Nope.  That’s not it. Conversely, everyone knew who CNN’s Anderson Cooper was and could name all of the housemates on MTV’s The Real World: Brooklyn.

Interesting thing about Anderson Cooper: It is his secrecy/mystery that intrigues us.  The more coy he is about the details of his private life, the fewer and more controlled interviews he grants, the more we like it. It’s the “Is or isn’t he?” game played to perfection. Go figure.

As for me (you should know by now it’s always about me), do I want fame?  Yes, and no.  I do want my reach to be broader. But more importantly, I want to be respected for the contributions I make to the society. And if I can’t get that lofty stuff, a few trips down the red carpet will have to suffice.

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