Fun! Excitement! And, Anticipation, with a capital A! It was in the air Tuesday October 16th, 2007. Fans and soap lovers gathered in Hollywood to find out who would become the next soap star on Season Four of SOAPnet's I Wanna Be A Soap Star. It was a long way from the first season according to veteran judge, Michael Bruno, "When we started, someone was holding a flashlight for the lights out in Van Nuys, and now this. It's wonderful. It's unbelievable." The show was broadcast live, a first for anxious viewers across the country.
Before the show began, producers and production assistants were busy moving guests from one seat to another. The production company was handing out homemade posters to anyone and everyone who was willing to hold one. Slogan's like "We Love Ashlee," and "Jimea is the best," to "Days of our Lives Rules, and "Cameron, we love you," added a flare to the audience and made for some fun camera shots.
So many Day of Our Lives cast members were in the audience it was as if they were about to tape an episode. James Reynolds (Abe, DOOL) was busy chatting with Martha Davidson (Belle, DOOL) who found time for Nadia Bjorlin (Chloe, DOOL), who talked up a storm with real life steady, Brandon Beemer (Shawn, DOOL), who made time for Heidi Muller (Kay, Passions). Like the rest of the crowd, they were anxious to find out the results, because the winner would be joining Days of our Lives for a 13-week contract role.
But there was another buzz in the house. Everyone was wondering if show host, Cameron Mathison (Ryan, AMC) got through another night of Dancing With The Stars.
The dashing dancer made it to Hollywood & Highland, the entertainment complex venue in Hollywood that hosted the live broadcast, with about 20 minutes to spare. He ran up the platform to rip-roaring applause and an involuntary standing ovation. "I'm still dancin'," he told the enthusiastic crowd. They gave him his props as he yelled over the cheering crowd, "They gave me a police escort while I changed out of my Superman Costume in the limo!" (If you didn't see Dancing With The Stars on Monday, October, 15 and Tuesday October, 16, 2007, Mathison wowed the judges and the fans with his Passa Doble done to the Superman theme.)
Just then, Mathison spotted Soap Star's season two winner, Alec Musser (Del, AMC). He quickly pointed out the wonderful rewards of Soap Star, "Alec started out with a 13-week cycle that turned into two years."
There was another first this season. The audience got to vote for their faves. Bruno wasn't sure how that worked exactly, "They tried to explain it to us when we were doing make-up. They were like 30% of this equals your three things…but it was too confusing." It was really very simple, the audience's 50% vote was weighted against the judges' 50%.
Days of our Lives head writer and co-judge for season 4 of I Wanna Be a Soap Star, Hogan Sheffer, and his staff of writers created roles for both men and women, not knowing where the road would lead. "We had a male role idea and I really expected --based on the first couple of weeks -- that we'd end up with two males (in the finals). There was such strength in the males and the women just took us by surprise. I was glad we ended up with two women. I know that good-looking is supposedly the great commodity in daytime, but good acting's good acting."
How did he juggle his judgeship with a full time job? "Very badly!" The producers provided the prolific writer with a private workspace as the show was shot. "You know, you make it work. I always had my computer with me. And I spent a lot of time in isolation."
In between acts, make-up artists strolled up to the stage and touched up Mathison, the Judges, as well as the anxious finalists, Ashlee Holland and Jimena Hoyos. As much as both of them wanted to win, it looked like the weeks of competition brought on a sense of loyalty and camaraderie between the two young women. Much like the Miss America competition, the finalists held onto each other, knowing full well, there would be great disappointment by the end of the hour.
And, there was. The second Holland's name was announced, Hoyos faded into the background, as family, friends, and other contestants descended on the winner. A couple of the other contestants found Hoyos at the back of the stage trying to gain her composure.
Sheffer was just as surprised as the audience about the winner. "I got no heads up at all. The role had to be written to accommodate either actress, depending on who won. You have to start with a part that's a little generic. And, now that we know who the winner is, we can start molding the role more to her personality, which is actually so big, larger than life. We'll start tapering it toward her now."
Deliberations did take a long time. And, the judges took it very seriously. At first, Mary Beth Evans (Kayla, Days of our Lives, co judge, I Wanna Be a Soap Star season 4) didn't want to participate. "Michael kind of forced me to do it. He's my pal. I didn't want to vote anybody off. I felt bad in the course of this, but I wanted to be honest. "
Bruno was thrilled at the cross-section of ethnic types who were part of the Soap Star process. "I think it forces them to write a black woman. I don't think there are enough black people on TV. It's not what represents America." He believes that Ashlee is very American. "I think people can really get behind her." He also believes this was the most talented group of actors so far. "They'll all work. My casting director friends are calling in most of these kids." Sheffer, too, believes all the actors who participated in Season Four of Soap Star will be fine.
When Sheffer was approached to appear on the series, he had just one response, "You want to put this face on TV? What the hell's wrong with you? Then, I thought it might be a lot of fun. I was very nervous."
"SOAPnet is the greatest place in the world to world to work," he shared with Soapdom. I've known Mary Beth a long time. I used to write for ATWT and she was on that show, too. And everyone told me, 'Oh, you won't like Michael.' He was great. The three of us got along so well. "I thought there was some chemistry there and it made for a whole lot of fun!"
The judges did get lots of grief from family and friends, each time someone was voted off. Bruno believes the experience of sitting in the studio is extremely different from the one viewers get at home. Evans defends their choices, "These scenes are seven minutes. A lot happens, and arcs. When it's edited, it gets really chopped. We evaluated what was put in front of us." When Evans watched the show several weeks later with her daughter she would say, "This person was really good.' We can't backtrack. All these kids are so talented."
Now that the show is over, Sheffer sees the whole experience from a different perspective. "When we were shooting a show, we were watching it live in a proscenium like a stage play. And, watching it from 20-30 feet away was much different than watching it on-camera. If we watched on-camera, I'm not sure the results would have been the same." He believes this is something future judges should be aware of because there were several actors, including Justin and Bo, whose performances were, perhaps, more subtle. In the proscenium setting, Sheffer missed the intensity of the eyes that he later saw on a television monitor. Now he's annoyed with himself. "Why did I get rid of that guy? What the hell's wrong with me?"
The Emmy winning writer is very sorry to see this end. "It's been so much fun and I've got a whole bunch of friends and relatives who watch the show. They called me weekly to berate me for the choices we've made. 'Travis, how the hell could you get rid of Travis? What's wrong with you?' At the same time he's anxious to get back to DOOL full time, especially since Executive Producer Ed Scott walked onto the set of the long-running NBC soap. "He's a madman, but brilliant. If you've been watching the show, you can already tell the difference. The way it's lit. The way the actors are handled. He's the most hands-on Executive Producer I've ever seen. He notes the hell out of all our scripts. Calls me and complains." It's a whole new experience for Sheffer, the cast, and crew, but Scott's vision has kept them on their toes and made them rise to even greater challenges. "It's just an enormous sea of change."
Now, with Holland scheduled to begin work almost immediately, Sheffer will be at his computer 24/7 creating the role. If he's asked to do Soap Star again, Sheffer would do it in a heartbeat. "It's already a YES!"
Editor's Note: Ashlee Holland was scheduled to begin taping Days of our Lives on Friday, October 19 to air in mid November. However, Sheffer choose to push the actress several weeks so that he could indeed craft a role more specific to her talents and ability. She will now first air on December 26.
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