Alexz Johnson ready to take risks

-- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:32 PM ET

So let's get this Instant Star thing straight before we perish from reality show feedback resonance overload.

Instant Star is not a reality show. Premiering tonight at 7 on CTV (Cable 2), it's a half-hour teen drama based on a reality show. It follows the fortunes of 15-year-old Jude Harrison, a winner of a Canadian Idol-type talent show, her ups, her downs, her conflicts with fellow high-school students, her rise to fame, her rebellion against the Svengalis who want to groom her into something she's not and lines like this: "He's an Orlando Bloom sundae smothered in Johnny Depp sauce."

Here's where it starts to get weird - no wonder the star of Instant Star got her start in a Disney network show called So Weird. Alexz Johnson is already a singer-songwriter in her own right. She has a hand in all the music on the TV series, which will generate one single per week. At the end of the season, the songs will be collected on an album, plus a possible tour to support it, with Alexz Johnson's name on the CD and actually singing the same songs her TV character did on the show. It will be as if Alexz Johnson herself is the winner of a Canadian Idol-type show. Johnson's real-life experiences will then be dramatized in another TV show starring a real-life singer and so on and so forth until our brains finally explode.

You have to marvel at the marketing genius behind this art imitating life imitating commerce. There's no reason to imagine Instant Star won't be a hit. In the first half-hour alone, they grab the Canadian Idol audience, establish a romantic triangle, generate at least four different levels of teen conflict (boyfriend, rivals, parents, record-industry weasels) and create an instant star both on TV and in real life at the same time. By the end of the season, Alexz Johnson and Jude Harrison will be seen as one in the same person. She may even suffer from the David Cassidy Syndrome. His last album was called Didn't You Used To Be ...? People remembered, but no one bought it.

Johnson agrees that taking this gig is a risky move for someone whose No. 1 passion is music, "but I'm just going to be positive about it and know my music and my writing are important to me. I'm not always going to be in TV-land."

The lives of Alexz Johnson and Jude Harrison already have some parallels.

In a phone interview last week, the Coquitlam, B.C.-raised singer and actress recalls her struggles with being a famous teenager when So Weird was a hit. She did some of the music for that, too. She got a lot of that "oh, there goes the TV star" in the halls at school, though not for long. Johnson was pulled out of school and continued by correspondence. Such are the demands of the instant star in real life. In fiction, Jude Harrison is still in high school. "I can't imagine trying to do both," Johnson says.

She still felt the downside of teen fame. It's not the star that changes because of success, she says, it's the people around the star.

"When you're a singer and on TV and stuff like that, you don't even want to audition for the drama program in school. I had people say stuff to me like, 'Well you can't audition for that because you're going to get it and it's not fair.' So it's like, 'Oh, so you can't even go to school and express your creative side. It's definitely a fine line. You've got to be careful when you're at school because it's hard for kids to understand. Some of them are judgmental. If you're on TV, they expect you to be different and I'm exactly the same as I was in elementary school."

Johnson said she lost friends because she wasn't available on the weekends to party like she used to. That's also why, she adds, stars end up partying with stars. They're the only ones who truly understand what it's like to be a star.

There are also parallel conflicts with showbiz weasels and the struggle to be yourself in the face of commercial pressures.

Johnson says she's turned down record deals due to artistic differences - no doubt from the same Disney teen factory that gave us all those boy bands and teen queens.

"They wanted me to do the bubblegum pop thing and that wasn't what I wanted to do," she says. "I come from a strong family, 10 kids and I'm right in the middle, number 6. Both my parents are very protective and want me to make the right decisions. I've always been a little girl with this big voice so it's never been a rush to get signed and have an album. It'll come out when I'm ready.

"This TV show could blur the lines between is she a singer or is she an actress? But at heart, my music is my No. 1 passion."

Since we're in a new season of American Idol, what does this TV Idol think of that show?

"I didn't watch it," Johnson says. "I did just to do some research, but after the first season, it was like, 'I get it now. I can only watch so much of it.' "


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