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Fox's 'The Next Great American Band' hoping to find its own niche


By Christopher Rocchio, 10/18/2007 

American Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe doesn't know if the new The Next Great American Band reality competition Idol's producers are producing for Fox will end up a success, but he feels there is a place for it.

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"I can't tell you if it's going to be successful, if the bands are going to be successful," Lythgoe told reporters during a Tuesday conference call to discuss the show, which will premiere Friday, October 19 at 8PM ET/PT.  "What I can tell you is I do believe an audience out there is bored stiff with hip-hop and won't even buy it.  So I don't see why, if it's promoted well, if the television program is successful -- and there are a lot of if's here, obviously -- if the program is successful, if people watch it, if people like what they see and what they hear, then the market will open up for it, yes.  All I can say is that we've proven that all the way along with American Idol:  Markets open up for it."

While the success of The Next Great American Band and the acts who will perform on it remains to be seen, the show didn't set out to seek the same type of pop-focused musical talent as Idol.

"It's different than American Idol in that there's absolutely no holds barred," fellow Idol and Band executive producer Ken Warwick explained in an earlier interview about the types of groups American Band was seeking.  "There is nothing you cannot do providing you are more than two people and you play an instrument -- then we consider you a band -- and you can come on and do whatever.  It doesn't matter if it's a family band, a fiddle band, a big swing band... Any kind of band, we'd like to see you anyway and see what you can bring to the show.  There were no borders or peripherals put on us at all.  There are no rules and regulations.  [We decided to] throw the rule book out the window and let's just see what comes out there."

The Next Great American Band host Dominic Bowden also serves as the host of New Zealand Idol, so like Lythgoe and Warwick, he has a basis to work from in comparing the shows' formats.

"[With] New Zealand Idol and American Idol it's you rise and fall in your performance as one guy standing out there," explained Bowden. 

"The great thing about this show is there's five personalities on a stage and there's so many more things that can go wrong... There's been some bands -- it's the same with Idol -- that you go, 'Sure win, absolutely guaranteed to be [in the] Top 10.'... Then you see them on stage and they just drop the ball.  And then some of the bands you're like, 'No way.'  They get out on stage and they realize,  'This is my one shot.'  This is the chance of a lifetime and it really is, you know.  There are millions of people watching throughout America.  For any of these bands it's probably the biggest five minutes of their lives.  Music is everything to these guys and some of them rise and just perform incredibly."

However, despite their differences, Lythgoe also acknowledges many other aspects of The Next Great American Band are "very similar" to Idol.  For starters, both shows feature three judges (two American, one British), 12 finalists, and provide their participants with an "opportunity" to expose themselves to millions of home viewer voters that determine the competition's winner. 

"It's a talent opportunity -- if you will -- rather than a talent contest," explained Lythgoe.  "These bands have been formed, and some of them are professional, some of them are semi-professional, and some of them are amateur.  We are not putting a band together in that sense.  But we're also going to ask them to play their own material, which we don't do on American Idol, obviously."

Lythgoe said "something ridiculous" like 14,000 submissions came in for The Next Great American Band via numerous methods, including everything from postings on MySpace and emailed audio files to producers actually traveling to various clubs around the country. 

From there, he said producers chose 60 bands with "many different styles" who were invited to travel to Las Vegas and audition for a spot in the competition's Top 12, who were selected by the judges.

"It's very difficult to say there are bad bands.  It isn't like you put a band in a shower and they all sing with the shower on and think they're brilliant, a bit like Idol," said Lythgoe.  "They've worked together and some of their musicianship isn't as good as you would like it, and some of their choices aren't good."

Still, Lythgoe was quick to add those shortcomings don't make the bands "bad musicians."

"There isn't somebody singing out of tune, in the sense of when they're a cappella on Idol it stands out and it makes you laugh," he added.  "It's a cacophony of sound, which you can't really judge, 'Is it good or is it bad,' sometimes.  But that happens if you go to a concert, sometimes you just get this cacophony of sound and you just go with that wall of sound and jump up and down.  But unfortunately, this is a talent competition and someone's going to say that's crap or it's good."

It will be up to The Next Great American Band's three judges -- Australian Idol judge Ian "Dicko" Dickson; musician Sheila E.; and Goo Goo Doll's frontman John Rzeznik -- to help home viewers determine if what they're hearing is good or bad.

Dickson comes from the same background as Idol judge and fellow Brit Simon Cowell, and the two also previously worked for the same music company and had offices next to each other.

"He plays that role of tough judge on Australian Idol," said Lythgoe of Dickson.  "We first met him when we did World Idol.  He is very bright.  He knows his way around the music industry.  He knows his way around the media industry... coming from public relations.  So he fits that category of saying it like it is -- which is what I love -- and don't mess around.  But it's not a cruel thing."

Idol judge Paula Abdul and Sheila E. are both former female 80's pop singers, however the similarities apparently end there.

"I think Sheila E. is the one who says it like it is as well because of her background.  Her musicology is what she's talking about," explained Lythgoe.  "She, I think, will try and help where possible.  Again, she's not the Paula -- all heart and love and just desperate to see people succeed. I think Sheila E. is desperate to see good musicians succeed."

As for Rzeznik, Lythgoe said he "started off a little bit like a deer caught in the headlights" due to his uncomfortableness as a judge since he's the one normally being critiqued.

"I'm not sure what was running through his head at the beginning, but it must have been, 'I don't want to criticize anybody,'" said Lythgoe.  "But again, very quickly he realized that there was a lot of talent in front of him, so he could be honest with the ones that weren't as talented as he'd seen previously, so it made it easy to be able to say, 'I'm sorry, you're not strong enough to be part of this competition.'" 

Dickson estimates he's judged "upwards of 10,000 singers" on Australian Idol, and was curious "how it would be to judge bands."

"To be honest?  I found it a lot easier," explained Dickson.  "Bands are what I'm about.  I've always been a band person.  Bands have always been in my blood.  I love bands, I've always worked with bands.  I think I know better whether a band's kickin' it or not than if some pop diva's got her chops on that night."

Even without Dickson's reality competition resume, Rzeznik said judging The Next Great American Band is different than how he would approach Idol.

"I think it's a little more difficult because you have to judge the chemistry between the players -- the artists -- they have to be judged as a whole," he explained.  "It's a group of people, and you're trying to find that cohesion between them and that intimacy between them and that x-factor that makes a band great."

The Next Great American Band will premiere with a special two-hour episode that will showcase the audition process that produced the show's Top 12.

"We had a few disagreements about who to push through and who to let go," said Rzeznik.  "You make your point, you're either overruled or you win... That's the way it is."

Once the Top 12 are revealed, The Next Great American Band's next episode -- another expanded two-hour broadcast -- will feature the bands taking the stage for the first time and performing Bob Dylan songs in "their own styles." 

However unlike Idol, American Band won't feature a standalone results show.  Instead, similar to other once-weekly reality competitions like NBC's Last Comic Standing, each subsequent performance show will gradually reveal which bands received enough home viewer votes to perform in American Band's next performance round.

"There's no results show.  There's no room for it," said Lythgoe.  "We're not padding anything else with this show, we're just going head down.  Your face will be contorted by the end of the show, either with pain from what you've not enjoyed or from the speed that we're traveling."

One band will normally go home during each American Band performance show, but due to the judges inability to stick with the original plan to only select 10 finalists -- they "couldn't figure out" which two bands should be the final two cuts, according to Lythgoe -- two bands will be eliminated during each of the first two performance rounds.

"How we'll do it is we've got a green room where all the bands will sit," Lythgoe explained.  "[Then Bowden] will go in there and say, 'Okay, next up are, for instance, the Cloud Brothers.  Off you go. Go and get yourselves ready.'  There are eleven acts left here, and we will be choosing acts over the next hour, and two of them will be left sitting here, and those two acts will be going home."

Once they get the "go" from Bowden, each band will perform either original music or covers of varied styles for the show's live studio audience.

"The band will choose their own song, obviously," said Lythgoe.  "We don't know what they are or what they're going to be, so they're going to have to choose their own material.  Then we will give them a songwriter [such as Dylan], and what we're asking them to do at the moment is give us [their] top three tracks from this [songwriter].  'Who would you like to sing?  What songs of his or her would you like to sing?'  And they're giving us their top three and then we're trying to give them their first choice on every occasion, and the executive producers -- that's me and [Warwick] -- are making that decision both, trying to give them their second or third choice."

The Next Great American Band's final December 14 performance show will be billed as the "ultimate battle of the bands" and feature the competition's last three groups competing for a contract with 19 Recordings and the title of "Next Great American Band."  The winner will be revealed on American Band's December 21 finale broadcast.

"Whether the show is successful or not successful in the future, I think everyone that's been a part of it is going to say, 'Let's hope [the bands] do really well,'" said Lythgoe.  "They deserve to do well.  It's that sort of talent that is not given the opportunity any longer on radio or with recording executives.  So from that point of view that's why we believe in the show."

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