Want to talk about an apparent act of genius in marketing, a total reinvention of the pop process? Think “American Idol” had taken the idea as far as it could go, to excess, even. Think again.
Yes, “American Idol” improved upon the way a star can be invented in the post-MTV world with grinding, repetitive shows that hatched new stars with the up--and-coming buzz by marketing them in a “Survivor”-like series of elimination rounds.
In the end, after a televised season that was more like a truncated baseball campaign with a glitzy, overexposed finale, you came up with a “star” who had yet to even record a single note of music, other than a promotional jingle or two. Once the show was complete, the winner of the “Idol” title was handed over to the big wig music producers, who are now, even as we speak, marketing a new generation of performers who mostly sing other people’s songs, thus making the idea of a “cover” song hip again.
Maybe it was somewhere during the rising appeal of long-haired and barefooted southern rock “rebel” Bo Bice, who placed second in the most recent “American Idol” pageant but changed the game all the same, that the genesis of the “Rock Star: INXS” show was born. Though it had less appeal and appeared to be an obvious copy cat, the show had one thing working for it “Idol” may never achieve: INXS was already a name-brand act. With a serious, proven backlog of material to perform. A huge, dedicated fan base that, even after the death of lead singer Michael Hutchence due toan apparent suicide on Nov. 22 1997, continued to live on in the form of an extensive and sophisted Webring of fan sites.
Yes, the band had lost a lot of momentum. The Australian acts best days appeared to be locked in the 1980s, despite recruiting ex-Noiseworks lead singer Jon Stevens in 2000 to attempt to replace Hutchence, who, at his best, was a phenomental frontman during the band’s heyday.
He was a hard act to follow. Even though the core of the rest of the band remained remarkably intact with the Farriss Brothers still at the helm in after 23 years of playing music together as INXS, something was missing.
Seven years after Hutchence’s death, the lead singer job for INXS was available again, like a for sale sign in front of the fabled mansions of post-New Wave, pre-alternative pop-rock. Enter the show, “Rock Star: INXS,” which included 15 contestants vying for the job last summer in an extended televised audition.
Fortune, a Canadian, was actually chosen in a controversial move for the band. To replace Hutchence at all and keep the band alive was rather like trying to replace a Mick Jagger or Bono. It tested the credibility. In fact, to seek a replacement under such tragic circumstances may remain anathema to many hardline fans of INXS’s legacy in Aussie-bred rock.
But bassist Garry Gary Beers believed all the signs were right to bring the mouthy, charismatic Fortune to the mic for another round on the road. As he recently told E-Online:
“At Michael’s funeral, it was a clear day. As we were putting the coffin into the hearse, there was a lightning strike ad defeaning thunder clap out of nowhere, and it poured rain as we drove.” Then, two years later, a sudden thunderclap struck again as they were scattering Hutchence’s ashes in the Himalayas. “Let’s put it this way,” E-Online reported last week, “if Michael’s spirit was against us, he would’ve made his voice clear during the auditions.”
If there has been any echoes of thunderclaps at all, it has been in the resurgent popularity of the band, which comes to Lincoln City’s 1,300-seat Chinook Winds Casino venue for two sold-out shows Jan. 20 - 21. According to Matthew Mingrone, marketing director for the casino, the booking staff took a shot at bringing the band to town for the second stop of its tour, just as the “reality show was in its final week.”
“We’ve always looked at different acts for the younger customers that haven’t been here in the past,” he said. But this was too good to pass up, a band with a popularity base going back to the 1980s, thus, appealing to the perfect demographic, adults in their 30s and 40s. “That’s a good core group for our casino,” he said. In a way usually reserved for the likes of Wayne Newton, announcement on Oct. 15 of the INXS shows here melted down the lines for reservation ticket sales in three days.
Thus proving INXS, too borrow a line from one of its songs, “New Sensation,” is now a view sensation.