Sunday, February 22, 2009

From rock star to rock bottom for J.D. Fortune

He thought he'd won gig of a lifetime with INXS
J.D.'s misfortune shows post-TV reality can be grim
February 22, 2009


POP MUSIC CRITIC

At this time just three years ago, J.D. Fortune was a month into the wildest ride of his life: a worldwide concert tour serving as frontman for Australian rock 'n' roll legends INXS.

The 18-month tour, which included two sold-out gigs at Massey Hall in February 2006, was a smash, in some locales drawing crowds as large as 80,000 people. The band's first release with Mississauga-born Fortune replacing the late Michael Hutchence on the mike, 2005's Switch, had given the aging band its most vital commercial presence since the multi-platinum heyday of such monster records as 1987's Kick and 1990's X, in no small part due to a radio-storming first single, "Pretty Vegas," written by Fortune.

"I feel a great deal of responsibility to this band," he said at the time. "And that comes in the form of leadership, it comes in the form of creativity and it comes in the form of just taking care of myself physically and mentally and spiritually, and finding a harmony that's gonna last the next 18 months."

It appeared as though the Idol-esque "reality" TV series Rock Star: INXS had delivered the dream it had promised: instant rock stardom, on a global level. A few days ago, though, Fortune, 35, was ringing up old friends at Sony Music Canada on a borrowed cellphone, despairing that he had nowhere to stay that night and venting at the label because he'd been dumped from its roster and had bankrupted himself making a solo album that no one wanted to release. So much for harmony.

Why? Because despite its members' claims at the time of Fortune's Rock Star win in late 2005 that he was a permanent hire, INXS dumped its new singer off at the Hong Kong airport when the clock ran out on its 18-month Switch tour. Handshakes all around and a "thank you" and that was it, according to Fortune. The band didn't even bother to announce the firing.

Neither did Fortune, until last week when he brought his story – in desperation, one suspects – to Entertainment Tonight Canada in an interview that was quickly picked up around the globe. Suddenly, the headline "INXS singer homeless and living in his car" was everywhere.

News of his exit from INXS caught even the band's long-time spokesperson Chrissy Camp by surprise. It might also soon force INXS to announce that INXS itself – which had already burned through two other singers, Terence Trent D'Arby and Jon Stevens, before Fortune came along – is completely over.

"The members are scattered all around the globe at the moment," she told Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph on Thursday. "But I have tracked one of them down and he's told me they will be putting out a statement about their future in the next couple of weeks."

INXS otherwise kept silent all week long with its side of the story, as have the band's various record labels around the planet, leading to much online speculation that Fortune, who has conceded a major cocaine problem played a part in his ouster from the band, might be exaggerating the cruelness of his fate. Fortune has also largely held his tongue since ET Canada.

The Star's interview requests were relayed directly to Fortune by a friend, but he has thus far kept mum.

Fellow Torontonian Lukas Rossi suffered a similar fate when his inaugural tour with Rock Star: Supernova, the second "real band" created by the TV show of the same name, wrapped up. The only difference in his story, he says, was that his all-star bandmates Tommy Lee, Jason Newsted and Gilby Clarke "didn't drop me off in Asia somewhere." And, having been there, he believes Fortune is in dire straits.

"The deals on those shows aren't great. He's definitely not set for life," says Rossi from the California home he extended to Fortune as a crash pad on his blog this week. "I wouldn't be surprised if the security guards on his tour got paid more than him. ... But you take what you can get, you know?"

Rossi had his own bout with substance-abuse issues during his Supernova tenure and says one shouldn't underestimate how easy it is to get sucked into the lifestyle when "everything is just handed to you." Simply booting a problem member from the band isn't really the way to deal with it, though, he says, especially since INXS watched Hutchence's own drug problems degrade to the point where the singer hanged himself in 1997.

"Those guys have been around. They've been through the drugs and everything and, I guess, they saw it in J.D. and they didn't want something horrible like that to happen again," Rossi says. "I feel bad for the kid. He went around the world and played to 20,000 people a night. And that's just gone."

The reality of the situation, unfortunately, is that reality-TV shows aren't a guarantor of a performer's success once the vested viewer interest of voting a favourite singer on or off the series dies away.

Canadian Idol hasn't exactly proven a hit factory, either, offering little but fast fadeouts for the likes of Ryan Malcolm and Melissa O'Neil. Most people can't even recall last season's winner, Theo Tams.

The real proof of whether J.D. Fortune can hang on to his rock-star status or will revert back to being the anonymous Jason Dean Bennison will come when his solo album, rather cleverly titled The Death of a Motivational Speaker, is finally released. Somewhere.

"The only thing that can actually save someone from that disaster is actually having talent," says Rossi. "If you don't have talent, you get 12 months on tour and some airtime. But that doesn't mean sh--."

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