Popstars winner tells her story part 2

The shallow man recalls a story from his salad days in London. A friend of mine unwisely, following several glasses of wine, decided to hop on to his scooter and drive home. He was stopped by the Police and because he refused to allow them to breathalyse him was taken to the station where he had to provide a urine sample. He did this and was sat in a room with the sample in plain sight when a massive fight broke out with some prisoners who the police had just brought in. As my friend was not handcuffed, he grasped the opportunity during the ensuing chaos to grab the urine sample and leave the Police station, which he was able to do unhindered. The next day he received a visit from the police. Confident and well aware of his rights he told them that they couldn’t do anything as there was no evidence of his drink driving. The policeman replied, “you are under arrest, for taking the piss.”

Which brings me to the subject of today’s post. In the first part of this tale, I explained how the protagonist, an American singer, who came to the Netherlands to live with her husband, and then after failing to make a go of her singing career auditioned for the talent show Popstars and went on to win the competition.

The lady who kindly agreed to share her story with you, my fabulous readers, is called Brandi Himmelreich who at the time of winning the SBS6 series Popstars in 2008 was known as Brandi Russell. We’ll continue with her story and pick up where we left off, on the very night when she was announced the winner.

Fame, makes a man think things over.

Fame, makes a man think things over.

And the Winner is..

Hard to believe that this was the culmination of six months work. Over 10,000 people had taken part in the auditions,  and then finally there were only three of us left in the competition. The excitement and anticipation of the moment shook my body with a fever hotter than the studio lights that were burning my eyes. In the studio, one thousand people sat in complete silence, watching live as the cameras zoomed in on the water dripping off my chin. This drop, a combination of sweat and tears that millions of people watched on their screens at home, represented the death of a past life, and the birth of a future woman to be.

The lady standing across from me, a blond bombshell with her long golden locks perfectly parted in the middle and styled to be the envy of any woman over the age of 27, held my future in her next words. All she had to do was open the envelope and read the name listed. Instead, at the wishes of the producers, she held on to the eyes of millions of viewers by prolonging my agony with her “sympathetic” questions about the journey I’d taken and “what ifs” for the future. Answers to those questions were meaningless, because no one, could change the outcome now.

It’s time. I tucked my hands behind my waist so no one could see them trembling, though my twitching legs gave away my nervousness. The Barbie lookalike in front of me opened the black envelope with her longest acrylic nail to pull out the list. A red star shined on the back of the card, preventing me to see through the paper and read the names before they were announced.

You could hear a pin drop. Even the banners in the audience seemed to stop swaying as if the wind from the electronic fans had been turned off. Children sat in complete silence, holding on to their parents as if this moment meant as much to them as it did to me. Everything was perfectly still like one lasting moment in time.

The Barbie’s mouth opened. I felt a strong pinch in my chest. “No, I can’t have a heart attack now,” I thought in panic, realizing I hadn’t taken a breath in over a minute. Breathing in allowed my chest to relax and the blackness in my eyes to dissipate enough to read her lips as she said “Brandi!”

What happened next I cannot exactly recall. Audience members began cheering, and the banners with my name painted in bright colours began to fly. Lights in the studio were nothing compared to the blinding flashes of cameras, as reporters ran to be the first to interview the first-ever Popstars winner.

I fell to the floor, my head in my hands in disbelief, giving the camera crew yet another golden moment to film. The terrible hair and makeup styling given to me as a “gift” from the show’s producers ran down my face, sticky from the heat of the moment. This embarrassing makeover made me look like a drag queen who couldn’t afford real hair extensions, and had to glue in some blond plastic hair from the weave shop in the ghetto. It was another great thing to gossip about in the papers for the coming weeks, and though I probably should’ve thought about holding myself at better angles for the pictures, I didn’t care. Ghetto drag queen or not, I was the winner of Popstars, a televised singing contest, and was about to sign a record deal with one of the world’s biggest and record labels: Warner Music.

Life-changing…..in ways I could not yet comprehend.


Brandi Russell, Popstars 2008

Brandi Russell, Popstars 2008

You’re going to be a HUGE star! (Till the next series begins)

The events of the evening after the show are still a bit of a blur. There was a huge party in the studio with the cast, crew and the other two finalists with whom at the decision of the producers of the show I would form a band.

There was a whirl of interviews, photographs and lots of well-wishers congratulating me on my success. The night of the finale, my father and stepmother were here, and we were invited to a private party somewhere in Hilversum with the director of the show. This was after the “official party” at the studios. It was kind of like the speakeasy (The Butcher)  you talked about in Amsterdam, was secret and you had to know how to get in this place. Don’t remember where it was, but the director of the program only took me and my family there. Every single person I talked to spoke about this HUGE future I was going to have, and like an old man, falling in love with a girl more than half his age,  and believing that she’s not with him for his money, I fell for it.

You might not ever get rich, but it’s better than digging a ditch

After winning, I could have been represented by any manager in the Netherlands, but of course, the contracts for the show gave us no choice in that. When I first auditioned, of course, paperwork is signed and like many other reality talent show contestants, I didn’t pay attention to the contracts. Even if I’d objected to some of the terms there were 9999 other candidates who would have been happy to take my place.

The Popstars band

The Popstars band

Warning the music below may not be to everyone’s taste.  The Number 1 hit released after the Popstars final. It sounds as if it were written in the back of a Taxi, which in reality it may very well have been. Who knows?

A whirlwind of events followed after the final. We were taken to London and had the honour to record at the Abbey Road studios, the place where the Beatles recorded most of their songs. I felt so privileged to be there and broke down in tears all of which was filmed by the camera crew that was with us. The program makers thought I was weak and an idiot for reacting so emotionally to what was such a major event in my life.

Once the cameras stopped rolling we were thrown into months of promotional activities. For a short time, we were also Bekende Nederlanders, appearing at every showbiz party or event. If an envelope was being opened somewhere, we were there. We did performances, appearances, all unpaid.  The shallow man asked me how much money I made from the first single which was a number one. He nearly dropped his glass of Chateau Margaux over his beautiful three-piece suit when he found out. How much money do you think the winner of a music talent show makes from a number one hit? Thousands? Hundreds of Thousands? or six hundred euros? Take your pick.

You're a star

You’re a star

Man cannot live on promotion alone

The year after the final we received no income. I’d been on the cover of a number of magazines, had various journalists and editors telling me I was wonderful and I’d be huge. I asked about opportunities to earn money, but again the contracts were sown up so tight, that I was not allowed to do any paid work that involved singing. I was told that I could go and work in a fast food place if I really needed money. So even though I had a university education in music, because I won that show the only place I could work was in a store, fast food restaurants, or administration- of which I never would’ve been hired for anyway because I had an accent. That year, I spent all my savings and even ended up in debt.

The harsh reality of TV pop contests

They say that alcoholics have a moment of clarity. Where everything began to come clear to me that I was last months bitterballen was when people who’d previously not left me alone, were now not returning my calls. It got worse once the second series of Popstars began. A journalist who was always hassling me for interviews no longer could remember who I was. The one year contract with the record company had expired but long before that it was clear that the focus was entirely on the next series of candidates. Have you any idea how it feels to have been the centre of all of this attention, to think that you’ve fulfilled all of your dreams and then realise that it’s all a sham?

Watching the next wave of candidates going through the same rounds of the contest that I had, it became clear to me that TV pop shows are all about ratings. They are nothing more than cynical soap operas set to music. A production line which produces a product that is set to expire in time for the next series. The record companies only offer a one year contract as they know that without the free promotion that comes with a highly rated TV show, that there isn’t really an audience willing to continue buying music from reality TV show acts. There have been one or two successes produces by these programs. Kelly Clarkson, Will Young, Leonie Lewis but they are the exception and not the rule.

The contracts are constructed in such a way as to minimise all risk for the production and record companies, who of course earn the lion’s share of the money, we the candidates are told that we should be grateful for the “chance” we’ve been given. The judges, the producers, the advertisers are all part of a machine, actually a factory, that turns outlook and sound alike products that have a short-term shelf life.

Thus, ends part two. No writers of suspect contracts were hurt during the writing of this article. In the third and final part of this series, we’ll discuss Brandi’s battles with depression and how she found new love and has started singing again.

For more shallow wisdom read the book, the Amsterdam Confessions of a Shallow Man available from  BOL.com.  and Amazon