POP-U-Larity!, Michelle Ehlen and J.C. Peterson’s new comedy, takes a good-natured, behind-the-scenes look at a small-town amateur singing competition. The film follows select contestants as they prepare for their performances in Penskeegee’s 25th annual “POP-U-Larity!” singing competition, each vying for a $1,000 prize, a year’s supply of fried chicken and the chance to be the most “POP-U-Lar” person.
Ashley Cuellar is Katrina Whitman, the reigning champ and town diva, whose every whim is indulged by her devoted assistant, Sebastian Walker (Chadwick). A four-time winner, Katrina is confident she’s got number five in the bag, and she’s determined that no one is going to get in her way.
Also in the competition is Charlene Hornsby (Ehlen), a cowboy who, in building up the confidence to perform, is undergoing singing treatment provided by oddball New Age musical therapist Celeste (Betty Ouyang).
Pierced, tattooed performance artist Darque (Krys Fox) comes back to town with his Goth girl partner Ness (Thessaly Lerner) in tow, much to the surprise of his wholesome mother, Marcia (Pamela Wick), who is taken aback by his new name and appearance. Even more disheartening is the news that he will be performing with Ness instead of her, as has been their tradition since he was a boy named Danny.
Wick is hilarious as the sweet-natured Marcia, who reveals some character quirks of her own (she used to wish her son had been born gay…or a girl…so they’d have more in common). And Lerner’s Ness, under the influence of Marcia’s sweetness, transforms into the obnoxiously chipper “Ukalady,” whose performance in the competition is one of the film’s comic highlights.
Also fun is Sebastian’s indulgence of—and ultimate rebellion against—the tyrannical Katrina. Both professional singers, Cuellar and Chadwick are given the chance to show off their pipes in numbers co-written by Chadwick and David Olivas.
And reel life meets real life as Marcellas Reynolds, a former Big Brother contestant, steps in as the emcee for the competition, trying to maintain decorum even when he’s confronted with a parade of awful contenders.
Well shot and edited for maximum comic timing, POP-U-Larity! is an enjoyable mockumentary that gently ribs the small-town wannabes who are certainly proliferating in this post-Beiber, YouTube world.
DVD extras include a “making-of,” deleted scenes and outtakes.