Pop Idol talents "throw down gauntlet", threatening long established stars

Aneta Langerova, photo: www.aneta-langerova.net

The first Czech series of Pop Idol brought instant fame to Aneta Langerova. Now hugely popular among the younger generation and respected for the impression she gives of being a woman of principle, she has had the opportunity to perform with Czech musical legends. In short, a dream come true story for a girl who at the age of eighteen shook the Czech music scene to its foundations, proving that there is space for new talents.

The second Pop Idol competition was a bit different. Czechs had got used to it and did not pay as much attention to the second batch of finalists. Being on average ten years older and having experience with performing they were much more relaxed and professional; one reason perhaps, why people didn't warm to them so much.

Both the winner Vlasta Horvath and his runner-up Petr Bende have just released their first albums and although their popularity is not as big as Aneta's they have become a threat to the icon of the Czech music scene for the last 40 years, Karel Gott.

"For the second series of Pop Idol people say 'Oh you are a product. You have been around for five years and you have never made it. Now you went on television and you have made a record. But maybe you would have never have produced a record if you had not been a face on the TV show.' This might be very true but it is up to them. People still have to like the music and the artist."

Says Romana Paskova, the marketing director of Sony BMG which is in charge of producing Pop Idol. There were no doubts about Aneta's success, concludes Romana but this year's finalists remain a mystery. It is likely that they would have made it with their bands even without the competition but ...

"Maybe it would not be so massive. But I never know if they want to be massive. When you work with these guys, for example Vlasta, you don't know if he is happy that his face is everywhere that the city is plastered with posters. They did not have big thoughts. There is not much planning from their side. It is just a game; there is this element of gambling."

Vlasta Horvath
Petr Vizina prepares the cultural section of the Czech daily Lidove Noviny. He followed both the first and the second Pop Idol competition. When I asked for his view about Pop Idol as such he was not excited at all and refused to talk to me. Luckily he changed his mind but his greeting when we met was ironic. "How on earth did you end up with a feature about Pop Idol?" he asked, and I replied with another question. So there was not a single person you liked?

"My favourite was Vlasta Horvath. Plus being a Roma it makes a difference. When he won it was interesting because he is such a normal guy. He has got a girlfriend. He used to have a job, an ordinary job. They are very good musicians, they play the kind of music that would be played on TV. They had the attitude 'We will send Vlasta and he will do something for the band.' I like it, it is a good story."

The best singer of the first Pop Idol competition was without a doubt Martina Balogova but she came out fifth. Czechs came down for a lot of criticism for being racists mainly from British press. Martina as well as Vlasta is a Roma. Was it just a coincidence?

"What you are trying to say is that people have made up for what they had messed up in terms of Gypsies in the first round? No, I don't think so. I think he was quite good."

While Petr Vizina disagreed with my suspicion that Vlasta's origin might have helped him to win, Romana Paskova was of a different opinion.

"Maybe yes, maybe people felt ashamed of themselves. She was not supposed to come out of the competition as the number five. So she kind of prepared the way for him, for Vlasta Horvath to become the superstar."

And what does the second Petr Bende think? After all he would be the one most affected.

"I think that Vlastik did not come across as a Gypsy and nor did Martina. The population might have changed their opinion about Gypsies in the last year. I am pleased about it. I think racism is quite big here and I think it should not be like that."

The second Pop Idol competition was crowded with solo or band lead singers. But Petr Bende was the only one who was also a composer. The vast majority of the songs on his new album were written by him. Romana Paskova from Sony BMG says

"I think it is very brave and it is the only way you can be trusted by people. The public really needs someone they can trust in times when everybody is consuming music like chocolate. You have to present yourself in the way when you really can explain 'This is me if you don't like it leave it, if you like it, then great. This is his attitude. The set-up was really perfect for him. He is not the winner so he is not in the spotlight as the winner. So he took material that he had and rerecorded it. What came out of the studio is unbelievable. We just could not believe it. The album is so good."

The album is titled simply PB, short for Petr Bende.

"I think it is all going to fade out. The only thing I have ever wanted was to play music so I don't mind the lack of free time. I have always dreamed about concerts and I don't even have to play in big concert halls. I like smaller concerts in bars. It fulfils me and I definitely don't want to give it up. I think I should first of all prove that I know something and then people will follow me."

Says Petr who is not concerned about the negative association Czechs get when you mention the Pop Idol competitions. If it hadn't been for the show, his first album, that he had already been working on, would have been a bit different and definitely wouldn't have got so much attention. But it would have been released anyway.

"I am not the kind of person who kisses up. I don't want to become successful at any expense. I do my best and I want to be satisfied with my music. The people who know me longer know how much I like music and how enthusiastic I am about it. I don't think I am going to lose them just because of Pop Idol. My audience has already widened. There is a fun club that follows us around the country. We have been playing at various Christmas concerts for about eight years and the audience is amazing. The youngest are five, the oldest about eighty and they all like the kind of rock we play."

Petr Bende,  photo: www.petrbende.cz
Petr's success brought many offers of "corporate concerts" but he refuses to play for people stuffing their faces with ham in front of the stage. He agrees that there is a price to be paid for becoming famous but his concerts are about music not the fifteen minutes of fame.

"The situation here in the Czech Republics has changed. People expect more, it takes longer to get them going, to persuade them. I have experienced a few concerts where people are standing and think 'So show what you have got.' They don't believe me; they think that I can hardly sing. It takes some time to persuade them that I know how to hold the instrument and even how to play it."