A hot musical catchphrase of the past year, “mash-up” — the combining of two, seemingly disparate albums or singles to create a new work — has found its first TV example in Missy Elliott’s talent competition “The Road to Stardom.” The rapper has created a mash-up of “American Idol” and “America’s Next Top Model,” assembling 13 wannabe singers and rappers, taking them on the road and giving them musical tasks that a trio of experts judge.
Considering that both formats feel a bit worn, success of “Road” may well be determined more by contestants’ personalities and their conflicts than by any particular talent they demonstrate. This gang of 13 is a rough bunch, and not one of them particularly shines in the opening seg. To the creators’ credit, though, the interest here is in developing multifaceted performers and not just big-voiced karaoke champs capable of mimicking contempo radio hits. (As on “Idol,” expect an abundance of melisma singing).
Novel hook is that the group is traveling on a ragtag bus trailing Elliott’s tour. They’ll be asked to perform in different situations in various cities, hoping to win a recording contract and cash. Elliott’s manager, Mona Scott, heads the jury, with producer Dallas Austin and R&B singer Teena Marie; they are all honest and low-key. In the first competish, they smartly focus on the performers’ believability and, not surprisingly, the least credible is the first to go.
A disaffected Elliott takes the judges’ recommendations and then makes the cut. She’s a taskmaster who doesn’t suffer fools, which also means she doesn’t possess the warmth of “Top Model” host Tyra Banks. Elliott is here to find a winner, not offer emotional support. Wisely, voiceover is kept to a minimum.
With a steady hip-hop beat and some extraordinarily well-lit scenes, “Road to Stardom” has a sharp look. It will be interesting to see if that continues as the contestants start getting into the usual reality-show hijinks.