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Music

The Bohlen recipe for success

Loved, hated, mocked: he divides the nation. Millions of Germans know Dieter Bohlen for his acerbic tongue on a top casting show, but he began his career as a schmaltzy crooner. Now the pop titan is turning 60.

The year was 1984 when Dieter Bohlen, the blond half of German pop duo Modern Talking, landed his first number one hit at the side of the dark-haired lovely Thomas Anders. "You're My Heart, You're My Soul" attracted buyers in more than 35 countries and went gold 57 times worldwide. In South Africa, it even went double platinum.

It was the first time a broader public heard Bohlen's name, but the business graduate from Oldenburg was already an old hand in the music business.

Dreaming of fame

At 15, Bohlen founded the band Mayfair with a friend of his. Their first performance in front of the local kids was a disaster, but it hardly stopped the ambitious singer. With a mix of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and their own songs, they took another stab at getting on stage - managing to get the audience under their spell.

Bohlen was dreaming of a big career in music, while his father wanted him to take over the family's road construction business. The aspiring performer enrolled in college for a business degree.

He financed his studies with money made from gigs and sent off demo tapes to the big record labels. In 1979, he signed a contract with the Hamburg publisher Intersong and produced German Schlager chart-toppers like Peter Alexander, Roy Black, Howard Carpendale and Rex Gildo und die Wildecker Herzbuben. He also composed for the Eurovision Song Contest - then still called Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson.

Modern Talking's Thomas Anders and Dieter Bohlen, pictured in 1985 (c) imago

Even in the 80s, Anders earned skeptical glances from Bohlen

Smash hits with a eunuch's voice

In his duo with Anders, Bohlen began storming the charts himself - later commenting on his singing abilities with more than a hint of self-irony, saying, "Screeching with a eunuch's pitch was my specialty ever since my days as a student."

But he clearly found an audience. Songs like "Cheri, Cheri Lady," "You Can Win If You Want," or "Sexy, Sexy Lover" raced up the charts, landing the two performers five number one hits in a row - a one-of-a-kind feat in German music history.

Despite selling 60 million albums together, Modern Talking separated in 1987, citing constant disputes. Although an attempt was made in 1999 to reunite and continue the band's success story, the two wound up in a highly-publicized mudslinging battle.

Intuition for success

Even after Modern Talking's first break-up, Dieter Bohlen continued to work at a frenzied pace. He founded the group Blue System, produced singer C.C. Catch and took on other music projects under a pseudonym. He wrote music for Germany's best-loved TV crime series, "Tatort." Later, he pushed German singer Yvonne Catterfeld's career and composed for Schlager queens Andrea Berg and Helene Fischer. Even international stars like Bonnie Tyler and Al Martino put their fate in his hands.

Success seldom eluded the man with a nose for what sells. He won an award from the Soviet Union in 1989 as the most successful artist of the year, an award that even Michael Jackson, Abba and the Beatles didn't earn.

Carina Fatma Walz and Dieter Bohlen

Fatma Walz gave birth to Bohlen's sixth child in 2013

Dirty laundry

By 2000, scouting talent was no longer at the top of the list for the restless all-around entrepreneur. Instead, he worked together with gossip columnist Katja Kessler on his memoirs. "Nichts als die Wahrheit" (Nothing But the Truth) stormed the bestseller list, and curious fans got to know all about Bohlen's romantic history - and it's a long one at that. The continuation "Hinter den Kulissen" (Behind the Curtains) was no less indiscrete and drew plenty of mocking from the press.

But the musician brushes off ridicule with ease, saying 90 percent of what the tabloids write about him is made up anyway. And with an estimated fortune of 135 million euros ($183 million), it's easy to stay cool.

Bohlen's TV era

In fall 2002, the Modern Talking star went down a new path. As a jury member on Germany's answer to "American Idol," titled "Deutschland sucht den Superstar" (Germany Seeks the Superstar), a bronzed Bohlen with his blinding smile and brash attitude helped the casting show along to significant popularity. Without him, the show and its 2007 successor format, "Das Supertalent," wouldn't have been what they are today: the two most successful casting shows on German TV.

Dieter Bohlen on the set of a casting show (c) picture-alliance/dpa

Bohlen has been in casting show juries for over a decade

The contestants go in hoping for a quick rise to fame, but Bohlen ruthlessly dismisses singers lacking in talent. His quips have achieved cult status among the show's largely young audience - quips such as "Work as a dominatrix. You don't need a whip - you can just use your voice," or "If I stuck a kebab on my ear, then I'd at least hear the 'Silence of the Lambs,' but with you - there's just nothing!," and "If you'd been alive during Moses' time, you would probably have been the 11th plague."

When the rejected contestants start creeping tearfully back off-stage, Bohlen is happy to add insult to injury with lines like, "You all run away sad that you can't sing, but pigs also can't pole vault, and they're not sad about it."

Into the dustbin

Occasionally, however, Bohlen morphs into concerned father-figure, taking odd birds or shattered figures under his wing. For his finalists, he sometimes produces joint numbers with bold titles like "We Have a Dream." But fulfilling the dream of a major career in music has remained out of reach for all of the casting shows' winners thus far. Their recordings tend to land quickly in the dustbin.

A 2004 still from a casting show in which Bohlen stands with three young women (c) picture-alliance/dpa

These casting show talents vanished quickly

Bohlen shrugs off widespread criticism that he is leading on unsuspecting young people. As long as the viewers tune in, the pop titan knows no mercy - even if the current season of the show offers glimpses of a Bohlen mellowed somewhat by age. Ratings have dropped and come back over the years, and Bohlen himself is no stranger to making his way back to the top.

The new season is once again raking in top ratings, and its lucrative advertising contracts are sure to make Bohlen richer by a few more million.

Recipe for success à la Bohlen

The man is a true phenomenon in the German music business. He's even come up with a recipe for success, based on the six initials in his first name, Dieter. Bohlen says they could be taken to stand for German words for discipline, intelligence, ambition, action, going the extra mile and a certain ruthlessness toward oneself.

On February 7, Bohlen celebrates his 60th birthday - with a fresh facelift intact, as rumor has it, but unquestionably as successful as ever before.

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