So You Wanna Be A Pop Star?

A Choices Novel


By Zachary Sergi

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An energetic, interactive YA novel about five solo pop artists navigating drama, finding their sound, and discovering what it truly takes to chase their dreams of music stardom after being forced into a pop group together. 

Everly Brooks knows she has what it takes to be the next big singer-songwriter. At least, that's if she could get her onstage presence to stop feeling so wooden and blossom like her rich, moving lyrics. The reality signing competition, SO YOU WANNA BE A POP STAR? is her chance at proving to the world—and herself—that her talent and artistry can mean something more than just live streams and online videos.

Vinny Vecchi thought he was heading toward a life full of makeup, wigs, and werking it on the drag stages of NYC. But a powerful diva voice is a precious thing to waste and, in need of money to make his drag dreams come true, SO YOU WANNA BE A POP STAR? is the next best thing. However, surrounded by competitors with clear brands and sharpened musical identities, he wonders if he can break through while still discovering himself.

When a group performance on the show goes viral overnight, Everly and Vinny find their careers unexpectedly tied together. Along with their competitors—influencer Dea Seo, pop-punk CeCe Winnifred, and heartthrob Stern Green—these five artists are forced to become the newest pop super group: Jeweltones.

You, the reader, get to make choices that will make or break Everly, Vinny, and the group’s meteoric rise in this interactive novel. Will you mend the cracks to help Jeweltones shine bright, or will they burn out under pressure? The choices are yours to make!




THE STAGE LIGHTS HIT ME AND I TRY TO SHINE JUST AS BRIGHT, even though I’m not sure what I’m doing up here anymore.

At least, for this final group performance, we’re singing an original song I wrote. It might not be my best, but it’s maybe saying something real about this experience? I figured if the five of us left in this competition are forced to perform together, we should try to sing something that might matter to us. And hopefully to someone out there listening.

“All that glitters isn’t gold,

That’s the line we’re always sold.”

It’s deeply surreal to hear another artist sing a verse I wrote, especially in this setting. I’m still way more used to performing for bedroom ring lights and muted coffee shops, not under the blinding lights of a studio soundstage. Everywhere I look there’s a different searing flash—white and green, red and purple. These lights currently bathe me in sapphire, same as the icy dress that wardrobe put me in.

I told myself when I entered SO YOU WANNA BE A POP STAR? The Search for America’s Next Teen Sensation that I wouldn’t sell out or do anything that felt inauthentic. But here I am wearing too much stage makeup, playing a heightened version of myself: the deep blue singer-songwriter who freezes up onstage. I guess it’s all true, especially that last part. I still don’t know what to do with my hands, standing here swaying awkwardly without a guitar or piano. Everything just feels so forced, including having to pretend that I vibe with everyone else onstage.

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” CeCe keeps singing across the stage.

“Molds we fit to not offend.”

At least I do genuinely adore CeCe. Hearing her sing the first verse, it feels almost worth giving away one of my songs to production. She inhabits the lyrics in a way I never could, breathing electric life into each phrase. She breaks forward in her ruby-lit track, her combat boots stomping and plaid shirt swinging. It’s CeCe’s personal mission to remind the world that Black women helped invent rock ’n’ roll, and she is succeeding.

Watching CeCe, I’m heartened she feels so comfortable on a song of mine. She was actually the one to convince me I should even feature an original, after the producers asked me. We’ve been singing strictly covers, since we have to give up the rights to anything original performed on the show. This debut season of SYWBAPS hasn’t exactly been a ratings smash, so it hasn’t felt worth the sacrifice. But CeCe reminded me that I came here for exposure, no matter the size.

“You owe it to your fans,” she said. “Just come up with something new for the situation. Don’t overthink it.”

It took one very sleepless night, but that’s exactly what I did. Most of this other mainstream pop star stuff might not come easily to me, but I know I can always write a song. If I had more time with “Press Diamonds,” I’d break apart the even syllable counts and strict rhyming structure, but then again, something about this mathematical evenness works for the song. It’s way more bop-forward than my usual stuff. Blander, but somehow more flexible—which was the assignment.

“But these diamonds drip with blood,

Sweat and tears pooling to flood.”

Hearing Vinny belt the pre-chorus next, I experience a rolling body chill. I can sing, but not like Vinny. The way he interprets my melody with all those R&B runs and minor key shifts, it’s intimidating as hell. That said, Vinny does tend to swap diva power for nuanced feeling, so the lyrics take on an… unintended force. Vinny’s voice quakes through every inch of space, seemingly supercharged by the purple-sequined blazer the stylists chose for him. “Royal colors for a queen,” he joked earlier while we were waiting in the wings, his Italian New Yorker accent thick as ever.

“Your feed with shiny stories,” Vinny keeps belting.

“Sure signs we’ll edge your glories.”

I snap myself back to reality as Vinny finishes, because we’re all meant to sing the hopefully anthemic chorus together. As the driving beat builds, Vinny drops back to hit his mark, gleaming in deep amethyst. These different colors were the Executive Producers’ idea, jewel-toned personas to show our different reflections of pop. It’s a pretty literal interpretation of our genres and my song, but I have to admit, the effect does seem kind of dazzling from up here. I wonder if it translates to the audience at home.

“Put us in to pressure cook,

Forever pressed, unexpressed.

All the news that’s fit to print,

Marathon we’re forced to sprint.”

I sing the first lines of the chorus, my voice blending smoothly with the others. We final five come from such different worlds, you’d expect us to clash. And I guess some of us do, offstage. But right now it’s almost like we’ve been singing together for years.

“Live rent-free to mine our lonely islands,” I sing, winding into the last line of the hook.

“But won’t be turned into your press diamonds.”

We hit the last two words with exaggerated orchestral hits. I suppose it doesn’t take a genius to know what I wrote “Press Diamonds” about, but it did take a genius producer to make it sound so big. Usually my songs are much more intimate and acoustic. I’ve never heard one put through the pop-synthesizing machine before, so I’ve always been curious if it’d work. I’m happy to hear that it does, even if this song isn’t one of my best.

Stepping back in line, I suppress a smile. I don’t want to seem smug, especially given the lyrics I wrote specifically for the next contestant.

“Once before there lived pure coal,

Stripped it down with just one goal.”

Dea’s voice is the thinnest out of everyone left and, if we’re being honest, pitch isn’t always her best friend. But such mortal concerns are beneath Dea, who only ever drips with stage presence and star quality. Clad in a crystallized designer jumpsuit and sky-high boots, Dea is K-Pop perfection personified. Though I know she actually worships at the altar of brand-diversified solo artists like J.Lo and Dua Lipa. Watching Dea across the stage is like a master class in choreography, presence, and attitude. I refuse to admit that this sparks a pang of jealousy in my chest, so I instantly grind that emotion out. Months back in the semifinal rounds, Dea was the first genuine friend I made here.

But that was before.

“Upgrade, shift states ’til you break,” Dea sings, punctuating each word with a dance move.

“A glittery, reflective, beautiful fake.”

Dea steps back from her diamond-white light and turns to give me a megawatt smile. It projects pure charisma and gratitude, but I know Dea well enough to feel the invisible daggers she throws under the surface. Thanks for those lyrics, Everly.

I return the smile, radiating my own icy warmth. You deserve every word, babe.

“But these diamonds drip with blood,

Sweat and tears pooling to flood.”

The pre-chorus then builds back up and occupies my full attention. Partially because I wish I spent more time finessing those lyrics, but mostly because they’re sung by Stern Green. Stage-named for his ridiculously bright eyes, Stern is everything I thought I’d never want in a guy—a boy band F-boy supreme. I’m from the same LA valleys as HAIM and Billie Eilish; we’re not supposed to crush on the blond, corn-fed pretty boys. Especially not the ones who slick up in LA to make it big. But there’s something… different about Stern. An edge I can’t quite grasp, bathed in emerald light.

It doesn’t hurt to hear his liquid velvet voice wrap itself around my song. That also has a tightening effect on my chest that I’d rather not dwell on. Especially once Stern turns, projecting the full weight of his charms on Dea. Of course he’d flirt with her onstage.

I sing the second chorus on autopilot because right on cue, I start to feel lifted out of my body. My solo on the bridge is coming next. Even though I wrote this song, I already know my delivery will feel more wooden compared to the others, both for the studio audience and the cameras. I used to think I was a great performer in my bedroom, posting to social media, but that was before I landed on a stage with a million moving parts. I’ve made it this far in the competition twisting cover songs into interesting shapes and hiding behind an instrument, but I can tell the “will she conquer her stage fright” storyline lost its charm weeks ago. It’s a miracle I survived the last round of eliminations.

I just don’t understand how the others can make it look so effortless, living in the moment and shining the way they do. At least for this group performance I’ve been safe to hide in the background and reside in my thoughts. Because that’s where I always live onstage: fully in my own head.

Like now, as my solo approaches. I try to decide whether to look at the audience or the judges. Then I think maybe I should look into the cameras, since this is a live TV show. But I never seem able to track which little red light is actively streaming, if I can even zero in on one of the many cameras swooping around the stage like hawks. Then I feel my hands stiffen, unsure what to do without a chord to play. Nerves burst through my veins like a million stinging insects, and I feel defeated before I even begin. I don’t get it. I know I’m good at this whole music thing. I was born to do it.

So why is this part so impossible for me?

My chance to run offstage and vomit passes as the chorus recedes into the lullaby lilt I wrote for the bridge. My mouth instantly goes dry, but I lift the mic to my lips anyway, on autopilot. Now or never, Everly, I scream to myself. Better show them what you’re made of.

Except as I step forward to sing my solo, the microphone somehow slips out of my sweaty palm. I watch in surreal slow motion as it crashes to the stage…

And promptly rolls away.

Turn this into an impromptu performance piece. Undo the bun in my hair and crawl to the mic to show I’m no shiny diamond.


Turn this into an impromptu duet. Cross the stage to share Stern’s microphone, hoping he’ll harmonize with me on the fly.


Before I know it, I’m untying my tight bun and letting my frizzy brown hair fall around my face. Then I drop to my knees, looking into the nearest camera. I don’t really know what I’m doing, I just hope the fear in my eyes reads as something intentional.

Then I hear a voice riffing over my little show and realize CeCe is covering for me. As I begin to crawl forward toward the mic, I hear Vinny and Stern join in on the vocal cover. I have no idea if this looks as chaotic as it feels, but I just tell myself I’m trying to channel some unexpected Florence Welch energy.

I reach the mic just in time to start singing over the next section. This far down the stage and this close to the lights, I can’t see much. I’m only vaguely aware of another camera rolling on its track around me.

“Diamonds are really just stones,

Falling ruins and building homes.”

As I begin singing, I find my voice is less shaky than I expect. Wrapping itself around this melody I wrote, I can at least rely on my signature style. I keep passing my break, jumping between falsetto and my chest voice on the twisting progressions.

“Marking tombs and trapping rings,

Skipping lakes and breaking things.”

By now I’ve stalked back to my spot on the stage, probably looking like some faerie princess gone feral. Figuring I might as well go with it, I find the closest camera and stare it down. I try to channel all my fear and nerves forward. Miraculously, it feels something like a release.

“Throw your stones to my witch death,

’Til stone coal is all that’s left.”

The spotlight shifts away from me as the final chorus refrains begin. I exhale between phrases, because I can’t believe I just did that.

For once, I wasn’t completely in my head onstage.

For once, I just operated on instinct.

But why did it take such an embarrassing mistake to finally get me there?


Operating on instinct, I cross the stage and stand beside Stern. He looks surprised, so I take one second to whisper in his ear as the next bar approaches.


I then turn toward Stern’s microphone, forcing myself to ignore how he smells like the beach, all driftwood skin and ocean spray deodorant. I place my hand on his shoulder to steady myself, also ignoring the round curve of muscle there.

“Diamonds are really just stones,

Falling ruins and building homes.”

As I begin singing, I find my voice is less shaky than I expect. Normally I’d pass my break, jumping between falsetto and my chest voice on the twisting melody, but I try to even out so Stern can follow.

“Marking tombs and trapping rings,

Skipping lakes and breaking things.”

Stern manages to harmonize over the second line, hitting the fifth below my own high note. A ripple runs over my skin, and not from having my lips so close to Stern’s. I get a full-body chill, because we sound good together.

Really good.

“Throw your stones to my witch death,

’Til stone coal is all that’s left.”

As Stern and I finish the last line, we both turn to look into each other’s eyes. In the periphery, I can see an overhead camera swiveling on its track to capture the moment. I linger one second longer, feeling the electricity pass between us. For a moment, nothing has ever felt more real in my entire life.

Then the chorus refrain arrives. Stern turns back to hit his emerald mark and I see that someone from the crew has returned a microphone to my own sapphire mark. Hoping the cameras focus away from my scurrying, I return to my spot on the stage.

I start singing, immediately wondering where that surge of spontaneous confidence just came from. For that brief bridge, I was able to feel free onstage. But was that because of my mistake, or because I was singing with Stern? Was anything about what just happened real…

Or was it all just made for the cameras?


The final chorus begins and the backing music drops out. We planned to sing this last chorus a capella with a half-time feel, harmonizing as best we could in our one sound check rehearsal. Standing here now in our bejeweled spotlights, against all odds we sound kind of… incredible? If the cameras effectively capture half the feeling of this lifting vocal moment, you might even think the five of us have been singing together forever.

Then I remind myself what’s really happening here. We aren’t a unit. We’re five relative strangers competing for the same solo record deal. Last week there were nine of us on this stage, and tomorrow only one of us will win. Blending isn’t the point. So I push my voice up an octave, projecting louder to match the others on the last note. Only when the lights fade do I allow myself to breathe again.

The moment we finish, the studio audience erupts into cheers and applause. Once my eyes adjust, I think I see the panel of judges on their feet for a standing ovation.

Before I can really process any of this, a producer already signals us to leave the stage. They need to roll a package of the host giving out our information so viewers can vote for a winner before tomorrow’s finale. Still, even after being ushered backstage and into a dressing room, we can hear the continued rumble of applause from the studio audience.

“Okay, did we just bring the house down?” Vinny asks first, vibrating.

“We were definitely good,” CeCe agrees. “Almost as good as that song Everly wrote.”

“I don’t know how you created something that works for each of our styles,” Stern then piles on, “but you’re a genius, Everly.”

I feel my cheeks flush. They’re right; my song did kill it out there. But I’m just as surprised by the unexpected life it took on as everyone else. I’m not sure the credit really belongs with me, especially after my mic flub.

“You didn’t have to drop your mic, you know,” Dea cuts in, fanning herself. “We would have let you do that solo move if you asked first.”

My cheeks flush again, but now for a different reason. Of course Dea would poke at the first thing I feel insecure about. Of course she’d rain on the one authentic performance moment I stepped into, even if it was completely by accident.

Well, I certainly don’t need to explain myself to Dea Seo. Not anymore.

“When you write a song, you can take whatever artistic liberties you want,” I return, knowing full well Dea has never written anything beyond a curated social media post. I sound harsher than I intend, but whatever. After tonight I never have to see Dea’s perfect face again.

The room chills over for a moment, blistering from our cold snap.

“Well, I think we earned the right to celebrate tonight,” Stern says, smiling big underneath a devilish glint in his eye. “The finale party is going to be epic!”

Everyone smiles back, including me. After all, we did make it to this finale together. And despite our significant differences, we managed to make something special tonight. We’ve earned one last celebration before everything changes tomorrow. Before the five of us go our separate ways…

And one of us wins a life-changing record deal.



THERE ARE TOO MANY SIGHTS TO TAKE IN AT THIS PARTY. IT’S ON a rooftop lounge in the heart of Hollywood and it’s an unusually clear night, so I can see for miles in every direction: the darkened coastline, the glittering hills, the semi-urban sprawl stretching east. Heat lamps and fire pits and string lights glow everywhere, flickering reflections that catch in the ice cubes of dozens of drinks. The people holding these drinks are all dressed up, which can mean a hundred different things in LA.

This is my hometown, so I’m used to all of that. What I’m not used to is seeing a promotional poster of myself stretched eight feet high. Production set up five of these prints, one for each of us, side by side. I stare at my own and have a hard time connecting to it. Not just because the version of me who posed for that photo months ago had zero idea what I was in for—I had just turned eighteen, graduated high school, and convinced my dad to let me defer Berklee to pursue a solo career.

Really, this poster should give me a thrill. I’ve dreamed of something like this my entire life. But maybe I just hoped I was good enough to get a record deal without having to go on one of these cheesy shows? Yet I jumped in anyway, the moment the opportunity arose. Now I’m probably not even good enough to get a record deal on one of these shows.

I stare at this glossy version of myself on the poster. I see someone who knows in her bones she’s a gifted songwriter, who promised herself she wouldn’t do anything that felt inauthentic on this show. But this lanky Jewish girl, trying hard to seem effortless in a sundress and leather jacket, doesn’t yet realize she’s a dud on live stages. She might not have sold out, but I’m not sure she broke out, either—until that unexpected performance moment earlier.

How can I feel free like that again?

Then again, will it even matter if I lose the show tomorrow?

“Two chamomile teas with honey,” CeCe announces, returning to our lounge corner.

I smile at CeCe. She looks awesome tonight in the clothes she got to pick for herself: a denim crop top, loose jeans, and an unbuttoned flannel. She also wears her hair natural in loose curls, letting it breathe from all the wigs and weaves the stylists have bombarded her with during filming.

I’ve taken tonight’s production-free moment to wear my own favorite oversized linen trousers and fitted cream blazer, two vintage shop finds. I even wear my thick hair down to my shoulders, letting it frizz and tangle in all its highlighted glory. I’ve been forced into getting blowouts every day—not that I’m complaining. It’s just nice to feel like myself for a few hours, instead of the most sharpened version of myself.

“It took the bartender ten minutes to figure out how to make tea at an event for underaged singers,” CeCe begins. “But only thirty seconds for Stern to talk his way into a whiskey and Coke.”

“That tracks,” I reply.

CeCe scans for Stern and finds him across the roof, laughing loudly and high-fiving an actor I vaguely recognize. She rolls her eyes.

“Our small-town charmer sure does seem to operate just fine here, doesn’t he?”

Looking over at Stern, I can tell what she means. His blond hair is gelled perfectly and he’s styled within an inch of his life, looking like a manufactured teenage dream. Still, I don’t see the same picture of Stern that CeCe does. Instead of a charming operator, I see someone working overtime to seem breezy. Instead of a slick artist wearing trendy accessories, I see someone sporting his father’s class ring and his grandmother’s rosary as a bracelet.

“That look,” CeCe says, slapping the table. “Why didn’t you tell me you have a thing for Stern?”

“Direct CeCe quote,” I sigh. “‘Stern represents everything wrong with America. And humanity.’”

CeCe shrugs. “Wrong is usually what makes people hot. I mean, I always go for the ‘I just broke up with my boyfriend and hate men tonight’ girls. Stern might glow with toxic patriarchal white privilege bullshit, but I would never judge anyone for who they love.”

“That’s generous,” I reply. “But let’s definitely refrain from calling it love?”

“Fine. But if you are going to hit on Stern, tonight is the perfect night.”

“And why is that?”

“Because after tomorrow, you never have to see him again if you don’t want to.”

I open my mouth to argue, but then pause. CeCe has a point. I don’t know if it makes me feel better or worse.

“I’m supposed to be the kind of girl who goes for artisanal paleo loafs, not buttered white bread,” I say instead. “How can I be into Stern Green?”


  • "Zachary Sergi has reinvented interactive stories with his genre-bending, wildly entertaining Choices novels—and this one is a fabulous whirlwind with high-stakes glitz, glam, and so much juicy drama. A must-read!"—Jessica Goodman, New York Times bestselling author of They Wish They Were Us, They'll Never Catch Us, and The Counselors
  • “Zachary Sergi’s Choices novels are always a unique joy, and So You Wanna Be a Pop Star? is no exception! Readers will be thrust into the spotlight as they help two wannabe pop stars navigate a thrilling, treacherous industry. You won’t find another book out there like this!”—Adam Sass, award-winning author of Surrender Your Sons and The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers
  • "Like any good pop song, So You Wanna be a Pop Star is equal parts fun and insightful. By allowing readers to choose how the novel progresses, Zachary Sergi has written an innovative and captivating story of pop superstardom that rewards multiple read-throughs."—Erik J. Brown, author of All That's Left in the World
  • "So You Wanna Be A Pop Star? is pitch-perfect. Determining Everly and Vinny's paths into the spotlight was a thrill, and celebrating Jeweltones' success—or cringing as they fail—had me riding musical highs and lows until the very end. I want an encore!"

    Robbie Couch, author of The Sky Blues
  • "A joyous celebration of music, friendship, and finding your voice. I'm ready to join up with Jeweltones."—Zoraida Córdova, award-winning author of The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina
  • “Some of the topics realistically presented here are body positivity; health issues; the pressures of male beauty standards; sexism, racism, and homophobia in the fickle music industry; and how social media branding is both essential and severely toxic. Like Sergi’s previous work, Major Detours (2021), the choose-your-own-adventure format allows readers to flavor their experiences as they wish, developing the characters’ relationships and musical tastes and even creating a drag persona. An engaging, interactive story that musically minded readers will especially enjoy!”—Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
Mar 7, 2023
Page Count
352 pages
Running Press Kids

Zachary Sergi

About the Author

Zachary Sergi is the queer writer of Major Detours and nearly a dozen works of Interactive Fiction, including the Heroes Rise and Versusseries. Zachary was raised in Manhattan, studied Creative Writing at Regis High School and the University of Pennsylvania, and now lives in Los Angeles with his husband, where he also writes for television. Learn more at or by following @zacharysergi (Twitter) or @zacharysergiwriter (Instagram/Facebook).

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