By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The problem was finding "what it takes." Most everyone who came into the audition room could rap a little, sing a little, look a little pretty in some tight jeans. And Busy Bee kicked out just four of about 80 singers and rappers, taking both the girl who absolutely killed on Etta James' "At Last" and the Knockout Clique, a pack of five screaming MCs, with pictures of themselves on their own T-shirts, who had way more flash than flow.
I sympathized, appreciating the nervousness of each act, watching them guzzle glasses of ice-cold water and repeatedly flatten the fronts of their shirts with sweaty palms. She tried! No, she couldn't sing or he didn't have clean rhymes, but gosh, they waited in line four hours! If Sanjaya had been in the mix, Busy probably would have turned to this little white girl, as Busy eventually did with several borderline folks, and asked me what I thought. Send him on, natch.
Of course, neither Simon Cowell's nor Lil Wayne's motives are entirely pure, though Making the Next Hit is more straightforward. Wayne's the president of New Orleans' Cash Money Records. That is, literally, the name of the game. I may have given a thumbs-up to the amazing Jackie Herrera, who sang Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You" better than Keys herself, because she was talented, but Making the Next Hit wanted her because she'd be selling tons of $20 tickets to her performance at the show's Dallas showcase at the end of May. Of the performers who make it to the showcase, only a few will be filmed for the online reality show. And what do you know, having a "following"—folks willing to fork over that $20 to Making the Next Hit to see the showcase—is one of the judging criteria to make it to filming.
Even if the über-loud Knockout Clique can't rhyme like Jay-Z, they've got something that gets a crowd behind them, just like Sanjaya. And whether you're Wayne or Cowell, if you're in the business of making extraordinary money off average talent, real ability is just a small part of the equation. After watching those performers give it their sincere, mediocre all in a 9-by-12 conference room, I learned to appreciate the extraordinary power of averageness. You want greatness? Throw on Sgt. Pepper. You want pure, unadulterated Americana? Buy Sanjaya's—or the Knockout Clique's, or that guy down the street's—inevitable upcoming chart-topping album. After all, you helped get 'em there.