Rating: 3 stars
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Eighteen-year-old Corey Dunham has always loved to sing and has dreamed of making it his career. He has been a fan of the reality show Choosing America’s Next Superstar for years, and finally allows his best friend to convince him to give it a shot. At auditions he meets Jimmy Sawyer, a quiet country singer from Kentucky. Although they hit it off and are attracted to one another, a bad decision on Corey’s part drives a wedge between their budding friendship. But when both men make it to the next round of auditions, they end up rooming together and soon put the past behind them. The guys grow incredibly close despite the competitive environment. They quickly fall for each other as the weeks go by, and soon are talking about making a life together after the show.
Thing are not all smooth sailing though. One of the Superstar judges has a fondness for young, blond men. Reuben’s predatory behavior and thinly veiled threats put the guys in danger of not only losing their place in the competition, but also of public exposure of things the men would rather keep private. They must figure out a way to stop this powerful man from ruining their lives, as well as threatening the safety of others. At the same time, each man is fighting to make his dreams of a future as a singer come true.
Ok, so as you can probably tell from the rating, this one didn’t work for me so well. I’ll start off with the positives. Jimmy and Corey are both likable, sweet guys. They are kind and loving and committed to one another. Jimmy especially is an incredibly good guy, sacrificing a lot for his sick brother and sharing a deep bond with his family. Even when the men face incredible tension from both Reuben’s threats as well as the competition, they are good to each other and try hard to work out their issues. The guys are supportive of one another and genuinely happy for each other’s successes. The portions of the book that focused on the building and deepening of their relationship worked the best for me, especially the middle sections where they are really getting to know one another.
Unfortunately there were a lot of other areas that didn’t work so well for me. First off, it is quickly clear that Superstar is based on the reality singing show American Idol. The early descriptions of the format of the show are very similar to the way Idol works. In fact, many details are virtually identical to the way we see them on that show, so much so that I was taken aback at the similarities. Soon I realized that this isn’t just an Idol-like show, this is basically Idol exactly with names changed. We have host Dylan Seagraves, judge Reuben (smug, accented, and mean), Raymond (hey “dawg), Krystal (sweet, flighty, and seemingly always drunk), and Tyler (aging rocker). So I am going to trust that this is intentional parody on Erno’s part. But it took a while for me to catch on to it (perhaps my sense of humor is lacking?) and even when I figured it out, the parody just never felt funny. I just think after 10 years, Idol‘s time in the spotlight has come and gone. And even if it hadn’t, jokes about Paula being drunk and Randy saying “pitchy” too much are so played out by now that the humor just didn’t feel fresh to me.
I picked this book up because I like competitive reality shows and I have enjoyed other stories that give a behind the scenes look into how they work (Magic Mansion by Jordan Castillo Price comes to mind). So I was definitely ready to be entertained by this one, but found the descriptions of the show just fell flat. As we follow along with the guys while they go through the selection process, there was so much telling and not enough showing. Just a lot of “As you know, Bob” kind of language and recitations of rules and format. We hear more than once about how the large group is whittled down into the smaller number for the live shows. At one point when they are discussing the pending group round, a contestant who had entered previous years tells them:
There’s a room here in the hotel that has computers in it. They’ll give each group an iPod and then you go to the computer database and pick out a song. There are thousands of songs in there. You just choose the one you want, print out the lyrics, and start rehearsing.
It just seems like instead of him just telling them how it works, we could have easily just seen them go through the process of choosing a song. We get scenes from group round so this isn’t a big stretch. I just would have loved to see the details worked in more organically than just recited and listed. And unfortunately this happens often throughout the book.
My biggest issue however was just the uneven tone to the story. On one hand we have (what I assume is) a parody of Idol, complete with cute versions of the real names and tongue in cheek humor about the real show. At the same time, we have the situation with Reuben forcing sex on underage boys. He essentially hand picks young guys at auditions that he wants to bed, sends them notes to come meet with him, and then coerces them into rough sex in exchange for keeping their place in the competition. The scene where Reuben convinces an underage boy to take his shirt off for him made my stomach churn, and learning about his abuse of the boy that happens off page is horrible, even without explicit detail. Reuben is a serial predator in a position of power and the situation these guys find themselves in is terrible. It just felt so odd to combine this serious and unsettling topic along side a joking parody. The two things just didn’t fit in one story.
There were other odds and ends along the way that didn’t sit totally right for me. The guys are practically in love and discussing a future together after knowing each other only a couple of days (although after this initial instalove the relationship develops well with a nice pace). The resolution to the Reuben issue never felt realistic to me and the end seemed particularly farfetched. Corey’s best friend appears long enough to cause trouble and then is basically never seen again except to occasionally drive him around. A connection between Jimmy and Reuben’s past seemed an unbelievable coincidence. Just lots of little things that caused some raised eyebrows on my part along the way.
What saved the story for me and kept it from dipping into a lower rating is that I liked Corey and Jimmy and enjoyed them together. They were pleasant heroes and nice guys and I wanted to root for them to make it. But unfortunately there were just too many other issues here that frustrated me and kept me from feeling satisfied with the story.