I have had one of the most exhilarating and exhausting summers of my life. I haven’t seen the sun, my family or friends since June because I’ve been the vocal coach for the CBS TV show Rock Star: Supernova. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it is a reality show with the job of finding a lead singer for the new rock band Supernova. Supernova is made up of three of the top musicians in rock today: the infamous and hilarious Tommy Lee of Motley Cru, Jason Newsted of Metallica fame and Gilby Clarke from Guns ‘N Roses. The show airs two nights a week – one where all the singers perform and one where only the bottom three sing. There is also a weekly reality segment that premieres every Monday on the Internet on msn.com. Here’s a little of what it’s been like for me to be working on this project.
Watch the video of my vocal clinic.
My Summer Vacation
It’s 4 am when my alarm goes off on Wednesday. These are not musician’s hours. It’s so early even my dogs don’t notice I’m up. My call time at CBS TV is 5:15 and it takes a half hour to drive there. There’s no traffic.
CBS is swarming with people – the camera crew, lighting crew, sound crew, directors, producers, musicians and all of the production assistants. I wait outside for the van with the rockers who tumble out looking sleepy and disheveled. They haul out their guitars and their suitcases full of the clothes they might wear for today’s show. Their handlers shuttle them up to the third floor to the ‘green room’. The mood is gloomy. Someone is going home today.
All summer these singers have been living together in a mansion in the hills of L.A. They have no phone, no radio, no TV, no Internet, not even CD players. Their whole world is the show and each other. The mansion is beautiful, the food is great, the crew is friendly and helpful but in the end it’s a very pretty pressure cooker that they are living in. Everything they do is watched and when they are upset or distressed, it’s filmed. Still they know that the prize is worth it. They all want to win. My job is to help each one of them do it. Every time someone goes home, those of us who are left feel the loss.
As I write this, I don’t know who will be the winner. No one does. I’ve heard rumors that these shows are fixed but I can tell you for certain, this one isn’t. The front runners change week to week and the show has no control over who the audience will vote into the bottom three. Today is the day we will find out. Those three will be performing for Supernova to try to save themselves and Supernova will send one home (in one shocking episode they actually sent two home!).
By about 5:30 (still in the AM, folks) the rockers go down to the stage (it looks exactly like the Mayan Theater in Hollywood but it’s on a CBS sound stage) and four of them are picked arbitrarily to stand in for the four performers who will sing today. Besides the bottom three there will be one rocker chosen by Supernova to do an encore. I try to give them a group warm-up amidst the din in the studio. It is minimal. The holy smokin’ house band barrels through a soundcheck and a dress rehearsal for all four of the singers. Then the rockers are herded back up to the third floor to cycle through hair, make-up and wardrobe. This is where they will spend the next few hours sequestered before they tape today’s elimination show. Breakfast is brought up and after they eat it’s time to warm-up their voices. Mind you, they’ve already had to sing but now we get serious about getting ready for taping.
In the first episode of the show there were fifteen rockers. There wasn’t enough time for me to give them each a thorough warming up. But now that we’re down to the seven best I know their voices well and I know what each singer needs to get ready for the extremely demanding day they are facing. I take each one into the hall (there’s no room to warm-up in and no piano – we do it a capella in the hallway between offices). We run through some scales getting them loosened up and stretched out and then we work on the parts of their song that might be giving them trouble. Believe me, these people are incredible singers. They work hard and learn fast which makes my job a dream.
Then it’s showtime. We all take the elevator down together – it’s packed with the rockers, their handlers and me. Usually we sing some loud rock song on the way down and they bang on the sides of the elevator – it used to scare me but we haven’t gotten stuck in there yet. Once they all decided to just scream at the top of their lungs – the elevator door opened on the second floor and there was Tommy Lee screaming back at us!
The theater is packed with audience members. (Another rumor that is totally untrue is that they are hired audience members. But anyone who lives in Hollywood knows that there is a line around the block of people who want to get in and do.) There is a guy warming up the audience and an incredible DJ spinning loud, loud music. From here on, I’m in the audience watching the show unfold. The rockers come out onstage, then the house band, then Dave Navarro who co-hosts with Brooke Burke and finally Supernova. The room goes crazy and the show starts.
My job is done for the day except to go backstage and say goodbye to the one who is leaving. There are tears all around. The remaining rockers are shuttled back to the mansion for more reality TV taping, photo shoots and song selection. I’ll see them again on Saturday when I go up to the mansion to give them each a real voice lesson and work on the songs. Then on performance day at CBS and we go through a pretty similar routine except they all get to sing; they rehearse their songs twice, go through hair and make-up, rock out in the elevator and perform for the audience. Let the voting begin!
For pictures, a video clip and more visit the video and press page on my website; The Singers’ Workshop.
Lis Lewis is a voice teacher and performance coach in Los Angeles, CA. She has been training recording artists for over 30 years. Learn more about her private voice lessons. She has also coached celebrities including: Miguel, Rihanna, Iggy Azalea, Bryson Tiller, Demi Lovato, and more. Lis is also the author of the books, “The Singers First Aid Kit” and “The Pop Singers Warm-Up Kit” both published by Hal Leonard.