“I don’t want reality stars. I want stars,” Kelly Rowland says in the premiere episode of BET’s Chasing Destiny, making it unsurprisingly clear that she’s more focused on assembling a drama-free girl group than creating salacious reality TV.
By Episode 2, which aired last night, Kelly has narrowed a field of over 600 aspiring singers (via auditions in three cities) down to just 15 young women. The girls are all rooming together in several hotel suites, but Kelly isn’t (and won’t be) playing up drama. She’s more concerned with building “the next big girl group” and protecting her reputation in the process.
This aversion to scandal makes Chasing Destiny like the Michelle Williams Christian album of making-the-band reality shows.
“I don’t want to look like some crazy person, just throwing together girl groups,” Kelly says, calling herself a perfectionist. And then later, “It’s a great responsibility to think that somebody’s hopes and dreams rests in your hands.”
She’s doing this with the help of director/choreographer Frank Gatson Jr., who’s worked with Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé for decades, and also Michael Jackson, En Vogue, etc. He wants to “put together a combination of girls that will sound magical,” he says. They have only two weeks for some reason (budget, it seems) to find and form a group that could rival Fifth Harmony or, I guess, Little Mix.
That Chasing Destiny suffers from blandness, to Kelly’s credit, doesn’t mean there’s zero entertainment value. There’s something compelling enough in simply seeing a bunch of primarily black young singers and dancers working to fulfill a dream that almost seems destined to fail, given the fate of previous reality TV-assembled groups.
These bands have a history of success but never end up staying together, with One Direction (basically impressive X-Factor rejects cobbled together by Simon Cowell) being the most commercially popular example. There’s also the stable of Making the Band groups, which includes O-Town and Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Da Band, Danity Kane and Day 26, all now disbanded.
This early 2000s Making the Band franchise saw its mastermind Diddy doing whatever it took to facilitate the good stuff of reality TV, even if it meant asking his band members to walk from Harlem to Brooklyn for cheesecake. In the midst of constructing the perfect group, he made sure viewers would also feel the drama, whether silly or real. It produced some of the genre’s most memorable reality TV moments—cast/band member Dylan (better known as DY-Lon) would become the subject of a Chappelle’s Show skit—and a sense of familiarity for fans. It also maybe also contributed to these bands ultimately failing.
Like Diddy and Cowell, Kelly comes with credibility. Unlike them, she has the additional experience of being a girl group member. When Kelly shares wisdom in that loving tough-love tone (“Allow yourself to be present,” she tells Khylah from Chicago, who struggles with sticking her dance moves), you can tell she wants these young women to win... while also making her look good.
Episode 2 opens with Kelly and Frank surveying the group of 15. Frank Garson is thinking about who’s “pretty” and says, “It’s really just lining them up to see how they pop.” Already, you can tell who’s cut out to make the final chop, and most of them seemingly aren’t there solely for the cameras. There’s Mayah, who reminds Kelly of Lauryn Hill. There’s Gabby, the young, fro’d, very green and great 19-year-old with incredible deep tones. There’s Ashley, who has “something very clean about her,” according to Gatson.
Ultimately, the show is everything that Destiny’s Child was, all about sisterhood, positivity and showing the struggle in the cleanest way possible. It all highlights the fact that girl groups—most bands in fact—are designed to be dry and manufactured.
As the group of 15 girls are rehearsing routines in smaller groups, Gatson looks at Khylah with Kelly from behind a glass panel and says, “She’s pretty, but something is ruining her beauty. There’s something wrong. But she can sing.” It’s obvious there’s a load of bricks on her shoulders, and a pressure to use this opportunity to make a better life. That’s where the real drama is—but we probably won’t see much of it. Then again, no one’s been sent home yet.
Image via BET