Poles apart from Idol


Poles apart from Idol - 22nd March 2007
(Credit: The Age)


Annie Lawson reports on the new reality television series that uncovers - literally - hitherto unaired talents.

JUST when you think the reality television genre has explored every possible permutation along comes another format to test the boundaries of classiness.

Trinity, Candice and Brooke, who prefers her porn-star name Beebee Brannon, are among the 10 dancers competing for the title of Australia's most talented Erotic Star, which screens on Foxtel's Arena Channel this week.

Another contestant, Ettiene, a 27-year-old from Bondi Beach, whose favourite pastime is sex, confesses early on in the series that she's scared of heights, which is surely a problem for an aspiring pole dancer. Rival Claudia tastefully admits: "I've had plenty of moans and no complaints."

As is the way in the brutal world of reality TV, contestants are booted off each week for failing one of the many challenges that spice up this eight-part series. There are dance-offs, a James Bond-themed show, and even surfing and beach volleyball skills to master.

World champion ironman Guy Andrews, Ken Done's son, Oscar Done, and body painter Tim Gratton appear as guest judges.

Although it reads like a smutty stripfest to attract voyeuristic viewers, the show's host, Bessie Bardot, insists this is not the case. Instead, she says, it's about resurrecting burlesque - a risque form of dance that blurs the lines between art and stripping, as well as capitalising on the popularity of pole dancing.

"The point of the whole show is based around the hugely popular pole-dancing phenomenon and to revive the lost art of burlesque," she says.

"If people think it's going to be T and A, this is the wrong show. Occasionally you'll see one of the girls topless, but that's all you'll see. It's absolutely not gratuitous."

In fact, there is loads of T and A, and after the dance-off in the second show, one of the judges admits: "I felt uncomfortable watching it. To be honest, I felt like a voyeur".

Bardot, who has made a living out of talking and writing about sex and relationships, aims to debunk the seedy image of the erotic dancing profession.

"It's easy to jump to conclusions that girls who are professional dancers somehow haven't done what they wanted in life or have perhaps been involved with drugs and alcohol, but it's not the case," she says.

That the contestants include a mother whose husband is serving in Iraq, and an English virgin, demonstrates that it's not all about sex, drugs and pole dancing, she argues.

Bardot, who has appeared regularly on Channel Seven's Sunrise, co-hosts with husband and former Gladiators star Geoff Barker. The former British green beret commando, whose Gladiators alter ego was, unsurprisingly, Commando, keeps a disciplinary eye on the girls.

The logic of having husband-and-wife co-hosts was to "sex down" the show so it doesn't stray into X-rated territory and turn off female viewers.

"The point of having Geoff and I was to keep it not overtly sexual so it would be watched by men, women and anybody, really," Bardot says.

The Erotic Star format was developed by British producer Jacqui Maskall primarily for British television network ITV, and it is already being shopped around Europe and the US.

Hundreds of erotic dancing hopefuls across the country auditioned for the series, many professional dancers and strippers in men's clubs and cabaret clubs.

Colourful clashes and tensions emerge among the group, which lives in a mansion in Sydney's Manly. "For the majority of girls that go into this industry, it's performance art and they see themselves as actors," Bardot says. "To be seen on the show and to win, just as if you won the businesswoman of the year award, would eventually equal more business."

Erotic Star airs on Saturday at 11.30pm on Foxtel's Arena Channel.

Profiles

Bessie Bardot

Geoff Barker

Erotic Star

Foxtel

Arena