Rock StarCall it a huge karaoke contest. And no matter who loses, they all win. TV's "Rock Star: INXS" is yet another "reality" show; this one an extended audition for a new lead singer for INXS. Like "American Idol" before it, the fledgling hopeful stars on this show now all get their shots permanently recorded for the public ear, thanks to a new live CD of their individual performances. Rock Star: A Night at the Mayan Theatre on Burnett Records/Epic offers 17 tracks of the hopeful future INXS singers strutting their stuff live. They cover old chestnuts — from bands like the Pretenders, Blondie, Peter Frampton, KISS and more. From the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" to Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," you'll know all these tracks, and the various singers do capable jobs on them. What seems painfully obvious to this listener, however, is the audition process has not uncovered any singular talents like the uniquely charismatic original voice of INXS, the late Michael Hutchence. All the show's performers can sing, and most of the women seem to focus on a bluesy rock/Janis Joplin-style of singing which makes them all sound similar here. Deanna Johnston covers Joplin on a fine cover of "Piece of My Heart," while Will Seabrook wins the award for best soundalike performance, as he takes on David Bowie's "Heroes." But based on this recording, all the contenders are on equal footing; all good, none great.

Hot shows this week:
C.C. Adcock
will be opening for Lucinda Williams at the Vic Theatre in Chicago Saturday with his swamp-rock and blue guitar sounds born in the heart of the New Orleans bayou.

Ingram Hill will return to Chicago for two shows at Schuba's at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. The band is still on the road supporting "June's Picture Show," originally reviewed here in November 2003 when it was an independent release (Hollywood Records reissued it a few months later). The disc has since spawned two Top 40 singles, "Will I Ever Make It Home" and "Almost Perfect."

 

Pussycat Dolls The Pussycat Dolls
PCD
(A&M)


From the cover, it looks like the Pussycat Dolls is a girl group collective, maybe akin to the Spice Girls. In reality, TPD is the brainchild of Robin Antin, who formed the singing and dancing ensemble several years ago, and has since hosted a revolving door of singers.

Thanks to her roommate Christina Applegate's influence, the Dolls began a series of popular shows at Hollywood's Viper Club, and slowly turned into a cultural phenom, including a makeup line from Stila and a Pussycat Dolls Lounge now open inside Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

While the group has had songs included in soundtracks to Shark's Tale, Shall We Dance and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, this is the first time they've released a full CD. In the meantime, they've just had fun singing and dancing it up on the Sunset Strip. Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Charlize Theron, Paris Hilton and emcee Applegate have all stepped up to the mike with the Pussycat Dolls to celebrate their feel-good groove sounds.

These days, the troupe is focused around lead singer Nicole Scherzinger, who joined the Dolls after gigs singing with Days of the New and Eden's Crush.

While all the girls in the group have some solid singing and dancing pedigrees, the proof is in the debut CD, which turns out to be a somewhat uneven mix of salacious, cheeky tease-pop and throwaway oooh-baby ballads.

At its best, it's a scintillating mix of hand-clapping dance beats, sexy vocals and Miami Beach horn charts. At its worst, it sounds like a hundred other urban soul productions.

The disc opens with its lead single and strongest track, the cheeky "Don't Cha." With a deep bass beat, and the help of Busta Rhymes, the track is unstoppable as Scherzinger coos,

"I know you like me
I know you do
that's why whenever I come around
she's all over you."

And she seals the tease with a tongue-on-the-lips-chorus as she sings,

"Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was free like me?
Don't cha?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was fun like me?
Don't cha?"

The tease factor is continued on the punchy "Beep," featuring a sample from ELO and lots of provocative lyrics all appropriately "bleeped" out by either sound effects or "ha ha ha" vocals. It's a clever, catchy track that leads into the hand-clapping party anthem "Wait a Minute," featuring Timberland.

“Wait A Minute” again has a great male-female exchange as Timberland complains, “wait a minute / girl why you do me like that/ you take all my money/ and leave me calling for your back” while the girls return, “boy why you trippin' like that/you think cuz you're trickin'/you get it just like that?”

The disc bogs down with a couple of middle ballads and then goes into a retro groove for its last tracks, covering the horn punched up swing anthem “Right Now,” the Soft Cell ‘80s classic “Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go” and closing with a run-through of the jazzy old lounge chestnut “Feelin' Good.” These latter three tracks seem to belong on a completely different album from the opening three; but the dolls turn in smooth, glitzy performances on them all.