And rising stars? Where do they land after they flame out and plummet, well before entering supernova stage? I ask myself this question whenever I catch old movies or TV shows from my childhood starring attractive people I never saw again. Or each time my iPod lands on a song by an artist who never got around to producing much more.
Years ago in New York City (1996, to be exact), I went on a double date to a cabaret show called "20th Century Pop" that featured Marianne Faithfull, Darlene Love and Merry Clayton. How, I wondered to myself, was Clayton paying her bills the rest of the year, when she wasn't onstage with Faithfull and Love, both of whom had been in the public eye far more regularly in the preceding years.
This was before I realized that Clayton had a solid career as a back-up singer (hers is the formidable female voice on the Rolling Stones's "Gimme Shelter") before and after she contributed to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack ("Yes," a No. 45 single from 1988). But what about the lesser lights, the ones who never even made it to one-hit-wonder status in the U.S. but at one point were considered promising?
Some end up of on reality TV, and in the UK, many land presenting gigs. Oh, please, don't let that be the sad fate awaiting Duffy, who retreated from pop after her second album, 2010's Endlessly, sophomore jinxed her career. She just goes to show you simply never can tell. Ditto Jamiroquai. I won't lie to you. It was love at first listen, but with his ultra-stylized Stevie Wonder-on-acid-jazz sound, he seemed destined to disappear one or two albums later. I never dreamed I'd still be loving new music from him nearly 20 years later.
If only the following could have enjoyed a fraction of that longevity.
Sneaker Pimps During the second half of the '90s, Armand Van Helden was on a remix roll, restructuring ho-hum singles by Tori Amos ("Professional Widow"), CJ Bolland ("Sugar Is Sweeter"), Nuyorican Soul ("Runaway") and Faithless ("Insomnia") into dance floor classics. Most of the beneficiaries of his remix genius were here today, gone tomorrow (unlike Van Helden, who is still very much with us), but of all them, Sneaker Pimps -- whose 1996 Becoming X album (which featured the group's greatest un-remixed hit, "Six Underground") rocked from beginning to end -- is the one I miss most.
Olive Did you know that the group that scored a 1997 UK No. 1 single with "You're Not Alone" featured a former member of Simply Red -- keyboardist Tim Kellett? Lucky for Kellett, there was life as a successful songwriter after both Simply Red and Olive.
Jonny Polonsky Some 16 years later, I'm not sure if the reason why I couldn't get his debut album (Hi My Name is Jonny) out of my CD player during the winter of 1996, or why I stood transfixed by his songs and his face during a New York City gig at Brownies in the East Village was because he looked so much like my ex, or because his music was that good. Every time "Uh-Oh" (sadly, nowhere on YouTube, but so worth seeking out) plays on my iPod, I'm convinced it was the latter.
Gene So much more than the new-Smiths manque it was frequently, unfairly purported to be.
Michelle Gayle The ex-Eastenders star who had short-lived tenure on the UK charts remains one of the fondest memories of my first solo trip to London in 1995 (her singles seemed to be playing everywhere I went), and she's quite possibly one of the reasons I kept going back, even after she was long gone from the the tops of the pops.
American Idol's also-rans Whatever happened to Tamyra Gray (season one), Melinda Doolittle (season six) and Carly Smithson (season seven)? I guess if Katharine McPhee (season five) can rise from the dead to become one of the stars of Smash, there's hope for all of them.
Hillary Duff I never cared for her movies, and I felt the same way about her inexplicably multi-platinum albums -- until she reinvented herself as a sort of kid sister to Kylie Minogue's kid sister Dannii Minogue on 2007's Dignity, the guiltiest of pleasures and one that merely went gold. Alas, by then everyone seemed to have lost interest, and she hasn't released an album since. Which reminds me, has anyone heard from Mandy Moore lately?