Consider it a cross between Survivor and Canadian Idol.
The premise subjects six would-be Pavarottis and Emmy Destinns, from all walks of life, to three weeks of intense coaching and criticism in a packed Toronto house.
The prize isn’t $1 million or a Jeep Cherokee; it’s a chance to sing an aria with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thompson Hall.
Oh, and hold the title Bathroom Diva.
Whitehorse letter carrier Sonja Anderson took a shot at the prize on Bravo’s TV show Bathroom Divas: So You Want To Be An Opera Star?
The six-part series was shot in the spring and began airing at the end of January; the final episode shows this weekend.
The series begins with 300 hopefuls, who audition in major cities across the country.
Then slowly, and sometimes harshly, the pack is whittled down to a half dozen. The only caveat being that they’ve never performed with a professional opera company.
Before coming to the Yukon in 1983, Anderson had a successful career singing in New York. She sang at Radio City Music Hall, in professional church choirs and did a stint in the Broadway musical My Fair Lady in 1975.
Anderson caught the showbiz bug again after travelling to Vancouver with her daughters so they could audition for Canadian Idol a few years ago.
“The line was so long that I took a sleeping bag and waited overnight while my daughters were at the hotel,” says Anderson. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I’d like to audition.’”
So in March 2005, after some urging from friends, Anderson went to Vancouver once more, this time to try her hand at being a diva.
The first episode shows Anderson auditioning on the stage of an empty auditorium.
She postures and sways in a hand-knit sweater and long, flowing skirt with her hands high in the air. Even higher notes are hit with ease.
She enchants the judges.
One is “terribly moved” by the performance and another suggests Anderson may be too set in her ways to improve.
They finally agree that she deserves a place in the house.
“I had no doubt that she could make it on the show,” says Rachael Grantham, who convinced Anderson to audition.
Grantham and Anderson have been friends for 16 years and they’ve worked together in local choirs. Grantham suggested Anderson try out after reading about the unique reality show in an industry magazine.
“It was about me believing in her talent and wanting to promote her,” says Grantham. “I don’t think that anybody in the Yukon understands what talent Sonja has.”
The rest of the series chronicles the trials and tribulations of becoming an opera singer.
Anderson travels to Toronto shares a house with the five other finalists, all from diverse backgrounds — a forklift operator, a country music singer, a waitress, a mechanical engineer and a caregiver — from across Canada.
They go through three weeks of intense coaching and criticism from top industry teachers — dubbed Opera Boot Camp.
The point is to improve, and the contestant who shows the least improvement gets voted “off the island.”
One is sacked per episode. The last singer standing wins the title.
“We had a really good time together, we focused in on learning the different techniques of singing and acting and your mind is really going all the time,” said Anderson.
She managed to hang in all the way to the fifth episode, but was voted off last week, leaving the country music singer and waitress to battle it out to the finish.
The show is out to bust outdated opera myths of the “fat lady” in a horned helmet belting out notes high enough to break wine glasses.
It’s billed as a one-hour documentary series, but comes off as reality TV.
And watching the past four episodes on TV has Anderson questioning whether the Bathroom Divas was “a reality show or an unreality show?
“A certain amount of it is true and real, but the rest is fabricated because they’re clipping and pasting and putting together words and maybe taking someone’s statement out of context.”
The most distasteful scene concerned a disagreement over a plate of chicken.
Fellow contestant and country music singer Elton Lammie was a diabetic and needed to eat special foods.
In real life, one of the crew members offered Anderson a piece of chicken and she ate it. But after editing all the TV audience saw was Anderson chowing down on the chicken and Lammie complaining that somebody had eaten all of his specially prepared food.
“I was set up,” adds Anderson.
“I’m happy that I was truthful in everything that I’ve said, but I am surprised at what I’m seeing now … I actually feel sorry for Elton; I don’t think they’re portraying him right either.”
But Anderson doesn’t indulge in sour grapes over the editing.
“I’m so happy that they’ve opened up my voice into another dimension,” she says.
“The best part of this whole thing is that I met four excellent coaches in musicality, in language and voice,” she says.
“I was working with world-class people and that is like gold.”
Anderson hopes to bring the six contestants to Whitehorse to present a concert together in the near future.
The final show airs Saturday at 6 p.m., with an encore Tuesday at 7 p.m.