How to Create an Israeli Pop Band

A new reality show on the Children's Channel aims to replicate the popularity of One Direction, the English-Irish pop boy band that became a hit especially among preteens.

Television viewers are familiar with this scene: A nervous young boy or girl goes on stage for a once-in-a-lifetime audition before a battery of judges. The young singer performs a song or two and gets critiqued. Then comes the verdict: whether to return to normal, everyday life or to move ahead in this world of reality television.

“The Band Project” is yet another reality TV program with young singers competing for the opportunity to make it big – but it's also a different breed of reality television.

First of all, it is broadcast on HOT’s Children’s Channel (it aired for the first time yesterday) and is aimed at a young audience. Second, its goal is to create a pop band along the lines of One Direction, the English-Irish pop boy band that became a hit, especially among preteens.

In Israel, the last successful attempt to put together a pop band under laboratory conditions produced Hi Five in the 1990s. In this new experiment, the Children’s Channel has joined forces with the record company NMC and Abbot Reif Hameiri, the production company that has come up with Israeli versions of overseas television reality programs like “Survivor,” “Beauty and the Geek” and “The Bachelor.”

The connection between Hi Five and "The Band Project" isn't just historical; one of the band's members, Amir Faye Guttman, is a judge on the show. Other judges include Asaf Dery, an NMC representative and the manager of singer and dancer Michal Amdursky, and choreographer Julia Igelnik, a winner of the Israeli reality show "Born to Dance." Everyone involved in “The Band Project” says they anticipate being able to put together a winning pop band.

“My decision to participate was prompted by this challenge, by the desire to discover the next thing,” said Dery. “One Direction, which was created through [British music competition] ‘The X Factor,’ is one of the most successful groups in the world. There is no real reason why that kind of experiment can’t go over here in Israel as well.”

Guttman said Israel is following an international trend. "In recent years, there has been a tremendous comeback for pop groups. Boy bands, girl bands. Take That reunited and, in Britain, their appearance was the most successful performance of 2012. It was obvious that somebody had to pick up the gauntlet here in Israel as well.”

“The Band Project,” most of which has already been filmed, has a long audition phase and then moves on to the training phase. Unlike many other reality programs, most of the filming is done in rehearsal rooms, not in the participants’ bedrooms. Though the show is being aired on the Children's Channel, the participants are not minors; the youngest is 18 and most of them are between 20 and 22.

Hundreds showed up for the auditions. Of these hopefuls, only 90 went on to the filmed auditions. A select team of 10 candidates entered the “training area” at the Wingate Institute, Israel’s national sports training center, south of Netanya. The participants stayed there for four weeks, during which they performed tasks like appearing before both large and small audiences. The main emphasis, the producers say, is what happens when the participants are working, not their interpersonal relations.

The situation reminds Guttman of his own experience from his work as a television star on TV programs for children and young adults, not all of which was positive.

“The auditions were run according to the Hi Five book,” he said. “In order to succeed, the members must be very different from one another and you also need good music. Another very important element is the social side: They have to be singers who know how to get along with one another.”

The decision to produce yet another reality program aimed at children and to include it in a niche channel for children is worthy of study in itself. 

In recent years, with the increase in the number of children’s channels the veteran Children’s Channel needed to find a niche of its own. According to the Ratings Committee, which studies viewing habits among Israeli television viewers, young viewers watch reality programs, including those with content that some might not consider appropriate for them.

“For the past year, we have been introducing changes in our channel,” said Children's Channel director Hili Horev Cassuto. “We have shifted the focus from live broadcasts to programs, for example. We know that children and adolescents watch TV at prime time and that they are drawn to niche channels; they are a very important audience for all channels. We tried to adapt to global trends while taking into consideration the unique features of our audience in Israel.”

Horev Cassuto said the reality program is more suitable for children than are other shows in the same genre.

“Whether we like it or not, children are consumers today of reality TV," she said. "We decided to go for a program adapted to their age group, and the result is a musical entertainment program that is closely monitored. There is nothing sexist or provocative, unlike what you find in some reality programs. There is no text-message voting system and children do not participate in the program. There is nothing crude that might embarrass the participants’ parents.”

Guttman also highlighted the differences between "The Band Project" and other forms of reality TV.

"Although there is a genuine desire to produce something interesting, most of the things that give reality TV a bad name are created by groups of people who are bored, who have nothing to do all day and who are crowded together under one roof," he said. "They spend all their time quarreling and trying to find something to do with their time. The reality program we are doing is very different. The participants are always working, they are busy; they have no time for quarreling or learning to hate one another. I would come over each morning at 7 and they were already on their way to rehearsals to carry out their assigned tasks. We didn’t photograph them at night; we didn’t photograph them in the shower or the bathroom.”

Dery said the show focuses on the participants' professional skills, not the effect of conflict on ratings.

“This is professional reality TV," he said. "If they have to be criticized, after putting in a bad day, then the criticism is not expressed to create ‘reality’ but instead reflects professional considerations. If the participants want to move ahead, to go to the next phase, they must work harder and take themselves more seriously. No one told us to make this a television program or to say such and such.”

Igelnik said the educational messages that come through the show stem from the participants themselves, not a scripted agenda.

“The educational messages came automatically, from the work itself, from the focus on professionalism," she said. "We have one participant who is big physically and she sometimes felt uncomfortable in the rehearsal room; sometimes, she even broke down in tears. A conversation developed over self-image, over feeling good before the mirror, over loving yourself. These messages came from the people themselves, from the different views and attitudes of the people participating.”
 

Alon Porat