Linda Perry, the veteran songwriter and producer behind Christina Aguilera's Beautiful and Pink's Get the Party Started, doesn't believe American Idol and The Voice are properly supporting rising musicians.
"Do you remember who won The Voice?" she says. "You know that Maroon 5 has an album out, you know Adam Levine is on Proactiv commercials, you know Christina's pregnant and Shakira has a new album. These are all great artists. But it's to market them. It's not really to market the talent they're finding."
She's taking up the challenge herself with VH1's new Make or Break: The Linda Perry Project.
The eight episodes chronicle Perry's songwriting and recording sessions with seven artists on the fringes of the music industry. Rather than relying on cover songs and superstar personalities, she says, she emphasized honest criticism and emotional development.
Perry, 49, found her artists, ranging from Cuban rapper Anjuli Stars to Canadian rock band Hunter Valentine, by asking friends if they knew any talented local musicians.
Through auditions, "all I would have gotten were American Idol rejects and people who wanted to be on TV," she says. "These are actual artists who are trying to make a living."
Unlike Idoland The Voice, Perry's show doesn't follow a rigid weekly structure. Executive producer John Irwin says the production began with a rough plan for 16 to 20 days of shooting. Perry's process ultimately unfolded over 18 days, and the producers tried their best not to interfere. For her part, Perry refused to repeat interactions for the benefit of the cameras.
"We approached it from a fly-on-the-wall standpoint," Irwin says. "When you let things play out organically, what starts to happen ends up being far more interesting than anything we could have contrived."
No one gets eliminated, but Perry makes it clear which artists she has lost interest in developing. Though the season finished filming months ago, Perry won't say whether she ends up signing any of them to her Custard Records label, also home of James Blunt.
"I'm trying to help these kids understand that when you let go of what you think people want you to do and what you think you should do, the result and the emotional payoff is far greater," she says.
Make or Breakwill appeal to viewers who grew up watching the network's classic music-based shows such as Behind the Music and Rock Docs, says Susan Levison, VH1's programming chief.
Despite Perry's blunt criticism, Levison says the artists were enticed by the prospect of working with her after the show ends.
"It's a little bit like Willy Wonka," she says. "These musicians recognize that if they win, it's truly winning the golden ticket."
Perry is no stranger to the music industry, having fronted her own rock band (4 Non Blondes) and written music for Gwen Stefani, Alicia Keys and Dixie Chicks. She has observed contemporary musicians prioritizing popularity and glamour over artistic credibility, though she says artists such as Sia and Lorde buck that trend.
She looks forward to shaking up the formula in a potential second season, if the ratings are sufficient. She's optimistic that Make or Break will be a breakthrough for her and her artists.
"People keep asking me what my new hit is," she says. "This is my new hit."
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