KHQ to produce local version of ‘American Idol’

I can’t tell you anything about the caliber of talent.

I don’t know if there are any Fantasia Barrinos or (Simon forbid) any William Hungs.

As one of the judges for “Gimme the Mike” – sort of a local version of “American Idol” – I’ve been kept in the dark about the contestants.

What I know for sure is that “Gimme the Mike” is going to be a wild ride for everyone involved, from the show’s producers to the audience watching at home.

Beginning Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on KHQ, and continuing every Sunday for six weeks, Spokane will see its first locally produced, live entertainment program since the 1970s. “Gimme the Mike” will be filmed live at Northern Quest Casino before a studio audience about 250 deep.

Doing a live entertainment show presents a new set of challenges, compared to the cut-and-dry live newscasts and sporting events typically produced at Q6. The contestants won’t be the only ones pulling out their hair over the pressure to put on the best show possible. Behind the scenes, “Gimme the Mike’s” director will be watching five monitors and calling audibles at the camera crew like an NFL quarterback in sudden death.

“The audience gets to see all of our mistakes, warts and all,” said Mike Jackson, “Gimme the Mike’s” executive producer. “We have to capture instantly the emotion of the moment. If a husband is watching his wife on stage, we have to get his reaction. The drama is unpredictable, and we have to anticipate it.”

KHQ is owned by Cowles Publishing Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Paying homage to Spokane’s live television history, “Gimme the Mike” opens with Deanna Sylte Lucas and Deanda Sylte Roberts singing the old Boyle Fuel Jingle. The twins sang that jingle every week on “Starlit Stairway,” Spokane’s most famous local TV talent show, which ran for 20 years until 1973.

“Some people still remember the (Boyle Fuel) phone number because of the Starlit twins,” Jackson said.

Spokane is resurrecting the concept of local entertainment television based on the momentum of the “American Idol”-like “Gimme the Mike” shows popping up, first in Jacksonville, Fla., and then across the country.

Spokane’s talent show is one of the few “Gimme the Mikes” in the nation that is presented as a live broadcast. Most of the others are taped in one weekend, Jackson said.

Working off of “Gimme the Mike’s” national template, producers took auditions from about 500 hopefuls from as far as Yakima and Tri-Cities and narrowed them to 25 competitors and two alternates. They’ll be competing five at a time for a spot on the hour-long finale and a chance to win a recording session with VU Music and other prizes. The grand finale will air Aug. 15.

Just from looking at the profiles of contestants at www.gimmethemike.tv, it’s obvious this competition wasn’t designed for 18- to 24-year-old aspiring Beyonces and Ushers. These aren’t all wannabe manufactured pop stars. It’s a mixed bag of mostly regular-looking folks who range in age, gender and race, as well as, I’m told, musical style.

Each week, five contestants will have 90 seconds to sing, karaoke style, and be judged on voice talent and presentation.

“If we had to lean toward one, it would be 51 percent voice and 49 percent presentation,” Jackson said.

The judges include yours truly (affectionately referred to as the resident Randy “Dawg” Jackson of the group), along with radio personality and music director for KCDA-FM (103.1), Sam Hill (playing the part of Paula Abdul), and the artistic director for the Spokane Theatrical Group, Troy Nickerson (as the villain you love to hate, Simon Cowell). Viewers can vote online for a people’s choice favorite from the “wild-card” semifinalists.

Aside from the wise-cracks about being stand-ins for Cowell and company, there already has been some concern about the judges expressed on the www.gimmethemike.tv message boards. There haven’t quite been accusations about kick-backs, but some fear contestants won’t get a fair shake because of biased judging. On behalf of the judges, all I can say is we will do our absolute best to remain fair and impartial.

And if you’re upset that you or someone you know didn’t make the cut, don’t blame the judges. We had nothing to do with the selection process – take that up with the show’s producers.

Jackson (not Randy, but Mike) said he expects a certain level of controversy regarding the judging. He’s more concerned about getting the show off without a hitch, though.

“Doing the show live creates a buzz in the community. There is more energy, but there is also more stress and worry. We have to have this done by 7 p.m. If not, we’re joining ‘Dateline’ in progress,” Jackson said. “And that is not good.”

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