I am so over apologizing for the fact that I enjoy entertainment that my peers think I’m too old for. It just takes too much energy to pretend that I’m loitering in the young adult section of the book store looking for a gift for my kid sister (eventually I’m going to be old enough to claim I’m there for my own kid, which is scary), or that I’m still paying attention to the solo endeavors of *NSYNC members because I want to keep up with popular culture. Eventually, the lies just eat you up inside, you know?
The hardest part about coming clean on these things is the amount of explaining you have to do. It’s bad enough that you have to admit that you have a stash of Teen People in your closet. You have to tell people WHY you have all those magazines – why you bought them, why you’re saving them, why you sometimes scan in photos from those glossy pages. And if you’re a fan, like I am, of a little cable network called The N, you’ll often find yourself in the role of corporate spokesperson.
It seems that no one I deal with in my daily life has ever heard of The N. I am almost positive that anyone reading this article knows what I’m talking about, but just in case…The N is Viacom’s nighttime network for teens. It shares a place on the dial with Noggin, which is the home of kiddie fare like Dora The Explorer and Bob The Builder. The N comes on around three in the afternoon, and made a name for itself by airing Degrassi: The Next Generation, and has since added other popular programming like the reality show Girls Vs. Boys, the GLAAD-approved South Of Nowhere, and teen-girl favorite Instant Star.
It’s Instant Star that I set out to write about today, so I hope you can forgive the rambling buildup. When Instant Star debuted last year, I eagerly set my Tivo for a season pass. Time went by, the episodes piled up, and I found myself unable to wrestle my attention away from Veronica Mars. But there’s always that time, between one season and the next, when you’ve caught up on everything else you’ve wanted to watch and end up idly flipping through the channels looking for a re-run of What Not To Wear. I decided to spend that time a little more productively, and snagged my friend Nicole – also a fan of all things teen, though as a high school English teacher she has a better excuse than I do – and forced her to sit on my couch and check out Instant Star.
Instant Star is the story of a teenage girl named Jude Harrison (real-life performer Alexz Johnson), who wins an American Idol-style singing competition. Jude is a singer-songwriter, a little in the pseudo-punk vein of Avril Lavigne (please don’t let the comparison put you off). Each episode features one of Jude’s songs in progress, either being written or recorded or performed for the first time in concert. Her best friend is a boy who worships her, her sister is a bitch who is always competing with her, and her dad is an old-school rock and roll fan who wants Jude to succeed more than anything he’s ever wanted for himself. Season One follows Jude through the recording of her first album, during which she fights feelings for her producer Tommy (Tim Rozon), learns that her dad is cheating on her mom, and gets her heart broken by a popular rap star.
On our first viewing day, Nicole and I only had time to watch two episodes (out of 13 in the first season). But even after such a little taste, we were both addicted. It was agony to walk away from the TV, and I swear I felt a twinge of physical pain knowing that it would be at least another week before we could sit down to watch more. On our next pass we got through eight episodes, and we actually made a date for the next day to finish up the season. Within weeks I had purchased the season one soundtrack, burned Nicole a copy, and she was calling me saying, “You’ve RUINED me! I can’t listen to anything else!”
In short, we’re hooked.
Season Two of Instant Star debuts on February 10, and if you aren’t already watching, you should be. The good news about The N is that it programs like MTV – every new episode is re-run a dozen times before the airing of another new one, and you can almost always find older episodes airing later at night. This means that you can a) forget to set your Tivo before you go out Friday night and still catch the episodes and b) you’ll be able to catch up on the first season within a couple of months if you find yourself loving it.
For those of you, though, who have not yet entered the Golden Age of Tivo, I’ve compiled a list of things that you’ll probably want to know before you dive into Season Two. It’s a primer, if you will, of who’s doing whom, who’s in love with whom, and which moments would have made you swoon, had you seen them the first time.
Jude and Tommy
This is THE romantic pairing for Instant Star, much like Pacey and Joey became for Dawson’s Creek. Aside from the fact that they work together, there’s a little matter of age to deal with: He’s 22 and she turns 16 halfway through the first season. He’s an ex-boyband star (think Justin Timberlake, complete with the bandana) whose first attempt at going solo wasn’t so successful (thinkJC Chasez, complete with extra earnestness). The relationship between them bypassed producer/artist in about five seconds, and sparks have been flying between them ever since. Despite the age difference, Tommy confesses to his friend Kwest (Mark Taylor) that no one in his life gets him like Jude, and even though he’s not the type of guy to cross that line, he’d be with her in a second if she were older.
There are many brilliant moments between the two characters over the first three episodes – the way he touches her when he’s helping her write a song, wrapping his arm around her to help hold up her guitar; the way they lean into each other to barely touch foreheads; the way Jude throws herself into his arms when she’s excited and he just closes his eyes and breathes her in. The big moment, the one everyone always talks about, occurs in the episode “Unsweet 16,” which features Jude’s birthday party. In it, Tommy makes his big confession to Kwest, Jude is publicly humiliated by her rap-star boyfriend, and Tommy chases her out into the rain where they share a fevered kiss. The kiss itself is hot. The first time Nicole and I watched it, one of us shrieked. But the real brilliance comes just after, when Tommy says that they have to pretend it never happened or he can’t be her producer anymore. He begs her to “just say it,” just say it never happened, and wanting to keep him in her life she does. It’s an amazing scene, perfectly played by both actors, and oozing with passion.
Throughout the rest of the season, they try to get back to where they were before the kiss, which just creates more tension. At the end of season one, Tommy has chosen to be with Jude’s sister Sadie (Laura Vandervoort). Jude feels betrayed by both of them, and she leaves on her first tour alone while Tommy and Sadie go off to Europe.
Jude and Jamie
Jamie (Kristopher Turner) is Jude’s best friend, the guy next door, the one who has been in love with her since he learned girls wouldn’t give him cooties. Like every boy next door in history, Jamie is an ugly duckling who will no doubt turn into a swan, an awkward teen that will one day trade his glasses for contacts and his barber for a stylist. For now, though, he’s Jude’s safety blanket, her touchstone. Until she meets Tommy, she values his opinion of her music over any other, but Jamie isn’t content with his role in her life. He makes the boneheaded move to his feelings, which at the time Jude does not return. (It should be noted that Tommy is sometimes jealous of Jamie, perhaps because Jamie is free to love Jude without consequences.)
Jamie’s got a couple of big moments during season one. He manages a band that eventually goes on tour with Jude. He’s the one to help Jude through the awkwardness of dealing with her father, once Jude finds out about his philandering ways. He goes with her to get her first tattoo (both of them get the letter “J”), and he stumbles into a doomed relationship with their friend Kat – more on that later. At the end of the first season, Jamie grows a pair of testicles and refuses to go on tour with Jude. He wants her to have the chance to miss him, and he kisses her goodbye in an attempt to show her that they could be something more. This time Jude admits that she might return his feelings, and as she boards her plane, it is with the understanding that she is willing to give them a try.
Kat and Jamie
Instant Star is a show full of love triangles. In a second we’ll talk about Jude/Tommy/Sadie and Victoria/Stuart/Yvette, but right now let’s cover Jude/Jamie/Kat. Kat (Barbara Mamabolo) completes the best friend triumvirate. She’s been friends with Jamie and Jude for years, and is well aware that Jamie’s in love with Jude while Jude doesn’t feel the same way. Kat’s the person Jude goes to for girl talk, the first one who knows that Jude has a thing for Tommy. She’s also got a little crush of her own…on Jamie. Unlike Jamie, Kat knows a thing or two about going after what she wants. She knows that kissing Jamie will throw him into a tailspin, and she takes advantage of his confusion to flirt shamelessly. Eventually he gets the gist, and the two end up dating, at first doing so behind Jude’s back.
This relationship can’t withstand the power of Jude, though, and in the end Jamie has to admit that he’ll never feel as strongly about Kat. At the end of season one, Kat is off to New York for an internship in fashion design and is not yet aware that the situation between Jude and Jamie has changed.
Jude and Shay
S-to the-H-to the A-to the-Y (Matthew Brown) is Jude’s first real boyfriend. He’s a young, hot rap star who enters Jude’s world when Tommy is tapped to produce his next single. He’s got an entourage and bling, and also an uncle who rules his career with an iron fist. Jude is the first person to cut through all his crap and tell him to run his own life, and Shay likes that. They record a song together, “Waste My Time,” and before they have to do it in front of the cameras, Shay gives Jude her first real kiss backstage at a video shoot. (It should be noted that Tommy is also jealous of Shay, and at first tries to keep them apart.)
Shay’s big secret is that he’s good at math. He’s a superstar with a brain! Too bad he doesn’t use his head to think about useful stuff like staying faithful. While on tour, Shay gets busy with Jude’s arch nemesis Eden (Katrina Matthews), the Britney-wannabe Jude beat in the Instant Star competition. Jude learns of his betrayal at her birthday party and has a public meltdown in front of the paparazzi – after which she ends up in Tommy’s arms.
Tommy and Sadie
Jude’s sister Sadie is hot and she knows it, baring her toned, tanned stomach at every opportunity. Her lips are often frosty pink and her skirts are usually very short. But, surprisingly, she’s not a total bimbo. She’s an overachiever, excelling in just about everything she does: debate, cheerleading, horsemanship. As a fan of Tommy’s former boyband, Boyz Attack, she dorks out on occasion and sings his songs at the karaoke bar or wears their concert t-shirts proudly.
I’m just going to go on record and say that I don’t like Sadie. Nicole is always pointing out the nice things she does – like defending Jude to Eden or helping her through their parents’ divorce – but at the end of the day, I feel that Sadie is a spiteful bitch whose jealousy of Jude manifests itself in ugly ways. Like going after Tommy, when it’s clear to anyone with two eyes that he and Jude have something going on (even if they don’t admit it). Like demanding to attend a party where Jude needs to network and almost ruining Jude’s chance at a magazine cover. Like ratting Jude out about failing chemistry, or telling Jude that their parents fight because Jude is too self-centered.
At the end of season one, Sadie is the winner of Tommy’s affections. She’s off to Europe on a trip purchased from her father’s mistress, and Tommy will join her there. To that I say, “bah.”
Victoria and Stuart
Jude and Sadie’s parents are already fighting when the series starts. Victoria (Jane Sowerby) is worried that Tommy is going to take advantage of Jude, when a tabloid publishes pictures of them together. Stuart (Simon Reynolds) won’t even consider the issue, as it might jeopardize the career that he wants so much for Jude to have. They fight over how much time Jude spends at the studio, how much time Stuart spends with Jude and not Sadie, and whether or not their couples’ therapy is keeping them from being around to parent. (Jude is clearly daddy’s little girl, and that’s part of Sadie’s problem with her.)
It is revealed early in the series that Stuart is having an affair with his travel agent, Yvette, when Sadie finds a love note scribbled in the brochure for her European vacation. Jude learns later, when she comes home from the studio early after fighting with Tommy about the big kiss, and finds her dad and his mistress making out on the couch. Stuart asks his daughters to keep the affair a secret, but Jude strikes back in the song “Skin,” which she performs on a nationally broadcast television program before breaking down backstage and demanding that her father come clean. Stuart confesses, and he and Victoria end season one with a divorce.
Other notable characters
Jude’s record label, G Major, is run by a sassy broad named Georgia (Tracy Waterhouse). G Major’s publicist is an equally sassy broad named E.J. (Andrea Lui). (I’ve heard that neither of these characters will be around for season two, which is a shame. They were one of the best lesbian couples to not actually be lesbians on TV.) Shay’s uncle is Darius (Wes Williams, Canada’s most successful rap artist ever), and in addition to keeping his nephew’s career on track, he also publishes the magazine that puts Jude on the cover, and is the owner of Tommy’s never-released solo album.
And that’s it! That’s pretty much all you need to know to feel confident about jumping into Instant Star season two. Don’t be intimidated. You’ll love it.