Cry babies

Teen talent wails on High School Musical: Get in the Picture
By SHARON STEEL  |  August 19, 2008

DESPERATE FOR DISNEY: But for how long?

The top brass at Disney knew full well what they were about to unleash when the original High School Musical premiered on the Disney Channel two years ago. Acting on their instincts — and in the process giving life to a number of insidiously successful million-dollar cottage industries — they modernized a timeless formula into something today’s young things would obsess over to the point of distraction. Boy meets girl; they’re different, but they both love to sing; drama unfolds; lifetime friendships are formed; repeat. One sequel and a gazillion licensing deals later, High School Musical 3: Senior Year is almost upon us. And pending that film’s theatrical release, Disney is hard at work pumping every last bit of commercialized fairy dust it has into the HSM brand.

Its most recent venture is the reality show High School Musical: Get in the Picture (ABC, Mondays at 8 pm), and this one embraces the wholesome antagonism that has surrounded HSM from the very beginning. The original movie, though squeaky-clean, stars actors who have since gone on to have their naked post-shower pictures circulate on the Internet, obtain nose jobs, and leak quotes about wanting to cross over into other, non-Disney projects as soon as HSM is dunzo. It’s safe to assume that at first the veterans — much like the new kids who are competing to Get in the Picture — just desperately wanted to be a part of the Disney family. But once your fantasies are dangled in front of you like a pair of freakish, glittery mouse ears, naked desire tends to trump playing nice.

The initial four episodes of Get in the Picture called to mind the sort of boring train wreck that characterizes every new American Idol season. Thousands of teens attended open castings on both East and West Coasts, and the show assembled a “faculty” of vocal, acting, and dance instructors to judge their trials. Nick Lachey served as the objective host and requisite “Guys, I’ve so been there” pep-talker. Once the top 12 were chosen, the battle could get under way. At stake is a lead role in a music video that will run during the HSM 3 end credits — not to mention an exclusive talent agreement with ABC and a recording contract with Walt Disney Records.

Disney and ABC decided to push the “high school” theme as far as possible — which means that each episode revolves around a musical-theater-type lesson designed to test the kids’ star power. We begin with “Letting Go.” That’s right, whoever doesn’t ditch his or her inhibitions pronto is going to get downgraded to a lowly chorus member. Tasks and challenges are rolled out — from serenading customers a cappella in K-mart (OMG, embarrassing!) to performing a modern song set to a story line in front of the judges. (If you can’t pick up harmonies quickly, you’re in serious trubs.) “Be a team player,” the faculty advise. “Let your light shine!” The chosen ingénues and wonder boys attempt to comply, Noxzema-fresh, saucer-eyed, and laughing too much.

But did Disney and ABC actually think they could keep the high school out of High School Musical for long? Please. After their first big performances, during the requisite camera confessionals, Shayna is quick to burn Bailey for crying before eliminations. “I’m crying because I’m living my dream,” she says pointedly. “Bailey is crying because she might not win.” Shayna certainly fits the company mold: cloyingly sweet in public, ambitiously hard-hearted in private. This Disney neophyte might have a real shot at gold.

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