New Birmingham pop-rockers The Heathers are hoping to reap the rewards after competing in the latest reality music show, writes Stefan Kucharczyk.

As the nightly television listings are plastered with the latest sanitised reality experiences, so too are the dingy back streets of fame littered with the casualties of that fleeting pop dream.

Shane Ward, Alex Parkes, Michelle McManus, Gareth Gates - the list goes on.

One emerging Birmingham band, however, is aiming to banish these assorted flops as they challenge for the top prize in Mobile Act 2007, a new reality music show set to air on Channel 4 this autumn.

With a major record contract at stake for the winners, Longbridge pop-rockers The Heathers are counting on home support in their assault on the big time.

While many bands might be adverse to joining a reality music show, Heathers bassist Matt McConnell argues that this is as credible a route to the big-time as any.

"It's a great opportunity for us all. A lot of bands might not want to go for this sort of thing," says Matt, 24. "They might see it as being a bit of a sell-out, but then its all about exposure, isn't it? If we can get the people of Birmingham behind us, we stand a good chance."

Scheduled to hit the airwaves this month, Mobile Act is a slightly spikier take on the pop-idol format.

While featuring a healthy dose of burgeoning rock bands rather than a monopoly of sanitised pop-clones, the customary sequences of live auditions, phone voting, humiliations at the hands of the judge panel (Jo Wiley is rumoured to be among them) and an equal mix of triumph and unbridled sobbing will be familiar fare to reality telly devotees.

Importantly, however, the show's credibility is rescued by the fact that it is not out to "create" a band in the Liberty X mould and instead, unsigned bands the country over, compete against each other for the crown of champions.

Despite the weak artistic credibility usually associated with emergent reality pop bands, The Heathers remain upbeat about the show.

"There are battle of the bands competitions going on all over the country, giving bands a platform to build on," says Matt. "Really, this is just a televised version of that. We have got to get through the preliminary rounds first, but we have got what it takes.

"Even if we don't make it through, if taking part in the show helps us improve and helps promote the band, then it will be good for us all."

Indeed, it this dedication to improvement that, combined with a catchy pop sound, have made the band's relatively brief lifespan such an eventful one.

On the brink of national fame, it is surprising to learn that the band formed only ten months ago after Midlands trio Matt McConnell, drummer Rob Peters and guitarist Murray Gardiner, 23, were joined by vocalist David Gwynne, 22, who was recruited by the band's management after being spotted busking in his home town of Stirling.

In this short time, The Heathers' happy-go-lucky pop rock sound - reminiscent of a younger, more reflective Ocean Colour Scene - has quickly attracted attention and critical applause.

As well as notching up high-profile support slots with jazzy folk songstress Rosie Thomas, the band has also impressed at gigs in London, not to mention the legendary Cavern club in Liverpool.

Their list of fans is not limited to enamoured UK gig-goers, however, and after only six months together, the band took the bold move of breaking off talks with a major record label after being told to sack their drummer in order to win a contract.

"That wasn't a deal we wanted to make. We were told that Rob was too old and we had to replace him," says Matt - drummer Rob Peters is 20 years older than the other band members

"I don't understand why that is important. Who on earth picks up an album to check to see how old the drummer is before they buy it? The music should be allowed to speak for itself.

"In some ways, we weren't ready to sign. Since then we have worked hard, played gigs all over the country and won more fans. This band is a unit, we are all friends. We want to do things on our terms."

Their patience could be on the brink of a major pay-off. With the Mobile Act auditions looming, the band's confidence that they can go all the way is not merely bravado.

The band has also made waves entering into Kerrang Radio's Unsigned competition this month, and despite narrowly losing out in the final public vote to fellow city band, The Amateurs, strong support for the band is evident.

"It was disappointing to lose in the final, of course, but coming so close shows what great support we have. If we can build on that for Mobile Act, then we could go all the way," admits Matt.

Making use of the internet to promote their sounds, The Heathers have gained more than 21,000 friends on myspace - an online following comparable to New Yorkers The National and fellow Brummies The Twang.

"Above all, we are a fun band. I think that will come across if we get through to the Mobile Act finals," Matt notes.

Whether The Heathers are the next celebrity starlets in the making, only time will tell, but with an honest sound and a judgement beyond their years, continuing to woo fans on the national stage is certainly not beyond them.

"It's a really good time to be a band in the Midlands at the moment," Matt adds. "With bands like The Twang, Guillemots, The Enemy all coming from the region, we are starting to get some real attention.

"It would be great for us to be part of that."

With the last year as evidence and the bright lights of fame tantalisingly close, they certainly should be.