Cover Story

Their Notes, Your Votes

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 14, 2007

"American Idol" rules. Will "American Band" rock?

Fox's new reality/talent competition, "The Next Great American Band," is the brainchild of 19 Entertainment, creators of the all-powerful "American Idol" franchise and "So You Think You Can Dance." Though its pedigree is good, the show airs in an often risky Friday night time slot.

"Am I worried?" asked Nigel Lythgoe, 19 Entertainment executive producer with Simon Fuller and Ken Warwick. "I think people find programs that they want to watch wherever. If we're a good show, people will find us."

And in this "American Idol"-for-groups, viewers will find many familiar elements, beginning with the stage symmetry of three judges and a gregarious host.

The judges are Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik, percussionist and band leader Sheila E. and music industry veteran Ian "Dicko" Dickson, who has already made his mark as the acerbic Simon Cowell-esque judge on "Australian Idol."

Cowell and Dickson once had offices next to each other in London and it was Cowell who persuaded Dickson to move to Australia to host "Australian Idol." According to Dickson, "We used to try and outdo each other with our stereos. He'd be turning up his boy bands, I'd be turning up my rock and roll. Eventually the HR people would come and tell us to turn it down, people's ears were bleeding!"

The weekly competition kicks off with a two-hour episode on Friday beginning at 8 p.m. It will operate on a familiar formula: The judges will narrow the field to 10 finalists who will perform live each week, playing a mix of their own music and cover tunes. The judges will offer commentary and guidance to voters, who ultimately will decide the winner with telephone and text message votes.

After soliciting performance videos from "musical groups of all ages, styles, and genres" and promising "a record contract that could be worth millions," the producers of "The Next Great American Band" were deluged with audition tapes from more than 6,000 bands.

Sixty were chosen to participate in live auditions in August at the Montelago Resort in Lake Las Vegas, Nev., which turned out to be more desert than resort.

"Auditions sometimes started at 7 o'clock in the morning in the baking sun," Lythgoe said. "It was so hot there -- I think it went up to about 140."

The first episode will be a synopsis of the 60 auditions, but "Idol" fans who most love bad auditions may be disappointed, Lythgoe said.

"What we have got is zany bands -- where are they coming from? -- rather than being bad. Working in a band, you tend to iron out people who aren't good and sort of squeeze them out.

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