Sunday, February 22, 2004

THE PRICE OF FAME: BBC One's Sunday teatime catch-up with the winner of its pop stardom singfest was given the title Fame Academy: Alex's Story, which made it sound more like it was going to be the sort of tale that you'd find in the network's current Taking Care season: a young life ruined, crushed hopes, the faint whiff of despair. And, oddly for a light ent documentary, that's pretty much what you got. It seems that while ITV's Pop Idol franchise churns out any number of questionably talented individuals spinning their hay into pure gold, Fame Academy is desperate to discover young people with an actual germ of talent, and then clobber them repeatedly with the misery shoe until they give up. So, while 2002's winner David Sneddon has long since fled home, this documentary - probably conceived as a cheeky, breathless tour of a sexy, bright-eyed pop pup as she lives large off the back of her win - had the air of spending a few moths with someone slowly having their joy choked out of them.

Part of the trouble is that Alex herself isn't a showbiz natural - she sings pretty well, but once she sets foot off stage, any natural joie de vivre she may possess hides itself away more securely than Osama Bin Laden in camouflage at nightfall. We see her doing a lot of interviews, and in every single one she's flat, dull, and clearly has nothing to say. Fame is, of course, more about how you work your talent than how much talent you actually have; in marketing terms, Alex has the spark of a small ad flogging a slightly dented fridge freezer in the Grimsby Evening Telegraph's Under £50 column. She complains, of course, that she's asked the same questions over and over again, although she doesn't explain why she still takes about ten minutes to frame an answer to any of these standard queries. And other artists, who have to play the same songs to the same pubs hundreds of times without getting one-thousandth of the media exposure that Parks has achieved might ruefully consider that if she'd had a more conventional career trajectory, she might have learnt to deal with the repetition that makes up much of the work side of the music world with a little more grace. As it is, her inability to cover her boredom makes her sound boring - during a Five Live interview, Simon Mayo seems so desperate to avoid having her monotone chase away his audience he spends about five minutes putting a question to her, stopping half way to answer on her behalf the first half and starting a new one afresh. Anything... just don't give her a chance to talk.

There are times you wonder why she bothered enrolling on a programme called Fame Academy at all, since she clearly has no wish to be famous - there's a protracted dance around a paparzzo which says it all, really: her manager trying to stop her being photgraphed, lest she appear in Heat magazine or something really horrible like that.

There's the now obligatory interview on the London Eye, where, high above Parliament, Alex allows herself a little smile at having a platinum record, and indulges in a spot of self-delusion: "some people are buying it for the covers, some are buying it for the original material..." - but of course, they're not; On Fame Academy she won by singing covers; her single chugged out of steam because it was an original. We're promised that the next album is going to consist of stuff entirely written by Alex alone. She'll doubtless be very proud of it; equally, we suspect she'll be delighted by the dwindling attention from Heat and The Sun, and the chance to spend more and more time in her beloved Cornwall. One thing you can say for Fame Academy: you're never likely to see their winners desperately trying to cling to the public affection through the I'm A Celebrity/Back to Reality franchises.

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