Rock band INXS are in London on their worldwide quest to replace former frontman Michael Hutchence. Phil Williams headed to the open auditions at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, but after seeing the depleted pool of hopefuls he pondered whether a good frontman can ever be replaced.
By Phil Williams
BBC Radio Five Live entertainment reporter
Whether you're a middle aged rocker, a teenie bopper, or a stage diving mosher, the one thing we all look for in our bands is a good frontman.
When I use the term frontman, let me be clear with you that I'm using it as a generic derivative term. I'm not discounting Debbie Harry, Gwen Stefani, Justine Frischmann or Cerys Matthews.
Michael Hutchence died in 1997
The frontman is the person who makes you sit up and take note of the video. It's the person whose animal magnetism draws you to see the band live.
It's the same person who persuades an otherwise perfectly sane individual to raise their hands above their head and clap along with 80,000 others at Wembley.
In Michael Hutchence, INXS had that. In Freddie Mercury, Queen had that. But how feasible is it, that you try and replace the irreplaceable?
Queen are currently touring with the ex-Free singer, Paul Rogers. The tour's pretty much sold out, and I'll defer judgement until I've seen the gig.
Debbie Harry provided the charismatic front for Blondie
INXS have taken a different option. The last great refuge of the scoundrel. The reality TV show. Their global search for a new frontman sees them sweeping the world for talent, before taking a shortlist of potentials to Hollywood where they'll be whittled down before a TV audience.
But given the credentials I've just listed for being a frontman, what chance is there of finding someone who'll do the same for INXS as Michael Hutchence?
Is Diego - the non-English speaking Italian who flew in especially to try out today - really the answer to the band's plea for rock n roll? Could it really be George the Australian, who's lived here for 12 years and told me he'd never seen INXS perform live?
You could argue the band are doing this for publicity. But as I turned up this morning to report on the London open audition, there were more journalists there than auditionees. Surely, that's negative publicity?
Freddie Mercury's flamboyance put Queen in the limelight
We're all fond of nostalgia but the fact that INXS fans were conspicuous by their absence this morning could indicate they'd prefer to remember their stadium sell out band with their enigmatic frontman, rather than see them now in 2005 with a new untried hopeful who can never be expected to fill the boots or the leather trousers of Michael Hutchence.
The point about music, rock or pop, is that it's a transient picture postcard of your life at any particular moment.
You sang along with your first love and Freddie in '86. You danced with your hairbrush in front of the mirror when INXS's Kick came out. You mouthed across the dance floor, "you're one of my kind." Then it became part of your history.
And our great memories are where these band's frontmen should remain, rather than on the repackaged greatest hits circuit under the guise of a Great Pretender whose shoulders are positively buckling under the weight of a reputation and back catalogue to die for.
I can't believe they are doing this. I have been very disappointed ever since they have tried a number of different frontmen since Hutchence departed and it hasn't worked. Hutchence was the life and soul of the band. If they want a new frontman, they should just form a new band.
Angelica, London. UK
I don't agree with what INXS are trying to do. Other bands such as Thin Lizzy have done similar things and really they are just trying to make as much money from an established band name as possible. I did go see Thin Lizzy as i am not old enough to have seen the original live. Although I really enjoyed the concert it's not the same band and therefore shouldn't have the same name. It's different if a drummer etc changes but not the frontman. What would happen if Nirvana tried to find a replacement for Kurt? If the remaining members of a band are worthwhile musicians then they should be able to make new music under a new name.
Alden, Laois, Ireland
I think it's a rubbish idea. They were a great band in their day, and Michael Hutchence was an iconic frontman. Anything they do now will water down that legacy. They should have the sense and good grace to retire INXS as a band. They don't need the money.
Paul Drew, Cardiff, Wales
INXS was a pop band "brand"... that died when Michael sadly passed away. End this ridiculous quest to resurrect yourself and bask in the glory that your fans still remember you all by.
I think this is another bad step for reality TV. Michael will never be replaced as he was the character and main talent of INXS wth his great voice and looks. I don't think that Michael would of wanted INXS to go down this road to find a new singer. They should hold private auditions for a lead singer and not make a mockery out of Michael's memory. He was worth more than a TV stunt.
They should really reform under a different name. They were and probably can be a great live band again with the right frontman although I doubt they'll be anywhere near as commerically successful again.
Ian, Peterborough, UK
The frontman has to have chemistry with the band AND the audience, and there's rarely one without the other - even bands where the members hate each other have a history! Paul Rogers and the remaining members of Queen know each other, have a musical era in common, and have found they can work together, plus he's not trying to be Freddie Mercury. That might work. To bring in a complete unknown with no experience of fame, no history with the band and no idea of whether their personality is going to fit might be good television, but it's musical suicide.
S Weekes, Cardiff
I went to see INXS on a couple of occasions, and they were the best gigs I have ever been to, including watching Queen. This was mainly due to Hutchence's ability to mesmerise a crowd. Yes they should search out for a new singer but I don't think that people should try to compare any new front person against Hutchence.
Adam, Preston, Lancs
By definition a strong front man has a strong personality. So whether it will be a lasting success boils down to whether they want a pale imitation of Hutchence, or someone who is good enough to have their own style and do things their own way.
Rishi Nag, Cambridge, UK
It depends on who the remaining members of INXS find. No one thought Genesis would last once Peter Gabriel left but they didn't do so badly with Phil Collins at the helm. Once he left though, the last album with an unknown replacement singer was pretty much a swansong.
Xavier, Warsaw, Poland
I was a huge INXS fan back in the day and saw them live many times. They were a captivating band live, mainly due to Michael Hutchence. As much as I wish the remaining members good luck I feel that Hutchence is irreplacable. INXS previoulsy recruited Aussie singer Jon Stevens after Michaels death. He was a good frontman but NO Michael Hutchence. The legacy of INXS and Hutchence should be left well alone.
It won't be the same, just as Jim Morrison was The Doors,Hugh Cornwell was The Stranglers, and Fish was Marillion, Michael Hutchence was INXS. With the exceptions of Duran Duran, and Ultraxox, few bands achieve greater success after repalcing their lead singer.
Dan Evans , Southport, Merseyside
INXS were and always will be my favourite band. I, like all other fans was devastated when Michael passed on and can quite clearly remember when a replacement in Jon Stevens was found I thought this cannot work, it did. I went to the INXS/Blondie gig at Birmingham NEC and they rocked like they always did, in this reality TV era hands up all those who say "not another reality show but end up transfixed to the very end!" go for it, it's a bit of fun, nothing more and at least I can hear New Sensation played live again!
Rob Hornsey, Birmingham, England
With a new frontman, they should change their name and musical direction. There is little point in regressing to the 80's musical style and it would be a shame. Music is stagnant enough as it is without these comeback bands.
Connell McGinley, Dungannon, Tyrone, N.Ireland
Urgh, you can't imagine INXS without Michael Hutchence, his voice WAS INXS. Think of all the bands with enigmatic frontmen and imagine them without- disaster. Depeche Mode without Dave Gahan, U2 without Bono etc. etc. Doesn't bear thinking about. And the reality TV angle INXS are going through reeks of desperation.
They should go for it. I saw a documentary on them after they had found Jon Stevens and he rocked. I was really sad to hear he quit. They could have gone really far with him. I understand his issues though. It was a hell of a position to be in. AC/DC managed the transition from Bon Scott to Brian Johnson OK. INXS can do it. Not sure the reality TV thing is the way to go, though. Good luck anyway chaps!!
Tristan Dunn, Sidcup, UK
Don't think going through an audition process to replace someone with incredible charisma will work, especially with material recorded already.
Sheila in Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, England
If the music is good then any charasmatic frontman with a good voice should be able to do justice to any song. Brian Johnson is not the original frontman of AC/DC but how many people apart from real fans can remember what Bon Scott actually sounded like?
Judith, County Durham, UK
How do you think bands are formed normally? A couple of people get together and audition for the rest of the places. There's just all this fuss because INXS are already big, and there are journalists invited.
David, London, UK
I always have been an INXS lover but for me I don't see anyone taking over in Michael Hutchence's shoes. INXS without him will just never be INXS for me. I couldn't believe it when I heard the TV reality thing, thought it was a bad joke at first!!! I totally agree with people who say the other members who are great musicians should just create a new group.
Heidi, Prats de mollo, France
Fleetwood Mac didn't look for a new Peter Green, Van Halen didn't recruit the next Dave Lee Roth and Marillion's Steve Hogarth is definately not Fish mark 2 - these bands succeeded in replacing key band members because they evolved into something new.
INXS were a great band and could go on to be another great band, but attempting to find a new Michael Hutchence is a huge mistake. The band must accept a new member and what they bring to the band as the start of a new era - not as a continuation of what went before.
Neil, Glasgow, UK
Rock and roll groups of the past have been able to change band members and grow into something else. Why not INXS? Led Zeppelin was the end process of a whole range of changes to The Yardbirds. Fleetwood Mac also changed band members. The thing that must evolve is the music. INXS cannot get stuck in a late 80's / early 90's time warp or otherwise they will simply become a tribute band to themselves.
Steve, London, UK
INXS is a brand, and the band want to continue the brand without Michael Hutchence - that's fair enough. I just wonder why they are going to all this hassle - it must be publicity. The rest of the band, with respect, must be getting a bit old, so I wonder what they hope to gain - an endless greatest hits tour? I can't imagine they'll achieve anything more than modest album sales if they go for new stuff.
Richard, Swanage, UK
Why not? I saw INXS live several times in the late 80s and early 90s and while Hutch was the kind of frontman you couldn't take your eyes off, who's to say they can't find that again? It's a cracking chance for an unknown to make it big and share their talent with the world. Best of luck to the winner though - he or she has BIG shoes to fill.
Loki, London, UK
I don't remember INXS, but I feel ANY band who changes a member or line-up, is not the same band. Its a slight variation of the other band, but is not the same. INXS may find a new frontman, but will it be the same?
Does anybody remember Van Halen ?
Great with Dave,almost as good with Sammy and they even had some guy in between.
Maurice P LaBorde, Winnipeg Manitoba Canada
As much as I love INXS, I don't feel this search will work. Leave well enough alone. The band is just making a mockery of themselves by searching under rocks for someone to replace one of the best frontmen ever.
Shawn, NJ, USA
I don't see why they shouldn't record again with a new singer. It'll never be the same as it was with Hutch but that's not necessarily a bad thing... all bands should evolve with the times and artistic input.
Bloke, Medway, Kent, UK
INXS may not mean much to today's record buyers but I remember when they were one of the most exciting bands in the world. Michael Hutchence's music still means a lot to me and I think this is a pretty shabby stunt that demeans the memory of true rock god. Wise up.
Daniel Windrim, Belfast, N.Ireland
It didn't work for Marillion, but it almost worked for Genesis. They might unearth a diamond, but from the reports it sounds like only seventeen people have turned up in the UK!
If INXS want to carry on, why don't they do the decent thing and simply change the name? Eight Years is a long gap admittedly, but the person who eventually "wins" this competition will never outrightly win..they'll be competing against a ghost and essentially will nevre gain the credibility and kudos of the late, great Hutch!
Paul N, Isleworth, UK
I think it is a very sad and cynical move by the remaining members of INXS and a slur to the memory of Michael, who lets face it was INXS. Fans would prefer to remember the band in their heyday with Michael at the helm than this pathetic and surely doomed attempt at recreating history.
Lorraine Caddle, Coatbridge, Lanarkshire
I think it's great they give the chance to the average Joe. Superb I would say. That is to say I would say if not for the reality TV show. The thing smacks of unoriginality. The front man will be a flavour of the week rather than someone who is a fresh face and unknown. The band's name alone speaks for itself; the publication of talent search is not needed.
I actually had the opportunity to audition at the open call in Minneapolis, MN, USA. Unfortunately, I don't think I was the "style" they were looking for - I think they want an INXS look-alike / sing-alike. But I still auditioned because I was so happy to see a reality tv show like "American Idol" in which they encouraged people that play instruments and write original compositions.
Neal Peterson, Minneapolis, MN
You can't replace an irreplacable frontman. When someone, such as Hutchence, was the voice and soul of a band, it can never be the same with someone else taking his place. Then it is just another band. Personally, I think it's disgraceful what they are doing. They're almost making a mockery of it in hopes of getting recognition. Don't they realize the only recognition they will receive is negative?
Laura, Chicago USA