R U Gonna Be the Girl?

Andy Warhol famously said everyone would be famous for 15 minutes; these days, it seems everyone is famous for 15 episodes. The reality-show bandwagon was back in Dallas last Saturday, holding auditions for UPN's R U the Girl? at the Dallas Convention Center. The show will track R&B superstars T-Boz and Chilli, members of the platinum-plated girl group TLC, as they attempt to find a female performer to join them on the road and in the studio. (TLC member Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes died in a car accident in Honduras in 2002.) Notice they're not "replacing" Lisa. That would be, you know, disrespectful. But the show offers a "lifetime opportunity" for one lucky girl. Attention, Dallas: R U the Girl? Let's C.

"We have seen some looks today," says an employee at the Convention Center. It's noon, and about 100 women have signed up to compete. They drift from the waiting room to the hallway in leather coats and sunglasses and 10 kinds of shine, completing their paperwork and chatting. At this particular moment, the employee is eyeing a thin girl in pink hot pants and Day-Glo heels. From this angle, she looks a little like Left Eye. Not that it's a requirement. According to the UPN Web site, "Producers are looking for a dynamic group of individuals who are talented, articulate, interesting and exhibit enthusiasm for the series...as well as a willingness to share their most private thoughts in an open forum of strangers." Not that they're casting for conflict (wink-wink), but the whopping 13-page application (shortened to one page for procrastinators at the audition) asks such questions as "How often do you lose your temper?" and "What is the most daring and dangerous thing you've ever done?" After all, Left Eye burned down her ex-boyfriend's house. How far are you prepared to go?

But for young, aspiring black female singers and rappers in the area--not exactly the most secure professional track--it's hard to resist such an exciting hopscotch to fame. Even Erykah Badu's sister Nayrock, who already fronts her own hard-rock band, showed up.

"A lot of people told me they were surprised to see me here," she says. "I said, 'Why? I wanna be a part of TLC.'" Nayrock is fabulously tarted up in a pink leopard-print tank and tight leather pants with pink fur around the calves. She clutches an accompaniment CD to her glitter-dusted chest, but she tells me, "The jibber-jabber is that it's a cappella."

Unlike other reality-show auditions--oh, say, American Idol--contestants who go before the judges don't come back to tell their tales. They disappear downstairs not to be seen again. (I was never given clearance, perhaps because I'm so, so dangerous.) I did manage to grab one contestant post-audition as she returned to collect her things.

"I thought we were gonna have to do everything--dancing, singing, rapping," she says, still a little breathless. "But they just told me to do what I do best. So I rapped."

It's not clear exactly how R U the Girl? will differentiate itself from the Idol juggernaut, not to mention a glut of audition shows like Rock Star, in which INXS searches for a front man to replace Michael Hutchence, and Missy Elliott's Road to Stardom. Press releases suggest the show will resemble the latter, also on UPN. I'm not sure what that means, since I've never bothered to watch it. (Have you? This could be a bad sign.)

Still, when the show rolls out next season, we're sure to see some local faces in the mix. In the meantime, the show marches on to Washington, Atlanta and Miami (New York and Chicago have already been filmed), and the search continues for the talent, the personality, the total package. In short: the girl.

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Sarah Hepola