Germany’s version of "Pop Idol" has the country on the edge of its seat, and now the German public service broadcaster has launched its own take on the postmodern talent show. Will the Germans ever tire of reality TV?
Gracia Baur is the latest to be voted off German "Pop Idol"
Back in 2000 Germany went mad over “Big Brother.” Next came “Popstars,” which spawned the bands No Angels and Bro’Sis, continuing presences at the top of the German charts. Now the excitement surrounding the final stages of the German version of “Pop Idol” -- “Deutschland sucht den Superstar” (Germany searches for its superstar) -- has reached fever pitch. Reality TV in Germany has never been so big. So big, in fact, that even the public service broadcaster ARD wants a piece of the action.
Tonight sees the launch of “Deutschlands Talente” (Germany’s Talents), broadcast by ARD. Germany’s most talented singers and entertainers are meant to perform in front of a live studio audience, which will then vote for its favorite. Each week during the show’s month-long pilot run the winner will go home with €5,000 ($5,379).
But those of you bored with leggy blond teenagers, desperate for fame and singing Kylie cover versions, need not fear. Germany’s most talented, yet hitherto undiscovered comedians and “gifted children” will also have their chance, according to ARD. Just the job for those dark winter evenings.
Especially since withdrawal symptoms may abound after the excitement over Germany’s search for a superstar finally subsides. With the final just weeks away, the favorite, 20-year-old Gracia, was voted out in the sixth round on Saturday evening.
Tears and more tears
In an evening which oddly mirrored an episode in the British version of the show, 17- year-old Daniel K. sobbed uncontrollably as fellow Bavarian Gracia Baur (“who was like a sister to me”) had to leave. In Britain, it was 16-year-old Gareth Gates who broke down on live television, when his pop idol friend and colleague, 17-year-old Zoe Birkett -- also from his home county -- was voted off the show in the penultimate round of the competition.
But whilst the performers are in tears, the businessmen certainly aren’t crying. "Superstar," like “Popstars” and “Big Brother” before it, is a ratings hit, with audiences of 10 million regularly tuning in. The show’s broadcaster, RTL -- which broadcast the other shows in Germany too -- is currently the leading channel in the country. Figures for January reveal that the RTL has a market share of 19.6 percent.
The single brought out by the eleven "Superstar" finalists, entitled “We have a Dream” -- and continuing with the lyrics “music is our life” -- is number one in the German charts for the fourth week. Not even Eminem’s hit song “Lose Yourself” from the film “8 Mile” could nudge it off the top spot.
German "Popstars" band still going strong
And unlike Hear’Say, the band created by the UK “Popstars” program, which broke up after less than two years in the limelight, Teutonic girl group No Angels and its successors from the same show, Bro’Sis, are still going strong.
“The trick with both No Angels and Bro’Sis is that they continually develop,” Hannes Ross, music critic at Stern Magazine told DW-WORLD. No Angels’ first CD sold well anyway, as was expected, but with the second they proved they could actually write songs too. And now, by releasing a swing album, they’ve latched onto an older consumer group. Now the 50-somethings are buying their records as well,” Ross said.
As to "Superstar," Ross reckons the show’s success has nothing to do with the recession that Germany is currently suffering, a theory touted by much of the German press.
"'Superstar' would have been a success even if Germany had been having a huge boom. It has nothing to do with escapism in the midst of recession. I don’t believe such theories," he told DW-WORLD. "The show’s secret is that it’s three shows in one. Firstly, it’s a music show. Then, it’s a big Saturday night entertainment show. And thirdly, it’s reality TV: the audience gets the excitement of voting people off.”
Although Germany is still crazy about reality TV, whether pop culture shows like “Superstar” will eventually wear thin here is uncertain.
Ross believes shows like "Superstar" and "Big Brother" will be on German screens for a long while yet. “I don’t think this is the end of pop culture as we know it,” he says, “even though people say it is.” In which case, by the time the "Superstar" finale is broadcast on March 8 fans of German high culture may start to think its time to leave the country.