Last summer, rock 'n' roll made a comeback in network prime time with CBS' reality series "Rock Star: INXS," in which singers competed to front the Australian band INXS. After a slow start, it gained ratings momentum, leading to the inevitable question, "Which band next time?"
But, as in such other Mark Burnett Productions shows as "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," it was time for a format shake-up. This summer, instead of an established band seeking a lead singer, there are established musicians from other bands searching for the right man or woman who will help them become an entirely new entity.
On Wednesday, July 5, CBS premieres "Rock Star: Supernova," followed by a second airing the next day, Thursday, July 6. The following week, the series settles into its regular time slots on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Returning are co-hosts Dave Navarro (now an executive producer) and Brooke Burke. The musicians in question are former Guns N' Roses guitarist Gilby Clark, Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee (also an executive producer, the originator of the "Supernova" name and the veteran of his own NBC reality series, "Tommy Lee Goes to College") and Metallica bassist Jason Newsted.
"I always like doing new s***," Lee says. "I've done it for how many f***ing years already? I need to wake up in the morning and have something fresh, a new canvas to paint or a new sound or a new song. I just need that. If I don't have that creatively, I start to die. It's not good for me at all.
"And what a f***ing amazing opportunity! We've got three of the f***ing guys from three of the biggest bands in the f***ing -- hello! -- whole world."
Unsurprisingly, Lee cautions, "The guy on the bleep button is going to be a busy man."
"Rock Star" held auditions across North America and the world, from New York and Hollywood to Calgary and Sydney. A quick perusal of hopefuls at a one-day press junket reveals a lot of eye makeup, tattoos, hair gel and piercings. But if last year is any indication, the singers will be challenged on their sound, stage presence and look -- and changes could be in order.
Last year's winner, Canadian J.D. Fortune, dropped by the Los Angeles auditions in late March after a year on the road with INXS. A former Elvis impersonator with loads of cocky attitude during the show, Fortune has learned a lot.
"I just always remind myself," he says, "that when I finish drinking a cola, the can is the byproduct. So when people are finished listening to the stuff I write, I'll be a byproduct. That keeps me really humble. In fact, I think I'm a lot more humble than when I started."
Fortune also had to dial back his wild ways. "I have no choice," he says. "We're doing 31 shows every 34 days, so there's not really a lot of time for idle hands being the devil's playground."
As for advice for this season's hopefuls, Fortune says, "Make sure you really f***ing want it. Be careful what you wish for, for you shall surely get it. Just make sure you really want it. They're going to think that show is hard -- God, that show was a cakewalk compared to what I'm doing now."
But was it worth it? "Of course," Fortune said. "I've been dreaming of this life since I was 5. I have no regrets."
Like Fortune, the winner will have the benefit of experienced band mates.
"They've all sold millions of records," Navarro says. "But this is a brand-new band of guys who have never played together. I think they're going to go through a trippy process."
Unlike INXS, which had to service a back catalog of hits along with new songs, Supernova, despite the members' experience, is starting from zero.
"This is real, man," Clarke says. "Ain't no script, man. We're going to have to make it up as we go along."
"We have to build that confidence of years in a matter of months," Newsted says, "because of our experience in our other bands that were tight and familiar. We have to take that experience and put it into this but accelerate its development."
While it's obvious that Supernova will play some sort of American rock 'n' roll, its ultimate sound depends on the choice of singer and how the band members mesh.
"We've worked for 25 years each on developing our exact sound," Newsted says, "so people are familiar with that. But as a collective?"
"We don't want to rehash the past," Clarke says. "We want to do something new and bring somebody into this that's going to add something new to our chaos."
"We're all hoping they bring something to the party," Lee says, "and they're not just somebody that stands there and sings, but maybe plays guitar, writes -- a musician, not just a singer, a musician."
As with last year, the contestants perform classic rock tunes spanning the history of the genre. In another new twist, such musicians as Rob Zombie, Moby, Macy Gray and Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash will sit in as guest judges.
"As the host of the 'couch segment,'" Navarro says, "I wished there was another individual with an outside perspective to counterbalance mine, another party with the interest of the band at heart but wasn't a member of the band."
Despite being rock 'n' rollers, the INXS members were pretty mellow on camera. The new musicians make no guarantees of good behavior.
"CBS can't be scared," Newsted says.
"And, by the way," Lee says, "if you're scared, stay home."