Mark Burnett Productions (one of the most influential television producers) and INXS (one of the most influential rock bands in the world) have joined together for the first ever, ROCKSTAR competition. The very first competition ever, where an already successful band looks for a new lead singer a la reality show!
They auditioned worldwide and searched for the best male or female artists to come up with a group of 15 potentials. These 15 potentials (4 are Canadian) will sing their hearts with the hopes of landing the lead of INXS! The hopefuls will sing it out during the 13- week series, hosted by Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction) and Brooke Burke (actress and host of E! Entertainment Television’s “Wild On”). Not an easy task for anyone, but most of the contenders are seasoned performers in one form or another. I had a chance to speak with the 4 Canadian contenders (Tara Slone, J.D. Fortune, Deanna Johnston and Suzie McNeil) on the phone, before they embarked on an adventure that will in evidently change their lives forever!!
Tara (Tar- a, not Tear-a) Slone is no stranger to the auditioning process, her most recent band Joydrop (all male band with Tara as lead singer”), had placed an ad in the paper that she answered and after a few successful hits (” If I was Beautiful like you and I sometimes Wanna die”), a couple strong tours well…the rest is history.
Perhaps she has the goods to be the lead singer of INXS! She is definitely familiar with the boys club, that’s for sure! Tara shares with us what the auditioning process was like?
Actually I heard about the audition from a girl who was a fan of my band Joydrop and INXS is her favourite band of all time. It would be her dream come true for her – for me. (Tara laughs and you hear some chuckles from the rest of the gang on the phone). I think it was just the amalgam of her two favourite bands.
How did you feel about that?
I sort of heard about the auditions happening in Toronto. Auditioning for the band was just not something that I contemplated and it just turned out that I was going to be away during the time of the auditions. So, she sent away a few pictures of me and one of the Joydrop videos to INXS’ management and they contacted me.
That must have been a surprise to you?
Well, she asked my permission and I said, “Do your thing” and from there I didn’t really think about it. Next thing I knew they called me and asked if I would be interested in stepping in and auditioning.
So, you did have to sing for them.
Oh my God, the final audition process was ….a lot.
Tara, how will landing the lead as INXS’ affect your own album? Will that be put on hold?
It is ready to go and I would like to think that the music that I write is timeless, so I would like to think I could release it at anytime. I put a lot of work into my songs and it is work that I am really proud of. It isn’t going anywhere.
J.D. Fortune had the worst audition of his life for INXS and share with us why this almost did not happen. No stranger to the limelight( J.D. is well known for his Elvis Impersonator show), he managed to overcome!
I waited in line with all the other hopefuls and once I finally got inside….terrible! I started singing a song and we were both in the same key, which is always great in an audition (haha). The accompanist started playing once song and I was singing another and when I corrected him to play the song I was singing. So I assumed he would start playing the song that I was…not singing…and we ended up switching again. He ended up playing the song I was once singing. I stopped right away and said to the producer who was looking after the auditions, “Have you ever had a really bad nightmare that you just could not wake up from?” A few people laughed and someone said “thank-you” and I walked off the stage. Moments later I am out in the parking lot with my hand on the car door to leave and the same producer had come out with a contract and said, “Tomorrow you are singing for the band”. I thought he was kidding me, I was literally freaking out and he contested that he was serious and that I needed to learn two INXS songs and come back tomorrow. So I went back with the intentions that I didn’t really care what was going to happen, because I was going to be singing in front of INXS ( long time favourite band!) and that was going to be cool. Prior to singing I went into the bathroom and said to myself, is it important for me to be on the show or just redeem myself from yesterday? All I asked of myself is to give the best audition I could ever have and went out on stage. Once I was singing, they kept asking me to sing more and more and more, to top it all off I broke three mike stands and a camera. But, to put the icing on the cake, I walked out and Kirk Pengilly was strumming “Never tear us a part” and we did the full version of that. Now here he is!!
The two Torontonians in the competition are Tara Slone and Suzy McNeil. The girls know of each other in and around the business. So, Suzy were things a lot smoother for your audition?
Mine, actually almost ended up not happening. Karen Bliss had recommended me to another producer who I never got to meet and he called me while I was in performing at the Windsor Casino (Suzy has been performing in an ABBA tribute band for quite some time. The producer told me of the recommended day to audition, which was separate from the “cattle call” day, but I could not do it that day, because I was flying to Arizona with the band. So I graciously thanked him and was going to hang up and he said, “No, we have to get you in.” So he said to show up on the cattle call day and they would get me in. On the day of auditions, I go to the MOD CLUB and had a scheduled appointment after the auditions for 1pm, with my audition time set for noon. I went with the idea that, that was my “set” time and when I showed up, there were tons of people lined up the street! I thought-” Shit”, because I did not want to walk up in front of everyone and insist to be let in, but it was the only thing I could do. So, the bouncers had no idea that I was coming and were not going to just let me in and just as I was about to leave when I recognized a guy inside. I finally found a contact and they told me I was not going to be able to sing for an hour or more. By this time I was really starting to get pissed off and told them to forget it, that I was going to have to leave due to another appointment. But, I was totally humble about it and the contact said that they would go and see what they could do. She drags me to the front of the line and bless those people’s hearts that were waiting, because I felt so bad doing that. But, in the end it was good to know that they wanted to give EVERYONE a chance – just in case, which I think was really cool.
But, the next thing was the call back. They called me and said they would like to see me again and I was flying to Arizona on that day, so I totally missed the callback. Again! I felt that this was not going to happen again and I thought oh well, what can I do? So, they suggested that I fly to Boston from Arizona to audition there and I told them that I did not have the money to do that. Finally I was told to send in a video, which some people were doing anyway (including Tara)
Deanna Johnston who resides in Resada, California , but born in Kingston, Ontario still considers herself a Canadian living amongst the Americans. She has lived in America a little over six years, but she assures me she is still CANADIAN! But, living in the U.S. did not give her any advantage during the audition process, in fact she learned of the audition through a friend who had auditioned for the house band for the show.
I was very much surprised that INXS was accepting women to compete for the lead, which I thought was cool, considering it was an actually ROCK competition. Everything in LA is either R&B, Urban or Hip-Hop music, so I feel like a fish out of water in these parts. I am always either too rock, because “they” don’t really know what rock is, they think Rock is Michelle Branch. (Everyone laughs on the phone).
I was thrilled to audition! I went to the Whiskey in Hollywood and I was lucky I had somebody on the inside, who I knew, so I had an appointment set up, by passing the “cattle call” thing. Deanna impressed them so much that she earned her spot on the ROCKSTAR show.
There is a shot of all the contenders together and they have done some press already together, so I asked them if they heard one another sing and the telephone line goes silent. Then everyone laughs.
That was an awkward pause. I mean what do you say or what don’t you say? (More laughter ensues with the four Canadians.) We are all singers. So if you meet a singer, then it is like artists that paint talking about what, you know, what pastels to use.
Well I never asked who was the best – I just wanted to know had you heard one another sing? But J.D. goes onto divert the question, but sort of answer it.
Well the wonderful thing about the show is that everyone gets to show their talent, just by their personality. The difference between people who sing great and great singers is the people who are great singers can hit the notes all night long; but great singers whether they hit the notes or not, you can listen to all night long. So, when you hear a singer talk, I can hear it in their voice that they are a great singer.
Well, that is the great thing about ROCK music, now isn’t it?
It is an expression of what you have had to go through. The trials and tribulations that we have all had to go through to get to where we are now – contenders of the next lead singer of INXS.
What makes you a die-hard INXS fan; as you have lain claim to be? Did you have Michael Hutchence on your walls?
I actually had Tim Farris on my wall (more laughter from the ladies). No, no, it wasn’t like a Bo Derek size tacked up to the wall. I did have a huge Bo Derek poster (actually he admits- it was Tara Slone), but not Tim Farriss. But, what makes me a huge fan is that the first time I heard INXS’ Devil Inside, that made me want to be a musician. I have been singing since I was five but I wanted to play and right after the inspiration of INXS. This was created by six guys from the “Outback” and the more I learned about them, the more I became a fan. I mean these guys drove 4500 kilometres to their first gig and played behind chicken wire, because people were throwing stuff at them. They changed genres of music three times, and then put them altogether.
Tara, you can appreciate what J.D. was saying about INXS’ travel experiences. When you started out with Joydrop, even after signing a deal, it was a long time before you had other people setting up your equipment and you had to travel in pretty tight accommodations. Not tour bus for you right away, it was a very large van right?
(She giggles) Oh yeah. I feel a real kinship with all of them. I feel a kinship with musicians in general, but I do know what it takes to make it happen and you don’t know until you have done it. Playing for people night after night and travel, fatigue and all the stuff goes on behind the scenes.
Yeah, it is interesting that you asked that Orlena. Because, I have been thinking about this lately, that all of our futures are on hold in a sense. They are very uncertain right now, probably the most in my life than in any other time. We have no idea how far we will make it or even where will be once we do or don’t. Plus, all the opportunities that will come from this. It really is exciting!