Those who are not hip to the groove or whatever it is currently hip to be hip to may not realise it, but Neighbours' Steph McIntosh is so hot right now that newspaper and magazine editors have been warned that "hot and not" features pointing out Steph's manifest hotness may constitute a fire hazard. For those who don't know - for shame! - Steph plays Ramsay Street's resident "alternative" chick, Skye Mangel, daughter of Joe Mangel, grand-daughter of Harold Bishop, and recipient of Scott "Stingray" Timmins's hyperactive sperm. (With a pedigree like that, one assumes the child will be chained up in Toady's basement, there to feast upon the mutilated corpses of all those characters who have "gone to live in Queensland", as the euphemism has it.) Skye is into underground comic books, feminism, indie music, chaste lesbian affairs, foreign cinema - her frequent references to the likes of Kurosawa and Miyazaki provoke much "kids these days!" wobbling from Harold - painting, culture jamming, and copulating with bogans. Unfortunately, the latter is the only characteristic Steph shares with her onscreen alger-ego; otherwise, she's as vacuous a piece of white bread as ever gazed meaningfully across that famous cul-de-sac.
This year, in an unprecedented move for a Neighbours starlet, Steph has launched a singing career. Her debut album, released last week, is called Tightrope, but don't let that intimation of edginess fool you - the only tightrope Steph's walking is that suspended between credibility and her record company, and the credibility end fatally frayed long ago. Steph's line is bland dance-pop with the occasional bland dance-rock chorus for variety, but that's nothing good marketing can't overcome, and Steph is the subject of some very good marketing indeed.
Of particular interest is The Steph Show which is a show about, of all things, Steph. The Steph Show is an intimate, honest and completely orchestrated look at Steph's "journey" from soap star to pop star. One hopes that having documented Steph's brief moment in the spotlight the show will continue to follow her inevitable post-fame journey through the underworld of celebrity reality shows, softcore porn shoots, a failed comeback single, appearances in cheap horror films and, finally, back to Ramsay Street, career trailing between her legs. For now, though, the focus is on Steph's initial encounter with the music industry, and it makes for fascinating viewing.
Of course, when I say "fascinating" I mean "shit". Steph comes across as incredibly self-absorbed, quite an achievement given there doesn't appear to be much of a self in which to be absorbed. She is merely a blonde with a public profile and delusions of talent being run through a particularly well-greased sausage machine. Steph clearly relishes the role she finds herself in, her every movement and utterance pitched to convey a mixture of girl-next-door normality and self-conscious elevation. By far the show's most cringe-worthy - and therefore best - moments come when Steph is asked for input into some issue or other. For example, there was the recent discussion between Steph, manager Glenn Wheatley, and a record company executive about the possibility of including a secret track on Tightrope. I paraphrase:
Steph: I just don't see why the secret track has to go at the end of the album.
Wheatley and exec stare blankly into the middle distance.
Wheatley (hesitating, possibly recalling a similarly fraught conversation circa 1993 regarding John Farnham's mullet): Um, well you can't really have a secret track anywhere else. Where else could it go?
Steph: Why can't it go in the middle? I mean, if it's at the end nobody will know it's there.
Exec: That's the idea.
Steph: If it's in the middle, people will hear it.
Exec: But the whole point is that it's a secret.
Wheatley: Yeah, it's a secret track. It's a surprise.
Steph: But who will listen to, you know, the end of the last song and listen to, like, the silence and then get to hear the secret track?
Wheatley: The idea is that it's a nice bonus, you know, you might listen to the CD hundreds of times, then one day you leave it running at the end and you get a surprise because there's an extra song there.
Steph: I still think it should go in the middle. Why not after track five?
Wheatley and exec exchange weary look. Steph furrows brow, bites lip.
Oh well, if Steph's recording and acting careers falter at least she'll have her intellect to fall back on.