I was always amused by the Pete Wentz phenomenon: here was a vainglorious loudmouth who came up in the Chicago hardcore punk scene, scored some moderate hits with his nü-emo group Fall Out Boy, and then rocketed down the slope of artistic corruption with unprecedented glee. He became the flat-ironed poster boy for the store-bought scenesterism of the mid-'00s. He grabbed at the middle rungs of tabloid stardom, leaked dick pics, and married Ashlee Simpson. He sold out so unabashedly that he made the term practically meaningless for a new generation. By 2009, his image had become so ludicrous that he had to sheepishly withdraw his band from circulation: "I think the world needs a little less Pete Wentz," he told Kerrang.
You'd be forgiven for thinking Wentz had retired; he's got an unloved quasi-musical project called Black Cards going on, but new releases are few. He may not be burning up the airwaves, but it's only because he's been pursuing a new career.
Yesterday, I found a press release about yet another horseshit corporate battle of the bands. These things are a dime a dozen: some PR firm makes a grab for hipness by seeking out Hot Unsigned Talent; they align with the concept of music without actually licensing any expensive pop songs or signing any endorsement deals. They just need a press release and some hack celebrity judges to pretend temporarily to give a shit. This time Skype was the corporate sponsor, and the judges included Matt Pinfield, Ryan Tedder, and Pete Wentz.
Déjà vu, hadn't I seen Pete at one of these things before?
Yes, in fact. Pete first dipped into the judging game in the summer of 2009, when he signed on as a celebrity judge for the Independent Music Awards. Then, in October of that year, he helped Yahoo! groom, coach, and judge yodeling talent for their ridiculous "It's Y!ou" Yahoo! yodel competition, an outrageously expensive event that utterly failed to become a viral sensation.
His first major prestige assignment came just weeks later: right before he announced the Fall Out Boy hiatus, he made a guest appearance on Australian Idol, fawning over some jock huffing and puffing through "Eye of the Tiger": "You made it your own, and you came out and had an awesome performance," he cheerfully autopiloted.
A few hits of the gavel and Pete was hooked. I strongly suspect that he broke up Fall Out Boy so he could concentrate fully on celebrity judging. He reprised his judging role for the next Independent Music Awards, then judged a battle of the bands for Hard Rock Café — the winner would open for Bon Jovi at the 2011 "Hard Rock Calling" festival. "I know how tough it can be to make it in the music industry," Pete PR-ed. "And Hard Rock is definitely giving these artists an amazing opportunity!"
Sometimes Pete judges for charitable good. This February he teamed up with a company called MASSCanvas to celebrity-judge their POWER T-shirt contest, in support of Invisible Children. Look for his hilarious YouTube video, in which he vamps incomprehensibly about the nature of power.