“As quickly as you came up in this business, that’s how quickly you can be gone,” cautions Glenn Goodman (Ed Amatrudo), the manager of hot country teen-turned-hot mess Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) in the wake of a shoplifting scandal -- caught on video, ‘natch. Juliette half-listens, half-rolls her eyes. Her publicist, who’s flown in to crisis manage the incident, chimes in: “I drafted a release on the plane. We need to get the statement out immediately.”
“Says who?” counters the spoiled star, not understanding damage control and thinking that somehow, stealing a bottle of nail polish from a local drugstore is less of a crime than, say, lifting a silk scarf from Saks.
“Your fans,” snaps the publicist. “The people who pay for your concert tickets.”
Like many stars caught in a controversy’s crosshairs, Juliette refuses to foresee the impact on her brand. Cited for a Class 1 misdemeanor, while joking, “at least I look good” in the YouTube clip which garners 4 million views, she becomes late-night fodder in an instant, and a beat later, has to contend with cancelled sponsorships and pulled appearances.
Once upon a time, scandal meant extra visibility in the grocery store checkout line. Take, for instance, wild child Tanya Tucker and her tempestuous relationships with Glen Campbell and Rick James or drinking binges that shredded Dallas star Charlene Tilton and Johnny Lee’s marriage. The trainwreckery had nominal impact.
But for latter day traditionalist Tracy Lawrence, an arrest for domestic violence -- after an arrest for a sexual incident prior -- stopped his career almost in its tracks. Then there’s Mindy McCready. The blond sex bomb had an RCA debut that sold over two million copies, but her propensity for scandal was rampant. McCready’s dossier includes an arrest and jail time for forged prescriptions, headline-grabbing affairs with actor Dean Cain, a Saudi prince, plus an underage tryst with baseball’s Roger Clements that later inspired a sex tape. Even post-Celebrity Rehab, the sliding singer, who squandered her shot, was arrested for breaking probation and disappearing with her son.
Is she the inspiration for Juliette’s troubles? McCready thought she -- like Juliette -- could live beyond the rules. She got plenty of second chances and a high priority second deal, but the damage was done.
So it remains in the world of country music. The hands-on fan relationship creates an expectation for truth in the storm. As Juliette’s publicist (ironically, a sleek black woman unlike the mostly white middle-aged women and gay men who populate country music’s PR ranks) astutely points out: they’ll forgive almost anything, but you can’t weasel.
So after giving the OK to set up an interview on Good Morning America and assuring her hard-edged rep that she’ll “take responsibility,” it’s not a comparison to Winona Ryder and Lindsay Lohan that triggers Juliette to freak out (she has a perfectly believable story, after all: “People want to be rich and young and successful, they’re jealous. I put the polish in my purse, so it wouldn’t fall through my basket”), but rather a seemingly invasive question about her drug-addicted mom that causes her to storm out of the interview.
This is the antithesis of the carefully-orchestrated moment an artist in crisis needs. Instead, Juliette is as out of control and damaging as Hank Williams, Jr.’s erratic comparison of Obama to Hitler on Fox News this year. Sure, it may be riveting, can’t-turn-away fare, but the thing that artists, who live in a world surrounded by enablers and yes men, can’t comprehend -- until something like this happens -- it can have dire consequences.
For the Dixie Chicks, their “We’re ashamed of our President” crack in London in 2003, cost them their arena-sized career. For Juliette, getting taken “off the CMA Awards’ presenters’ list” and dropped by her sponsors forces the cancellation of her sold-out tour.
In truth, these consequences are unlikely given the “crime,” but PR disasters can impact.
For Jason Aldean, getting caught in compromising pictures with a woman who’s not his wife two weeks before album launch prompted concern from his camp. After a Twitter apology confirming “drunken” misbehaviour and apologizing to the fans and his wife, he went on to sell 400,000 copies of Night Train its first week and sell out Boston’s Fenway Stadium -- the first country artist to perform there -- in two hours.
Here’s the secret: contain the damage. Don’t turn into a hot mess people love to watch but won’t support. Look no further than Randy Travis’ recent intoxication and public nudity arrests. That’s because country fans love a redemption, but don’t like having their values flaunted.
As the show winds down -- and it includes Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) crowding Rayna’s (Connie Britton) husband Teddy (Eric Close); unlikely songwriter Gunnar (Sam Palladio) getting in bed (literally) with his new publisher’s assistant; Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen) having to tell uncle Deacon about troubles with her boyfriend Avery (Jonathan Jackson); and the revelation that Teddy is having an affair with socialite Peggy (Kimberly Williams Paisley, real-life wife of Brad Paisley) -- Juliette’s desperation becomes devastation. Tired of her lousy attitude and high risk behavior, her manager quits. She begs him to reconsider, promising to do everything she’s told.
He suggests she get her mind off it. Call some friends.
“I don’t have any friends,” Juliette laments. “I have people who want to be seen with me.”
It’s hard to believe, but many stars with momentum realize this too late. Billy Ray Cyrus endured years of Music Row indifference when his momentum lagged. Even after Miley was the hot teen, people were more interested in proximity to his star daughter than his music.
For Juliette, who sits in solitude eating her junkie mother’s ketchup and cream cheese Pink Macaroni casserole, the last call on a lonely night is to Deacon. Though his loyalty to the fading Rayna is wearing thin, Juliette may not be much better of a future bet.