I have to come clean about something, dear readers: I don’t watch singing competition shows. There is something about the process of watching someone’s dreams get shattered in front of a live audience that makes me cringe in my deepest heart of hearts. As a singer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told I should try out for American Idol. I’d sooner decapitate myself with the MacBook Air I am writing this recap on. However, when AfterEllen asked me if I’d like to cover Make or Break: The Linda Perry Project, I was intrigued. Not only is Linda Perry is one the most prolific songwriters of the past twenty years, but she’s an openly queer woman to boot. So I put my hesitations aside and opened my mind. The first thing you should know is that The Linda Perry Project isn’t your typical singing competition show.
What Linda Perry strives for in the music she writes and produces is emotional connection, something she worries is greatly lacking in current popular music. She wants the kind of music you have to dig deep to make. In order to get it, she will literally break you. As Steven Tyler of Aerosmith says in one of the little vignettes during the show, Linda evokes both the angels and the demons. She also screams and swears a lot. I would have run out crying before the first commercial break, but thankfully the artists Linda has chosen for the show are made of tougher stuff.
Speaking of the artists, well I’ll be! The first folks we meet are openly queer band Hunter Valentine, who are reality show veterans after their experience on The Real L Word. Hunter Valentine have been there and done that, but the band is stuck in a plateau. They need a push into the big leagues.
Then there is Anjuli Stars, who has been paying her dues in the underground hip hop world for some time. Mackenzine Johnson, has the fresh faced optimism of an ABC Family starlet and lives with her folks. Sisters Ivana and Jessica make up VanJess, a duo with a world music sound who emigrated from Nigeria when they were children. Cutie pie Noah Hunt, is of the Jonas variety, with a voice that is only topped by his ambitious goals. New York City busker Gabriel Mayers, is a hard driven acoustic rocker with killer pipes who is banking on the show being his last chance to make something of his music.
Once all the artists have arrived, they are gathered for their introduction to Linda. She really kicks it off in her own special way. “Wake the fuck up everybody,” she bellows. Linda tells them that they are all there because each act is missing something and that’s what she is going to figure out. She expects real, raw emotion from everyone. “I’m putting my credibility on the line,” Linda explains (though that does seem a bit dramatic). She will work with all of them in the studio to see what it takes to make them a success. Not everyone will make it.
After their “pep talk” all the musicians move into a massive Californian castle. Hunter Valentine finds the booze and gets their drink on immediately. They can’t help but notice that they are one of the older acts and suddenly feeling their age.
Linda is like a heat-seeking missile and her target is weakness. Her first session in the studio is with Gabriel, who has been doing mainly covers. She suspects that his lack of originals might be an issue on his road to success. Linda ushers Gabriel into the studio and introduces her studio band. When he begins to play, she’s instantly bored by him. She yells that he has no heat and is simply coming across flat. When her sound engineer dares ask a repetitive question, she yells at him too. Actually she spends most of the time yelling at everyone. This should be called The Linda Perry Screaming Project: Shut up and Sing, Damnit. When Gabriel continues to fall short of her expectations, she drops a truth bomb. “There’s way better bands than you are. How are you going to stand out?” This cold, hard dose of reality seems to work and Gabriel amps it up a few notches. Linda is satisfied for now, but she’s not giving him any more warnings.
Hunter Valentine are first to make use of the rehearsal space, which is something Linda notices. However, if hard work was what it took to be a big hit, Hunter Valentine would be selling out the Barclays. Discord seems to be their issue, and I’m not talking about the music. Laura and Kiyomi have been bandmates for years but Aimee is new to the line up. Aimee speaks up when she doesn’t like something and it causes friction between her and Kiyomi. Kiyomi feels that Aimee is “depleting (her) positivity” and as is her way, Laura hangs back and observes. Linda calls it pretty straight from what she observes. Lead guitarists like Aimee often long to be lead singers, and grow increasingly frustrated as the lead singers get all the attention. Linda doesn’t see Kiyomi relinquishing any of that spotlight anytime soon, so the band is at an impasse.