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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Global worship of TV's pop idols
Judges Peter Waterman, Neil Fox, Nicki Chapman and Simon Cowell
Waterman (L) and Cowell (R): Tough judges
test hello test
By Alex Webb
BBC News Online

Manufactured pop stars are nothing new - the practice goes back at least as far as 1950s rock'n'roll svengali Larry Parnes.

And 1960s pop group The Monkees - still touring after all these years - show how durable the format can be.

The Monkees
The Monkees were a US response to The Beatles
But TV show Pop Idol made entertainment history by letting the public in on the business of actually choosing the candidates for stardom in the first place.

And, far from recoiling at the cruelty and cold calculation required, viewers in the UK and abroad have lapped it up.

The stage was set by the immense success of ITV1's talent show Popstars, which concluded in February 2001 with the formation of the group Hear'Say, who immediately charted at number one with their first single Pure And Simple.

Hit singles

Seeing the potential of the format, former Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller worked a new twist on it - aiming to choose a solo singer and bringing in a couple of acerbic pop judges to give the wannabes a hard time.

He recruited RCA/BMG executive Simon Cowell, who secured a deal for boy band Westlife, and Pete Waterman, responsible for dozens of hit singles over the last 20 years and the launch of pop group Steps.

UK contestants Gareth Gates (left) and Will Young
Gates (L) and Young both hit number one
Pop publicist Nicki Chapman remained from the Popstars line up and was joined by Capital Radio DJ Neil Fox.

The series began on ITV1 in October 2001 and quickly captivated the nation's pop fans.

The would-be stars' aching desire for recognition made for highly-watchable TV.

The material was more varied than in Popstars, with the contestants forced to sing pop classics and MOR (middle-of-the road) songs as well as recent hits.


And besides the music there were the personal dramas of the world-be stars, such as contestant Rik Waller's battle with a throat infection, which caused him to pull out of the finals.

The frank and often merciless appraisals of Simon Cowell and Pete Waterman caused tears and tabloid fury.

Spain's Operacion Triunfo
Spain's Operacion Triunfo made TV history
And finally there was the runaway sales success of winner Will Young and runner-up Gareth Gates, who both went on to hit number one with their debut singles.

As if to prove that Pop Idol's success was not just a UK freak, several countries have already screened their own versions to huge audiences.

In Spain, Operacion Triunfo (Operation Victory) broke the record for the biggest ever TV audience in February - more than 15 million.

France's Star Academy has also been a hit, while Australia is already on its third series of Popstars.

Naturally Simon Fuller would want to take the format to the world's biggest pop market, the US, where auditions are currently being held for the would-be pop idols.

And the British entertainment industry may want to draw some comfort from the fact that the US still wants our TV programmes.

Last week, for the first time in forty years, there was no UK single in the US top 100.

See also:

29 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
US starts Pop Idol search
21 Mar 02 | TV and Radio
US gets Pop Idol
27 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
Pop Idol wins Golden Rose of Montreux
24 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
Cowell to write stardom manual
24 Mar 02 | Music
Pop Idol's Gareth is number one
15 Mar 02 | Reviews
Glossy debut for Pop Idol stars
23 Jan 02 | TV and Radio
Pop Idol: What's all the fuss about?
12 Feb 02 | Media reports
Spanish pop show breaks the record
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