The end of August in France has meant only one thing to me since 2002: the annual return of my all-time favourite reality pop-talent show. At this time every year (apart from the year that the Rugby World Cup was in France), the new series of Star Academy would launch with an all-new set of contestants all hoping to win the contest almost four months later. But that's not going to happen in 2009: there will be no Star Academy this year, leaving a void in this blogger's life and an overwhelming desire to take a look back...........
It all started back in 2001. Jenifer Bartoli was the first Star Academy winner and is arguably the most successful of all the Star Ac winners over the years, but I didn’t get into the show till 2002 (during my holiday in Biarritz) and that for me is still the best ever series. Star Academy 2 was of course won by Nolwenn Leroy, despite every effort made by the programme and the French media for her rival Emma Daumas to win the show. (Nolwenn & Emma pictured above, picture courtesy of http://www.tele7.fr/)
It was inevitable that series 3 in 2003 would be an anti-climax: despite Michal and Sofia being the best contestants, it was Elodie who triumphed. Where series 2 had appeared natural and genuine, series 3 was planting the seeds of viewer manipulation and effective editing, the tools which have become commonplace in reality/talent shows. Therefore Elodie was shown to be fragile, almost bullied by the ‘profs’ whilst her rival Sofia was continually shown in a bad light despite being the most talented of that year’s contestants.
The result of Star Academy 4 (2004) could be predicted before a note was sung: when a young man with cystic fibrosis entered the chateau it seemed inevitable that this would sway the sympathy vote. And then Gregory Lemarchal began to sing, and there was no question that he would be the winner, based purely on his considerable singing talent and nothing else. Female singers had dominated Star Academy so a male winner was long overdue. If the win was a foregone conclusion, then there was one other significant thing about Star Academy 4 for me: Mathieu Johann (pictured above). Enough said.
Star Academy 5 (2005) was probably my least favourite of all the series. There was a new theme tune - the excellent "Love Generation" by Bob Sinclar replaced Bustafunk's "Run Baby Run". The series was blighted by manipulation from start to finish: despite some very talented singers - Alexia, Ely and Jean-Luc were my favourites - it was Magalie Vae (pictured top left) who won, in an "overweight girl wins against the odds" kind of way. The problem was that her ‘story’ didn’t translate into a musical career of any longevity. This was probably the crucial turning point when winning Star Ac wouldn’t guarantee success any more....
Year 6 - 2006 - finally brought the first black winner of the show: Cyril Cinelu, who originated from Martinique. Since the contest began, there had been much debate in France that there had never been a non-white/mixed race winner of Star Academy, or any other reality-talent show for that matter, despite the rich racial mix within the country. He beat my favourite Dominique Fidanza, (pictured above, with Cyril) former Italian 'Popstars' winner in the final. Earlier in the series it looked as if the 'chosen ones' were Cynthia and Marina, the latter being a singer-songwriter who was favoured by the "prod" from the beginning and who was allowed to sing her own compositions on the "Prime".
In 2007, Star Academy 7 brought yet another foregone-conclusion winner. You couldn't imagine anyone but Swiss-born Haute-Savoie native Quentin Mosimann (pictured above) winning the competition that year: he beat off the vastly inferior Claire-Marie in the final, and we will always have fond memories of his classic "Love is Gone" with David Guetta and Peter Cincotti. Meanwhile, Quentin's much-nominated fellow finalist Mathieu Edward eventually found chart success as a credible r'n'b star, Maureen (a French Amy Winehouse?) memorably walked out and Alexia - a particular favourite of this blog - didn't do as well as expected.
Finally, to 2008. Star Academy 8 had a revamp - new theme tune ("Superstar" by the Merrymakers) and no more Dammarie-Les-Lys as the show relocated to the Marais in Paris. Once more I was on holiday in Nice (as in 2003/2005) so was able to watch the show whilst on holiday. From the beginning it looked as if the strongest contestants were Joanna, Harold and Mickels....whilst the "Prod" focused its attentions on Gautier and Alice. Inevitably these two (inferior IMHO) contestants would go far in the competition, but it was Mickels (pictured right, second row from bottom) who finally beat off Alice in the final to become the last Star Academy champion.
Rumours from France suggest that the show will return in 2010, although I can't really see that happening. In the meantime if you're having withdrawal symptoms, I'm sure YouTube and DailyMotion will deliver....!