The time of your life
For a 16-year-old “recovering band geek” who has just had, by her own description, the best night of her entire life, Alexa Fay is slightly hysterical. In fact, she’s crying – bawling – in front of a primary-colored hallway mural in her high school, where she’s just come offstage from a battle-of-the-bands. And Josh Haygood, a producer for MTV’s reality show Made, is getting the whole thing on tape. “I can’t believe it happened, and now it’s gone,” Alexa sobs. Down the hall, her Made coach, Frank Pino, is emotional as well. Red eyed and close to tears, the ordinarily ultra-suave and prototypically tough-guy front man for the Waltham band Waltham sits in a chair next to a drumset, holding a Spongebob Squarepants doll.
Alexa is from Bow, New Hampshire. She wanted MTV to make her a rock star. Frank is the man they hired to coach her. He did, and now here they are, at the end. “I want to see them play again,” Frank tells another MTV camera. “It was overwhelming, it’s a little emotional. I’m tired but psyched and exhausted.” The “them” is Alexa’s teenage band Fair Fight, who have been together for all of three weeks. The camera is still rolling. “I think I might become a teacher,” Frank says.
Those who can’t do?
Made has been turning dysfunctional high schoolers into surfers, prom queens, and rappers for years, and the formula hasn’t changed a whit: it’s all very John-Hughes-film-come-to-life, with a mix of new-agey personal transformation babble and practical, DIY boot-camp hard work. Not only is the premise evergreen, it’s also cheap to produce: Haygood follows Alexa around with a camera outfitted with a small light. Compared with other reality shows, Made keeps its tinkering to a minimum: the show’s story arc, Haygood claims, is organic. He says subjects aren’t fed lines, though people are ordered to repeat things that they’ve said off-camera. There are liberties taken with the back story, but they’re small ones: for the purposes of the show, Alexa is introduced as a “band geek,” when in fact she’s a classically-trained alto singer and a talented percussionist. Compared to the deceptions on the best-seller lists these days, that barely qualifies as news.
And Frank Pino is an odd choice for a rock coach. His band Waltham are signed to a large indie label, they have a rabid regional following, they have a huge blinking “Waltham” sign behind them when they play, but Frank is not yet a rock star himself, at least by the MTV definition. He’s a townie with gelled hair and duct-taped Dickies. The son of a contractor, he owns a tattoo shop, Pino Bros. Ink, in Inman Square. In loftier times, before the rise of the Darkness and Andrew WK and emo, Waltham’s throwback-to-arena-rock vibe was a fun, welcome respite from late-‘90s indie-rock and new-metal. They were sensationalized in these pages and featured on MTV’s “You Hear It First” segment. That was then. The band repeatedly squandered opportunities to make the big time, changed lineups, released CDs that couldn’t be sold, lost in the finals of a high-profile battle of the bands. They became the poster kids for how to squander a buzz.
Now, Frank Pino says he’s uneasy about “being on MTV.” And yet. He had to beat out tough competition for the gig — a pool that is rumored to have included Boston alt-rockers Brett Rosenberg and Juliana Hatfield. Asked about his audition, Frank uses the word “sketchy” a lot. “I had my fists up,” he says, but quickly adds that the ensuing process has disarmed his cynicism: tutoring Alexa, he says, has been like discovering a long-lost 16-year-old daughter who wanted to follow in his footsteps.
The makers and the making
The rules of Made were these: Frank had six weeks (and a gymnastics coach) to get Alexa into fighting shape. First, Frank decided, he had to establish some basic principles of rock: Alexa was “too Broadway.” And she wasn’t sure what to make of him, either. “His image was so hardcore, I thought he’d be death metal,” she says. “But when I went to hear him, he had a totally different sound. He was arena rock.” Now that this was sorted out, Frank taught Alexa how to play guitar. Then she picked her band. Then they had their gear stolen. Then they wrote some songs. They settled on a sound they’ve taken to calling “ska-mo” – half ska, half emo. How could they possibly go wrong?
It’s a chilly Thursday in November and the Fair Fight kids are hanging out in a practice space in suburban Boston. A guy named Hollis, who is not afraid of eyeliner, is giving the boys nicknames: the sax player, Kevin, is “James Spader.” The hyperactive bassist, Jordan, is “Ashton Kutcher.” But then Hollis draws a blank on Fair Fight’s quiet, 14-year-old lead guitarist, Joey. “James Dean,” says Jordan. Hollis thinks about it for a second. “Naw,” he says. “Maybe that kid on One Tree Hill.”