Last Tuesday the CW capped off its season of The Search for the Next Pussycat Doll by naming Asia Nitollano as the winner of the competition from the trio of remaining women. Asia, only 18 years old, was already a dancer for the Knicks and mother of a two year-old daughter before entering the show. Now she’s the seventh member of the pop/dance/burlesque group.
This show is unique among reality/performing competition shows because it starts with a current act/product (The Pussycat Dolls, who have been around since 1995 in various forms with various members) and attempts to enhance that product with some sort of addition. Throughout the show, I’ve been wondering exactly what they were looking for. On the one hand, it seemed to me that the balance of performers in the group was already set; the Pussycat Dolls brand is very established on its own. On the other hand, the members, with the exception of Nicole Scherzinger, seem largely indistinguishable; I could never tell how many Dolls there were, let alone name them or grant them individual personalities (as opposed to the Spice Girls, who played up their cutesy special identities so much they were hard to escape). Either way, I questioned the necessity of an addition.
Given that the producers of the show/group weren’t trying to replace Nicole Scherzinger (who is probably the main reason for the current success of the Pussycat Dolls), I guessed that the winner of this show would have to be a strong dancer and not so importantly a strong vocalist. However, the show itself very self-consciously promoted vocal performance as a part of it criteria, until it came to the end. So, despite her slightly lacking vocal ability, Asia was chosen. According to Robin Antin, it was for her greater stage presence.
So what exactly is Asia winning? At the end of the show, she joined the Pussycat Dolls onstage for a performance, running directly to her spot to dance behind Nicole, who again did all the solo vocals. Asia is placed in the doubly awkward position of entering a group that is already formed and being automatically put in a back-up position in that group, despite her marketing as the “star” of the TV show that got her there. I wonder if the contestants on these shows might be better served simply by getting exposure and being recognized, but not winning, because winning requires stepping into a very defined role and constant association with the competition. No matter how famous Kelly Clarkson is, for example, she will always have to represent herself as the winner of American Idol. Whereas if you, like Jennifer Hudson, get enough exposure to show that you’re desirable without being locked into that winning role, you can sift through the offers you receive after the show is over and more actively choose your opportunities.
Moreover, being a member of the Pussycat Dolls forces you to be just that- a doll, one that is supposed to be both cute and sexy, whose name evokes both the cuteness of kitties and the overtly sexual connotation of “pussy.” I’m reminded of the very first episode of the show, in which the women were challenged to put on lingerie and dance sexily in boxes for the clients of the club they were in. The role of Pussycat Doll is a box where you dance for someone else. Nevertheless, there are women out there who will do whatever it takes to be in that position.