The Fame Game

It’s time for FameCast’s third season as the online talent competition kicks off another round of searching for performers wanting to live forever.

And it’s a pumped-up FameCast that’s ready to give those aspiring artists an edge in the ultra-competitive stratosphere known as show biz. The talent search, which had six stages in season one and expanded to 12 in season two, has juggled things around a bit for round three.

FameCast still has 12 stages, but it has integrated Metal with Rock, Short Film with Animation and Hip-Hop with R&B. By combining these stages, FameCast was able to introduce three new ones – Electronic, Spiritual and Latin. Returning stages are Pop, Country, Comedy, Dance, Singer-Songwriter and Spoken Word. Winners of each stage will receive $10,000.

But adding new stages is just part of FameCast’s makeover for the new season. Earlier this year, the talent search Web site beefed up its already impressive advisory board by adding Austin City Limits Music Festival / Lollapalooza promoter Charles Attal, Bon Jovi manager Paul Korzilius, AEG Live President and CEO Randy Phillips and intellectual property lawyer Larry Waks. If you’re an artist trying to get noticed, you want these people to notice you.

"We have a tremendous advisory board, that participates throughout our competition and attends the finals," said FameCast founder and CEO Kent Savage. "We do have opportunities we are creating. One of which is the winners of our short film and animation stages automatically get featured in the Los Angeles Short Film Festival in September. You’ll start to see more of those kinds of things. I have something I’ll be announcing shortly on the Country Stage that is very exciting. We are going to have an increasing focus on creating and career-advancing industry opportunities."

FameCast contestants start off by registering at the Web site and uploading a video to the Contest Stage. While filling out the Upload New Video form, contestants select which stage they would like the video to appear on.

"What we’ve done is blend the Internet with a live event," Savage said. "Each season unveiled online, across 12 stages, the artists come in and designate the stage they want to perform on. They then compete against their peers on that particular stage over four months, attracting fans … that cast their votes, round over round, until we get to the top five finalists."

Sure, there are other online competitions, but Savage pointed out that FameCast is more than just uploading a video and hoping voters like it.

"Our approach has been to really focus on creating an industry platform that combines great talent with an all-video-based performance, and integrating social tools, marketing and promotional tools, through what we call our ‘backstage’ to allow these artists to advance their careers," Savage said. "It’s not just a simple contest and we’re done with it. It’s really a sustaining career management opportunity for all these independent artists who have been starving for exposure."

What lies ahead for FameCast contestants after they’ve registered with the site and uploaded their videos? Competition. And lots of it, both online and on brick-and-mortar stages.

"If they’re good enough to make it to the FameCast Five – five finalists on their stage – we fly all the five finalists on each stage, so there’s 60 finalists that we fly in for a finalist show that we produce for 12 nights in a row," Savage said. "It’s in front of a live audience. We then broadcast that for the online audience to watch and vote during a one-week period for the ultimate winner [on each stage]. Then the ultimate winner [per stage] gets $10,000."

If you’re wondering where FameCast gets all that loot to give away, the talent search has more than one revenue stream. Savage explained that the original FameCast business model based on revenue through advertising and sponsorships still provides the lion’s share of income. However, FameCast recently added a third monetary element – e-commerce.

"We are just now unveiling the FameCast Storefront," Savage said. "Independent artists, in addition to their videos that they’ve uploaded to FameCast, we’re also allowing them to upload MP3 audio clips and put all of that into the FameCast store for purchase. So all their fans, when they visit them backstage, can purchase their material. We’re really a digital direct label for all of these artists."

What was the impetus for FameCast? For Savage, that particular "Eureka" moment occurred while sitting on his Lake Austin boat dock in Texas. He was contemplating the YouTube phenomenon, while at the same time thinking of his relatives and friends who have struggled to get noticed in the entertainment world. And that was the spark – to deliver a quality experience on top of a YouTube-like platform by drawing from the "infinitely deep" talent pool on the Net.

"So it’s not that zany, crazy, silly stuff of a skateboarder jumping off from the top of a building," Savage said. "It’s true talent. And that’s what we’re truly all about here. Putting the artist front and center, on stage. As that plays out, the fan base builds out enormously. The advertisers and the sponsors wrap themselves around it. And FameCast becomes an enormous digital venue in the entertainment community."


iPhone Hack Attacks

One of the biggest drawbacks of Apple’s iPhone is the iPod/cell phone/Web device only has one wireless phone carrier. If you want to iPhone it in, you have to sign with AT&T.

Which is like sending out a challenge to hackers all over the world, inviting them to break iPhone out of its AT&T bondage and set it free for wannabe iPhoners the world over.

And there’s been plenty of attempts to do just that. Successful attempts.

In addition to iPhone’s AT&T ties, the device also uses GSM technology, and one of the features of GSM is its Subscriber Identity Module, otherwise known as a SIM card or chip. Because a SIM contains the user’s phone book, and other information, users can transfer data and software by switching or reprogramming SIMs.

Which is what hackers did last July, shortly after the iPhone’s debut. However, the hack wasn’t for the fainthearted. It requires programming knowledge and special equipment.

Then there’s the gang, whose exploits have been chronicled on tech blog

According to the blog, a six-man team from iPhoneSIMfree had been working nonstop since iPhone hit the marketplace and came up with a small piece of software enabling the device to work with other cell carriers. And, to prove it, the hackers demoed the software for the Engadget staff.

But around the same time the iPhoneSIMFree bunch were showing off their hi-tech chops, a teenager from Glen Rock, N.J., who, along with three online collaborators, came up with an iPhone hack of his own.

George Hotz, 17, spent his summer figuring out how to free the iPhone from AT&T. However, the "Hotz Hack" is complicated and requires both some programming expertise as well as some soldering iron handiwork. Even so, an Associated Press reporter confirmed that the hack did work, and personally witnessed Hotz place a SIM from the reporter’s phone into an iPhone, and then place calls on the reporter’s carrier – T-Mobile.

But are the hacks legal? Maybe. If you hack your own iPhone for personal use on a different carrier, you probably won’t attract much attention, except, of course, the envy of your friends.

But hacking for financial gain – that’s another matter.

For example, one Northern Ireland company claiming to possess a hack – – says they’re ready to go to market, but are now rethinking their position after an international law firm representing AT&T told them the software contained material copyrighted by Apple.

Meanwhile, George Hotz’s hard work has paid off for the teenager. He recently accepted a consulting position with CertiCell, a Louisville, Ky.-based mobile phone company, and posted on his blog that he traded his hacked iPhone for "a sweet Nissan 350Z and 3 8GB iPhones."

"This has been a great end to a great summer," Hotz wrote on his blog.