If the term “teen idol” conjures images of girls screaming at the very sight of Justin Bieber – or Mick Jagger or Elvis Presley or Shawn Cassidy, depending on your generation – consider this sobering analogy of what it takes to become one, offered by longtime music producer Carmen Jon:
“I’ll ask a teenager [who wants to make it in the music industry] to take a spoon, and scoop sand from a jar. I have him put the sand from the jar in a pile next to the jar. I tell him to scoop as much sand as he can for about a minute. Then I take away the spoon and give him a pair of tweezers. I have him pick up as much sand as he can, using the tweezers, and make another pile of sand. I let him do that for about another minute,” Jon said.
The producer then tells the teen what the sand represents.
“The little pile of sand, the pile made with the tweezers, represents the tiny number of people in the music industry who become famous. The sand in the jar represents all the wannabes, the people who say they want to be in the music industry, but who never do anything, and never go anywhere. The pile you really want to be in,” Jon concludes, “is that pile in the middle.”
“There’s no Simon Cowell element here.” – Carmen Jon
“There are so many jobs in this industry, you don’t just have to be the famous singer, the person who everybody knows,” said Jon last week. “And that’s what I want these kids to understand.”
“These kids” he’s talking about are the handful selected from high schools across the country each year to compete in the annual High School Teen Idol contest.
This year the contest will take place at the Arthur F. Couch Performing Arts Center, on the campus of Secaucus High School and Middle School, from June 24 through 26.
Although touted as a “contest” with semifinalists, finalists, and a winner declared, Jon insists the competition is more about career building and less about criticism.
“There’s no Simon Cowell element here,” said Jon, referring to the sardonic judge from TV’s “American Idol.” Jon is the director and executive producer of the contest.
Recording contract on the line
Using a network of talent scouts who are scattered across the country, Jon and his associates reach out to music teachers, band leaders, and high school theater directors to help them identify teens ages 13 to 19 who want to pursue careers in music.
Eighty teens are expected to participate in this year’s competition, said Jon, including several from Hudson County. And since the event will take place at a Secaucus-based facility, up to 15 slots will be set aside for Secaucus students, a courtesy the event’s producers extend to host municipalities each year.
The three-day event, now in its fifth year, includes workshops in such skills as song remixing, vocal training, music arrangement, and selecting appropriate musical material.
Jon begins one workshop with his sand demonstration.
The weekend culminates in a series of singing auditions from which semifinalists and later, finalists are selected to compete for $1,000 in cash, a record contract, and other prizes.
According to the High School Teen Idol web site, contestants last year paid a $175 registration fee to participate in all three days of programming, which included the workshops and competition portion of the event. Participants who only came for the competition paid a $45 registration fee. Registration fees were waived for contestants who were invited by the producers to participate in the weekend.
Students also cover their own food and lodging fees throughout the weekend.
Despite the competitive nature of this music industry event, Jon insists Teen Idol remains family – and safety – oriented. The music auditions, for instance, can’t include rude or lewd performances. And Jon offers this anecdote:
“There was a boy from Texas who planned to come last year with a chaperone. A couple days before the contest, the chaperone had an emergency and had to back out. Without his parents’ knowledge, he gets on a bus and travels for hours to be here. One of my associates overheard what happened and how he got here. We immediately called his parents, told him where he was. Told them he was safe and found a safe place for him to stay with a family…Entertainment can be a tough industry. But these kids are still kids. Our role is to ease their entry into the business as they try to figure out what they want to do, whether they become famous or wind up doing something else.”
To learn more about the competition, visit www.nhsteenidol.com.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.