This year's Pop Show felt like the end of an era for me. I've been going for 8 years now, ever since I accidentally caught a taped replay on Burbank public access television while not doing work at my Disney Channel desk (why I left that job-- which allowed me to watch hours and hours of TV and gave me optical insurance-- after earning a TENS OF THOUSANDS advance on my first book is a decision I sometimes unconsciously grapple with in my dreams).
The kids I'd originally gotten so excited about had graduated, and then the kids I got excited about after that initial run now had little siblings in the show, and those siblings were graduating, suddenly leaving the threat of a future vacuum. As I flipped through the program before the show, I wondered, "Who am I supposed to care about next year??" A similar thing happened on One Life to Live a few years back when the show decided that they wanted to get younger and hipper and started introducing a bunch of random younger characters that I couldn't give less of a shit about. All I wanted to see was Vicky Lord Buchanan's multiple personalities re-emerge for the twenty-thousandth time, and not just because I'm a creature of habit, but because when Vicky's life falls apart, it really means something to everyone in that town. Same with Pop Show. You need your stars and you need your connections because without them, the stage starts to feel populated with all those kids who you don't remember ever having seen in your life when you flip through your old yearbooks. You assume that they were actually there because you have documented proof, but it would be all the same if some computer program slid their pictures in to force a created memory.
So before I get to to the shining lights I desperately searched for during this year's show, I need to first take a second to pay all due respect to Tyler Mann, who I thought was a senior last year and emotionally detached from prematurely. (I was really, really sure he was a senior last year, so hopefully he didn't get held back. If that's the case, Tyler, what does a Poli Sci grade matter when you have all you'll ever need inside you!) He was so obviously the center of this year's show, even with song choices that were slightly less rousing than in 2010, that I got the feeling Pop Show is going one of two ways next year. Either:
1. Tyler's graduation is going to produce the same effect as if OLTL killed off Vicky Lord Buchanan, and the Pop Show town is going to devolve into a bunch of disconnected moments that fail to interweave in any satisfying way. I mean, for me. I'm sure for the parents and the teenagers who actually know these people it's satisfying because they have a lot of rich backstory from life, they know who's dating who, etc. Or,
2. There's a kid who's been shying away from being the star he or she really is because I'm sure there's been some kind of general feeling around the vocal association of, "Who can compete with Mann? Who wants to go up against that?" And now that kid can step out into the light and become the new heart of the show until that siren named College calls.
(Below is Tyler from last year's show because a lot of the individual numbers from this year aren't up yet.)
Let me also briefly say that it's a testament to these kids that even in a shaky year, they present more intriguing characters in the course of a single performance than anyone on Glee has managed over the course of a couple seasons.
Onto the show:
I'm not going to bullshit. The first act was pretty touch-and-go, as it is wont to be, but this year in particular it lacked the breakout moment that I always look for, when an underclassman in one of the lower groups (Leatrice Innocent, anyone??) displays charisma that tidal waves through the sea of identical costumes.
We did have some of the more comfortably familiar Pop Show novelties: the incredibly literal joke costume (the kid who came out dressed like a gorilla during Neon Trees' "Animal"); the incredibly high slit on a dress that makes me hyper-conscious of all the dads in the audience (Shannon Ary's dress during "Sway"); the incredible amount of illusion netting (the Decibelles genie costumes, which were intended to look backless, except they just sort of emphasized the tethered backiness of some of the backs, if you know what I mean); the incredibly dramatic romantic duet where one partner eye-fucks the wings of the stage while the other looks longingly at him ("One Less Bell"), and, of course, the incredible math teacher, Mr. Peebles, who always comes out and raps and always charmingly remains at least two counts ahead of the beat.
I got a kick out of the Soundwaves "British Punk Medley," sung with what can only be described as anti-punk technique, but the place where the show turned itself around was during the pop cabaret of Lady Gaga's "Pokerface," as sung by Emily Barnett and Cooper Baldwin. While an intensely great singer who has a voice as good as Gaga, Emily's graduating this year, so I just couldn't get too attached. But Cooper, playing Sir Elton John with crystal glasses, white flares, and a blouse that looked like it came from Spiegel's was nothing short of the shining discovery that the entire first act had been leading to. It wasn't just a matter of him being able to sing beautifully, but more crucially that he brought a radiant presence to the stage that had me wanting to know more about his personality off of it. Starlee came with this year and she leaned over to whisper, "Is he a senior?" We still had three performances to go until intermission when I could do a proper check of senior statements, but I didn't think so. And I hoped not. Because here was a kid we could potentially hang our spangled fedoras upon for 2012.
(So excited this is on YouTube already for you, although I feel like this was taken from Saturday and not Friday night's show).
During intermission, as I was purchasing a new John Burroughs Vocal and Music Association hoodie because my old one lost its drawstring, Starlee wanted to know, "So what do you think about the siblings?" meaning the younger sister of Caitlin Ary, who is probably my all-time favorite Pop Show girl, and the younger sister of Keaton Savage, who competes with Tyler Mann for all-time favorite Pop Show redhead. And the truth is, I can acknowledge that I was just never able to give those younger generations a fair shot because their older siblings had occupied such huge chunks of the Pop Show part of my heart. So while both girls are obviously talented, and while Trevyn Savage gives off something that tells me she belongs on an ABC sitcom about family, stat, you just can't get over your first loves.
Second act: "Pokerface" had gotten us newly excited about the promise of the numbers to come, and happily it was all uphill from where we'd been. If you and I are ever at a social event and you need to hear about the other performances in detail, I'll be glad to sit and discuss how amazing it was that Dance Ensemble kicked off with "Tardy For The Party" and how some of the strongest voices in the show (including Tyler Mann and Cooper Baldwin, naturally) helped my eyes stay straight in my head during what I think was a religious inspirational number. But for now I just want to narrow in on the two moments that really made the show for me this year.
The first came during the "Men @ Work" medley, which kicked off with the all-guy group pulling the moves I've come to look for from them. It's like seeing old friends: there's the kid in the group who likes to dress up like a girl obsessed with the other dudes; there's the choreography where the guys look like they're making out with themselves; there's the homoerotic banter (this time, phenomenally, while shaking Shake Weights® en masse). But then the group went into what I call "The Serious Time" of the group performances, where the members take to the risers to sing what's usually a pretty boring song at a pretty boring pace in order to demonstrate harmonizing ability. When I saw in the program that the "Serious Time" song was going to be Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," I was not at all excited because that song has obviously been done to death during American Idol auditions and all the times I played Jeff Buckley's first CD while on vacation with my family the summer it came out. But then a soloist (whose name I don't know and who I can't track down because he doesn't appear to be a senior) was the first to take to the mic. And when he sang his line, it sounded like there was a tear hanging in the back of his throat. If not a tear, then a true ache. And it was so moving that I went still from taking notes in my program and could have almost cried- for the sadness of losing my dad, I think.
(Again, pretty sure the YouTube clip that's available is from Saturday night, because his voice doesn't crack here. "Hallelujah" starts at 6:29).
The second moment came during the final number. Powerhouse. Literally, the most powerful house of singers and dancers the school's got. Their theme is always extravagant, but this year when the lights went up and the stage had been transformed into a wintry, cold, empty planet with fake snow blowing from the rafters, I was like, "Damn guys, this is a new level." After some Googling, I think I'm talking about the planet Hoth (?), which maybe someone can confirm for me because I've never seen Star Wars. But I could easily put it together from costuming, as some of the girls were wearing C-3PO-ish gold bodysuits with demarcated breasts while others were in Princess Leia white jumpsuits (others still were in sparkly minidresses with fur Uggs, and Starlee believes they were intended to be Ewoks). Some of the guys were in Luke Skywalker (?) outfits with capes, and some were in what looked like chaps that had been made from pelts of Chewbacca.
I was already slayed by the time the group sang a mash-up of Nine Inch Nails "Head Like A Hole" and Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation," which was like my 9th grade self having sex with my 6th grade self except better. But then the cannons on the edges of the stage suddenly began to shoot a dense smoke, and a large cloud formed in the middle. The performers ran into it. I started saying to Starlee, "Oh shittttt, oh shitttt" which is what I say when something has just gotten so exciting that an almost painful tension is building within. Five seconds passed. We couldn't see anything. Maybe ten seconds passed. I began to suspect a group-wide costume change, and I began to hold my breath. We waited a little more. And then the members of Powerhouse burst forth from the cloud, having completely abandoned their Star Wars getups, and now they were in sequined, rainbow-colored outfits and forcefully singing Katy Perry's "Firework" like the physical embodiments of the sun coming out on a planet that had never seen any. They were catharsis made tangible. And right then I was almost unbearably excited for next year's show.
(This is the only video I could find of this year's Powerhouse so far and it cuts off, but at least you get to see the smoke change around 13:00 if not the number afterward.)
And here are my notes in the show's program: