At the three-way intersection of True Crime, Business Expose and Celebrity Tell-all, Hit Charade is a winner. Tyler Gray tells the unlikely story of a boy from Brooklyn who conned nearly everyone he met in pursuit of his dreams of aviation greatness and then, bizarrely, decided to go into the entertainment business where he "rescued" pop music from the clutches of grunge. Explaining the ins and outs of any business related fraud is difficult. Explaining it without inducing comas is even more difficult. Gray manages to explain what Pearlman did clearly and entertainingly. Of course, he has awesome material for this venture.
While Gray can't provide any juicy tidbits from the behind the scenes stories of The Backstreet Boys or *NSync, he can tell us about the time Pearlman taught a wanna-be boy band star the "hit, hit, pump hit thrust maneuver." In public. On stage. He can also quote Pearlman telling a interviewer of the aquatic toys at his home, "If these Jet Skis could talk they would tell you about all of our artists who have been riding them."
Sadly, Jet Skis weren't the only things being taken for rides in Lou "Big Papa" Pearlman's world. Apparently taking business lessons from the movie The Producers, Pearlman liked to sell shares in his corporations over and over and over. Anyone can give 1000% to their company, Lou liked to sell 1000% of his company. He was also quite the forgerer, happily producing his own letters of insurance from Lloyd's and AIG. (These stories hark back to the days when a letter from AIG inspired confidence in investors.) All this helped Big Papa to steal the life savings of hundreds of people to keep himself in Jet Skis, cornflower blue Rolls Royces and fine restaurants. Along the way we have ex-Nazis, pretty boys, home-care nurses who stay for ten years and Art Garfunkel.
There are dark rumors that the Jet Skis weren't the only things being ridden by artists at Casa de Big Papa. Gray, to his great credit, doesn't wallow in the gutter on this. He reports the rumors, makes it clear that no one has ever made a verified claim and moves on. Of course, the presence of a casting couch would be positively classy compared to the facts surrounding Pearlman's model scouting venture. The business revolved around "scouts" asking strangers if they've ever "considered going into modelling" and then selling them $1,000 modelling portfolios. Bad enough, you say? Well, add on the fact that even the absence of a limb didn't stop these scouts from convincing the naive that a successful runway career was just a check away.
Until the Madoff scandal Lou Pearlman held claim to being the perpetrator of the largest Ponzi scheme in US history. Not unlike Bernard Madoff, it's obvious that Big Papa couldn't do this on all his own. Nor are his crimes without a similarly ghastly human toll including suicide. But unlike Bernie, Lou made a run for it only to be caught by an *NSync fan at a Bali resort. As the saying goes, publicity doesn't kiss back. Tyler Gray's prose is almost perfectly suited to this story. He has just the right balance of factual reportage prose with snarky asides like "he threw his fat assets behind the model scouting business." Pure gold.
Pearlman has moved from his plus-size mansion to the big house for an extended stay. For fraud, not in punishment for making The House of Carter possible. One could make a case that Pearlman made a life's work out of exploiting the secret dreams of others but I'm not convinced Lou ever thought anything through to that degree. He was just an improviser who kept the gag going for an astonishingly long time.