Second helpings 

Well, I thought it was a big deal, anyway. O-Town: two parts "Larger Than Life," three parts "Bye Bye Bye" and not a hint of that pesky "artistic freedom," resurrected for Easter weekend with the return last Friday of "Making the Band!" Send in the clowns!

; ;

Naturally, I got on the horn with straight-haired Pepsi publicist Jennifer and inquired of her evening plans.

"I'm going to the beach," she simpered. "I'll watch it there."

"But I'm closer to Ashley than ever," I begged. "Leave the beach, come watch it with me!"

"Did he break up with his girlfriend?"


Next try, straight-haired Planet Hollywood publicist Christy. Could we watch the show over at Disney's peripheral celeb machine?

"No, we're not watching it here."

It ends up being a suburban couch nonevent with folk who don't even give a damn.

"O-Town are no A-Teens," one smarms with an air of resentment. Indeed.

So there I was for the broadcast re-launch that they said would never happen. They spent the morning in the presence of Diane Sawyer's lazy giggle, the afternoon with Carson Daly's gut, and now it was time to step back a few months (thanks to television editing) and see what we missed. As their current radio drip goes, "All, or Nothing at All"?

"That was the second time we had to prove ourselves as artists," artful dodger Jacob of the local "Liquid Dream"-ers told the camera, as Mach 2 of O-Town's oddly engaging McCareer kicks into full hip-swing right there on ABC. He's talking about the "legendary" flub at the "high-profile" Miss America pageant last year, and before I can even tackle that one, I'm trying to figure out when the first time was. Or, more likely, when Ashley Parker Angel's first time was.

Don't get me wrong. I love me some O-Town. Um, we go way back.

In the year of our Lord 1999, when I was a poor, rhythm-free wildebeest transplanted to the unlikely landscape of Hackensack, N.J. (don't ask, I won't tell), I caught sulfuric wind of Lou Pearlman's latest enterprise: a mixing of reality television and the lack-of-real-talent boy-band formula for an ABC prance-fest for the post-"Full House," Friday-night, latchkey-girl set. I immediately lost my keys (and gained a few hyphens). I had to be part of it.

Some speculation as to whether I would "actually" audition or "virtually" pretend to ended when I discovered that I was too old. So I set out to penetrate (!) the casting process, making phone friends with a Trans Con publicist and keeping tabs on his cross-country chubby chase with Big Poppa Pearlman. Oh, the places they went. Oh, the boys they exploited. Oh, the phone calls they avoided. All my attempts for a Pearlman one-on-one soon found their dissolution somewhere in the pop ether, but that was OK. I got to talk to better people.

; ;

I struggled through the band's first season like the rest of the training-bra crowd, watching the fates scatter like an XFL homecoming parade and wondering whether outside-in was really the best way to conquer the music world. I felt bad for the boys who, once whittled down to five, fast became four and had to hire on the toothy Dan Miller to fill hunky Hawaiian Ikeka's liberated shoes. I met them at numerous appearances and befriended their publicity machine, as self-loathing hacks often do.

; ;

"Ashley, Billy's your biggest fan," arched Trans Con publicity goddess Stephanie Jones in the parking lot outside a Bithlo Wal-Mart.

I blushed. But not as much as he did.

At their "Making the Fan" exercise, where Planet Hollywood hosted 100 of their biggest fans and their requisite loudest teen-love paeans -- the worst three hours of my life -- an entire pack of prematurely slutty crop-tops formed a chant of my name, forcing even Pearlman to look over and say, "Who?" That was the second time I had to prove my humility. I can't remember the first.

I thought a second season seemed like a good idea. I figured I might be on an episode or two (um, I still might). But watching the gripes of a band already signed to a record label, and watching them watch themselves, feels strangely akin to looking into a dirty mirror reflecting a dirty mirror in one of those long virtual tunnels that annoyed you as a child. If viability was the first season's goal, sympathy seems to be the second's. And after standing in sweat at Bithlo Wal-Marts and drowning in tears at Planet Hollywood, I haven't got any left. Nobody else does, either. The show garnered its lowest rating ever with its second-season debut.

"Everyone's just gotten a lot smarter," observed punchy Erik.

Maybe they have.

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