The Teen Idol Is Dead, Long Live the (Reality-TV) Teen Idol

How many horsemen? We lost count. Photo: Photos: Getty Images


If all that boring, repetitive "drama" on The Hills — and the attendant boring, repetitive magazine covers — left you with a raging case of Untalented-Idiot Fatigue, we bring bad news: It's not letting up anytime soon. This week alone, news broke that former Lauren Conrad colleague Whitney Port may get her own reality spinoff show, former Lauren Conrad paramour Brody Jenner will star in Bromance — in which cheesy dudes compete to fill what we assume is Spencer Pratt’s old spot in Jenner’s douchey entourage — and Nicole Richie, ostensibly Lauren Conrad's progenitor as the genre's original dirty-blonde, do-nothing waif, is shopping a series in which women compete to "become the next Nicole Richie" — i.e., they compete to become famous for no reason. That ringing in your ears? It's the death knell tolling for actual, legitimately gifted teen idols. Those teen idols are dead.

It sounds crotchety, but in our adolescence, celebrity heroes were at least semi-skilled. Debbie Gibson had pipes, and though the New Kids on the Block were no Beatles 2.0, that "Hanging Tough" dance was hard. Even 'NSync had actual vocal talent to hang their matching jackets on, as evidenced by Justin's, J.C.'s, and even Joey's post-band achievements. The idea that you could be famous merely for wearing giant sunglasses and having boy problems was ludicrous. Now, Spencer and Heidi seem to exist only to have relationship woes, which Us Weekly lovingly chronicles as if they were gifted actors like Brad and Angelina. For every Miley Cyrus (and there are painfully few), there's an Audrina and a Tila Tequila, whose notoriety stems solely from getting naked on MySpace and then agreeing to ram her tongue down every available throat for the cameras. As for Richie, you'd never know she's an accomplished pianist, because her actual talent takes a backseat to her star-making Simple Life achievement of being less moronic than Paris Hilton — which even Tila Tequila could probably do.

We understand why MTV’s beloved teen demo loves real-people programming: It makes a glamorous life seem within easy reach, and hey, we love soapy shenanigans too. But ratings shouldn't beget role models; this latest spate of projects makes our old ideal of the stardom — that it's earned by being good at something — feel officially extinct. Reality stars with no talent have saturated the teen market to such an extent that the traditional teen idol is gasping for air (Miley Cyrus had to get caught up in a non-controversy with names as big as Annie Leibovitz and Vanity Fair just to get our attention, whereas Lauren just has to leave a note on Audrina's door and a nation is transfixed.) Jenner, in particular, has labored to get famous by doing nothing more than getting dressed, starring on a terrible short-lived series about his family before becoming L.C.'s ex-beau and Spencer's ex-bro. He can form a complete sentence, though, which is more than most Hills stars do, and we are hopeful his show and its “Hot Tub Eliminations” are a parody. Port, on the other hand, existed mostly as the girl who chewed on her pen before asking Lauren what happened last night, yet suddenly we're being asked to care that she's going bi — bi-coastal, that is — for People's Revolution and bonding with a manufactured posse of gal pals who are no doubt just as mentally aimless as their fearless leader.

The nail in the coffin is Richie's reported project: Girls who do nothing must prove they can become famous for doing nothing, and the winner "earns" her own show on which she will probably continue doing nothing. It’s like the universe is turning in on itself. Let's pray this is secretly a postmodern satire of the very phenomenon that made Richie herself a household name, because if we've arrived at a point where society's second-most famous ne'er-do-anything is unironically rewarding that quality in others, then we are speeding toward a very talentless and superficial, and annoying, future indeed. Better lock the doors and hunker down — in giant sunglasses, of course. Just in case. —The Fug Girls

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