Poison (Szumowski/Sims) – Bardot 2000
Popstars was one of the embryonic reality TV shows, that ushered in the new millennium, it preceded American Idol, UK’s Pop Idol, X Factor, the Voice, and Australia’s Got Talent, and even Big Brother, but the formula for success had been proven many years before. The Monkees had been assembled in 1966 after an exhaustive audition process involving 400 applicants and enjoyed chart success, Don Kirshner had substituted the comic strip characters Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Veronica and Betty for real musicians to form the virtual band The Archies who had a megahit with Sugar, Sugar in 1969.
Virtual groups had also proliferated throughout the bubblegum music era of the 1970’s where numerous virtual bands who never existed outside the session musicians who recorded the songs, dominated the charts. The two most prolific of these performers were Brit Tony Burrows who was simultaneously lead singer of Edison Lighthouse, White Plains, The Brotherhood of Man, First Class and The Pipkins and in the US Joey Levine who fronted Ohio Express, Shadows of Knight and The Kasenatz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus. The Spice Girls, created by Simon Cowell in 1997 were arguably the archetypical manufactured girl group, who had torn up the charts in the 1990’s and by 2000 were breaking up and going solo, so the time was ripe for an Antipodean version of the original girl power group.
A New Zealand TV series called Popstars had already aired and the winners, the all-girl, multicultural TrueBliss, had briefly flashed across the pop firmament, but Channel Seven were convinced that the Spice Girls audience of girls under-12 years of age in Australia, would support the show locally, and they were right.
Where the Spice Girls were Sporty, Ginger, Baby, Posh and Scary, the five girls originally conscripted into Bardot were Katie (Kooky), Sally (Maternal), Sophie (Genuine), Chantelle (Quiet) and Belinda (Hyperactive) – the Channel 7 marketing team must have all been at a long lunch when the nicknames were chosen.
Subsequently the group members became more identifiable as Cyborg Ginger Spice (Katie), Marilyn Monroe Impersonator Spice (Sophie), Cowboy Hat Spice (Tiffani), Posh Spice but With Vocals (Belinda), and Good at Delivering The Cool Middle 8s’ in Songs Spice (Sally).
Despite the clunky sobriquets and the fact that one of the original group members, Chantelle, the Quiet One, was sacked before things really got rolling because of an indiscretion, after she admitted stealing from her fellow group members, and was replaced by Tiffani, the show was a great success. Their debut song would be their biggest hit, Poison, was a slinky, slithery, sexy, sinuous slice of Spice Girls pop, with girl power assertiveness stamped all over it, and a more confident vocal performance from a group on its debut single would be hard to imagine, Bardot were hot and became the first local group to take both their debut single and self-titled debut album to #1.
The girls sang solo inserts and brought the song home collectively on the chorus, co-composer and producer Michael Szumowski of Alberts Records brought his considerable skills to the production, and the record went straight to #1 and stayed there for two weeks, it was also a #1 hit in NZ, climbed to #45 in the UK and sold over 150,000 copies.
The promo video portrayed the girls as manufactured dolls or androids, being controlled by others, it was a classic case of art imitating life. The five girls were featured in separate locations to apparently underscore their different personalities – Tiffani in a hotel suite, Sophie in a fairy garden, Sally in a bamboo room, Katie in a futuristic bright red room, and Belinda in a disco with shiny mirror balls – go figure! A press shot of the robotic Bardot members is notable for a seated Katie Underwood urinating on K-9, a robot dog, maybe she was the Kooky One after all.
In 2001 Katie Underwood was offered a part in a new production of the stage musical Hair and left the group but the show was cancelled, and she ultimately formed Disco Montage with the Dowlut brothers Dennis and Darren and had a top ten hit with the disco dance release Beautiful in 2002.
The four remaining girls followed up with several glossy, radio-friendly pop confections which charted creditably in 2000 – I Should’ve Never Left You (#12) and These Days (#15), and they continued to chart into 2001 with ASAP (#9) and I Need Somebody (#6).
Commercially Bardot generated approx. $30 million from concerts, records, and sales of merchandise in their first six months, but once the show folded and Channel 7 pulled the pin on future promotion of the group, their chart success ebbed away, and they disbanded in 2002. Sophie Monk attempted to segue to a solo career but after charting with Inside Out, #9 in 2002, and Get the Music On, #11 in 2003, her career stuttered to a halt, the hits dried up, and she became more famous as a tabloid personality on the fringes of the entertainment industry.