[Paleopsych] 'Starlet': A Peek at the System in School for Starlets
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Arts > Television > TV Weekend | 'Starlet': A Peek
at the System in School for Starlets
March 4, 2005
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
"The Starlet," a WB reality show that applies the "American Idol"
formula to would-be Hollywood actresses, begins with a cautionary
face: the masklike visage of Faye Dunaway, eyes pulled so tight and
jaw so taut that she can show expression only through her voice.
Luckily, it is still a fine instrument. When Ms. Dunaway eliminates a
contestant in the climactic "You're fired" moment of each episode, she
lets the timbre fall into a smoky, menacing whisper. "Don't call us,"
she says. "We'll call you."
The fleeting nature of beauty and stardom is the subliminal lesson in
a show that purports to groom young actresses for Hollywood: lilies
that fester end up as talent judges on WB or the butt of Showtime's
"Fat Actress" reality show.
The young women live together in a Hollywood mansionette that once was
home to Marilyn Monroe; the winner of each round receives a gold
statuette and the right to sleep in the "diva" room, an opulent master
bedroom and boudoir. The last one standing after all the coaching and
screen tests wins a management contract, a WB talent deal and a role
on the WB series "One Tree Hill."
But the elimination process is the real role of a lifetime. The show's
creators have skillfully fashioned a pedestrian talent show into a
harrowing contest that blends the gauzy melodrama of "Stage Door" with
the brutality of "Platoon."
Most shrewdly, the producers cast 10 young women who all bear a strong
resemblance to well-known actresses. Mercedes, 24, is a delicate
brunette who could pass for a young Teri Hatcher. Andria, 24, a perky
blond former Miss Teen Texas, is a Reese Witherspoon wannabe, and
spunky Courtney, also 24, has the short red hair and puffy lips of
Molly Ringwald in her Brat Pack days. It's a handy Hollywood mnemonic
device: agents hitch their unknown clients to the celebrities they
look somewhat like.
The only person who looks like absolutely no one, not even her father,
Robert Wagner, is the master of ceremonies, Katie Wagner, a television
entertainment reporter with the stiff improbably blond hair,
snow-white teeth and waxy, factory-cut features of a cosmetic makeover
"Starlet" is not a cynical, malicious Fox show, however. WB is a cable
network that caters to young people. The show casts the contestants'
Eve Harrington fever as a universal quest - and even a noble one. In
the introduction, as grainy images of a small child bowing onstage in
a ballet tutu fill the screen, a narrator intones, "Every girl dreams
of becoming a star." Suddenly, the images shift to movie stars like
Scarlett Johansson and Uma Thurman sashaying down a red carpet as
their fans scream with delight.
The young women express soaring ambition. Donna, a 20-year-old
African-American model (the young Tyra Banks), tells the camera,
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, and there never was, that I
will be famous."
Cecile, 20, a tall South African blonde (the young Charlize Theron),
is even bolder. "I've always thought of myself as larger than life,"
she says serenely. "I've always known I was going to be a legend."
Some of them also have poignant up-from-the-trailer-park stories.
Michelynne, 18 (Keri Russell in the first season of "Felicity"), was
raised in poverty by a single mother and recalls a childhood Christmas
when her presents came from the Salvation Army.
Those painful memories come in handy when the contestants are sent to
the Hollywood acting coach Bobbie Shaw Chance (a bosomy Konstantin
Stanislavski) to learn the method for tapping into their emotions. She
gets them started by pointing to a seat in her studio and saying, "By
the way, you are sitting where Brad sat."
Ms. Shaw Chance urges students to focus on more than their looks. "Its
very easy to be a road company Pamela Anderson," she says sternly. "If
that's what you want."
But their acting skills are put to a preliminary test by having to
recite two lines from a classic - a scene from "The Bodyguard." All of
them have to mimic Whitney Houston berating Kevin Costner. "I do what
I want when I want," is one line. The other is: " You work here. You
work for me."
Ms. Dunaway has two other judges on her panel, Joseph Middleton, a
casting director ("Legally Blonde"), and the actress Vivica A. Fox
("Independence Day"), and their deliberations provide a fascinating
peek at the Hollywood system.
In front of the contestants, the judges talk a lot about craft and
technique and hard work. When they are among themselves, they focus on
other things to narrow the selection. "I would like to tone down that
blue eye shadow," Ms. Fox says in disgust after one of the contestants
recites her lines.
She lifts her hands to her eyelids. "Blend," she says. "Blend." The
girl is unanimously eliminated.
Ms. Dunaway has higher standards, and is just as tough. "This is not
the Paris Hilton school of acting," she tells one teary also-ran. But
when a contestant turns defensive and talks back to Ms. Dunaway, Ms.
Fox leaps to the star's defense and tears the upstart's impudence to
shreds. "That is a legend you are speaking to," Ms. Fox says sharply.
"Are you listening? You have talent, but there is an arrogance that
comes from you that, boy, is such a turnoff to me."
"The Starlet" has been packaged as a vehicle for discovering the next
Julia Roberts or Hilary Swank, but the real talent lurks behind the
Mike Fleiss, who cut his teeth on "The Bachelor" and, most recently,
"The Will," teamed up with the comedian and producer Jamie Kennedy
("The Jamie Kennedy Experiment"). Together they have concocted the
perfect reality show for the age of celebrity and instant
gratification - the Schwab's overnight discovery myth as reality show.
WB, Sunday night at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time.
Mike Fleiss, Jamie Kennedy, executive producers; Ellen Rapoport, Josh
Etting and Scott Einziger, co-executive producers. Next Entertainment
Studios in association with Telepictures Productions.
WITH: Katie Wagner, host; Faye Dunaway, Joseph Middleton, Vivica A.
Fox as the experts.
Correction: March 5, 2005, Saturday:
The TV Weekend column yesterday, about "The Starlet," referred to the
WB network incorrectly. It is a broadcast network, not cable.
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