There's been a lot of hype about a new "novel" called Stage 46: The Reality Of Reality Television. And understandably so. Anonymously penned by someone who goes by the generic monker "R. Smith," and reportedly based on interviews with actual disgruntled American Idol employees, the book aims to be the AmIdol equivalent of, say, The Devil Wears Prada or Swimming With Sharks.
It's certainly not as well-written as either. Some paragraphs or even full chapters of Stage 46 drag on far too long, focusing on inconsequential details; the language is flat and unflowery; the small-town-guy-goes-to-the-big-city-and-gets-chewed-up-and-spat-out storyline is as clichéd as the opening sequence of Guns N' Roses' "Welcome To the Jungle" video; and the book is even shockingly typo-riddled in parts.
But for any Idol fan yearning for validation of the various Idol rumors floating around the interweb, Stage 46 is undoubtedly a handy source.
Stage 46 is basically a fictionalized-but-not-really-all-that-fictional account of a starry-eyed aspiring film-maker, Ben, who naively believes that a production assistant job on a TV talent show called The Next Singing Star will be his big Hollywood break. He's mistaken. Instead he spends his days getting his head chewed off, almost literally, by his clinically obese and ethically unsound boss, Jill, a mean-tempered harpie who expects him to fetch her donuts and fudge her budgets. Jill, of course, could be modeled on any nasty show-business soulsucker--characters like her are not at all uncommon in entertainment. Ditto for T, the promiscuous travel coordinator who shows up to the office in see-through stripperwear, decorates her desk with empty whiskey bottles, and sleeps with every male bigwig at the network. There's a lot of women in showbiz like T, too.
But other Stage 46 characters are more clearly based on specific real-life people...and I've got a feeling the resemblances aren't coincidental.
There's Krystal, the aggressively stage-parented, slightly chubby, underage first runner-up whose mother tries to rig the voting, curry special favor from the producers and judges, and spread career-destroying rumors about any Singing Star employee who doesn't let her have her way.
I'm pretty sure that Krystal is based on Diana Degarmo.
There's also a character only referred to as the "Crazy Female Judge"--or, sometimes, affectionately known as "Miss Pill Popper"--who fires assistants daily, cries if anyone glances at her sideways, fails to show up for a live taping because she's sobbing in a darkened bathroom, carries a handbag that looks more like a mobile pharmacy on the inside, sleeps with a young male contestant, and blames her various injuries on her underfoot pets rather than admit she fell face-first during a drugged-up episode.
Gee, I wonder who "Crazy Female Judge" is based on?
Then there's the alcoholic British judge who flies to every audition location via private jet and writes all his seemingly off-the-cuff commentary in advance; the supposedly happily married "third wheel judge" who carries on an affair with a female P.A.; and the overly hair-moussed male host who shows little interest in the female contestants but blatantly hits on every studly male singer that enters the audition room.
Even someone who's only watched American Idol once, while casually channel-surfing, could figure out who these characters are supposed to be.
In fact, every Stage 46 stereotype and scandal--including anecdotes about fixed voting and the outrageously unfair sign-one's-life-away contracts contestants must autograph in blood--merely confirms what fans already suspected about the show we love to hate and hate to love.
So Stage 46 isn't going to win a Pulitzer any time soon, even if all those typos are corrected in the second printing. But as a guilty-pleasure companion piece to America's top guilty-pleasure TV program, it's certainly a fun, juicy read--as addictive as those little tablets inside Miss Pill Popper's purse.