Seacrest-free stargazing

Standing together on stage at The Orange Peel, their last round finished and their hearts bared raw before the live audience, the five surviving contestants stare out into the crowd with a unique expression of sheepish relief. They have sung their lungs out tonight, and all they can do now is wait for the final results to come in.

Local singer Nikki Talley brings it. photo by Matt Raxter

For us, the viewer, this wait will be mere moments. For these five performers, however, it will be two weeks of anticipation and nerves until the final episode is edited, the scores tallied, the results agreed upon and the announcement made. Two weeks of nerve-wracking, tension-building hell, with $10,000 and a still-undefined “recording contract” hanging in the balance.

In the end, only one of them will be named the first Carolina Star.

But what is Carolina Star? In a nutshell, it’s a self-admitted “knock-off of American Idol,” complete with awkward cattle-call tryouts, themed elimination rounds (such as “Classic Rock” or “Soundtracks and Showtunes”), audience voting and personality-rich judges—in this case Star 104.3 morning DJ Mark Andrews, show producer Kevin Geagan and the ever-giddy Heidi Daugherty, best known as wife of ex-NBA player Brad Daugherty. On that level, it’s more an echo of a fresh idea than a truly original work. And yet, having been to the taping of the last few episodes at the Orange Peel, it’s hard not to feel how important the show has become to the participants.

If you haven’t heard of Carolina Star, you shouldn’t feel too out of the loop. It went under a lot of people’s radars, largely because the show’s production crew—helmed by Geagan—is still finding its collective feet. “We really haven’t promoted it much, partially because we’re new at this,” says Geagan. “We really wanted to get some experience before it got to too many eyeballs.”

What’s more, the shows airs at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday nights on Channel 13, WLOS, placing it in direct competition with network powerhouse Saturday Night Live. And yet, according to Geagan, the show is pulling in a “6.0 share” in the local market (a very rough estimate meaning that some six percent of local TV watchers are tuning in).

Over the course of the past 11 weeks, the field of performers has narrowed from several hundred at the initial tryouts to the final five competitors. The judges must decide between: vocal powerhouse Heather Landreth; experienced singer/songwriter Nikki Talley; charismatic showman David Manas; classically trained vocalist Kenny Cheek; and Michael McDonald sound-alike Michael Morgan.

Compounding the difficulty is that the judges aren’t really sure what it is they want.

“We’ve left it kind of open,” admits Geagan. “Do we want someone who is really special in one category, or someone with a broad vocal talent? Do we want someone who is a seasoned performer, or someone with unbelievable performance talent? We’re still working that out.”

Surely, however, Geagan has got to have some idea who is likely to walk away with the title, right? If he does, he’s not telling. He predictably says that the judges have their work cut out for them, and will be reviewing tape until just before the final show, which airs this Saturday. And, just to keep tension high, the final announcement will be made live on WLOS from a party and live performance (with house band Crocodile Smile) at the Auto Advantage dealership (Geagan’s business, which serves as the show’s official sponsor).

Regardless of who becomes the first Carolina Star, taking home the title, the cash, the vaguely outlined recording contract (even Geagan doesn’t have concrete details) and the peculiar kind of fame that only a local TV show can bring, it’s safe to say that the show has impacted the lives of those final five performers. Just look at their faces in that final snippet of film, watching the terror and relief play across the tired, excited faces. It’s almost as if, right before your eyes, you can see their horizons expanding.

[Steve Shanafelt is a contributing writer to Xpress. He can be reached at]

The finale of Carolina Star airs on Saturday, June 30, at 11:30 p.m. on Channel 13, WLOS. The finale party, which will fill the final minutes of the show on a live broadcast, starts at 9:30 p.m. at the Auto Advantage dealership at Exit 44 (Fletcher/Mountain Home) of I-26. For more info, visit


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13 thoughts on “Seacrest-free stargazing

  1. Once again, shame on people for watching this travesty. As a letter to the editor mentioned, there are so many talented musicians in this town that don’t (or won’t) resort to this cattle call to fame that deserve coverage from the Xpress.

    Does anyone remember the local music column? The Xpress needs one, and needs one quickly.

    Let’s reward people who are striving to create music, not people who are striving to create likable little television personalities that can sing Bob frigging Seger songs perfectly on key. We need more Tonya Hardings, and yet the only thing that Carolina Star is offering us is prepackaged Nancy Kerrigans.

    Also, what does Brad Daughtry’s wife, this guy who sells used cars, and a DJ from a bad radio station know about music? I’m willing to bet what they do know could be inscribed on the head of a pin in Old English script, and there would probably be room left over.

    I would rather let Chris Benoit babysit my firstborn child than watch Carolina Star.

    With that said, let me host it. I’m willing to bet that they’d cancel the show and burn down the television station by the time I was done.

  2. Bugg: “I would rather let Chris Benoit babysit my firstborn child than watch Carolina Star.”

    Too soon, man. Too soon.

    And, for what it’s worth, (and as the guy who started the local music column you mention) I kinda liked Carolina Star. It’s not really my thing, granted, but it’s essentially a harmless, family-friendly good time. It’s certainly no worse than most of the open mics I’ve been to.

    To paraphrase one of the great quotes of our time, “You go to a karaoke contest with the singers you have, not the singers you wish you had.”

  3. But, this (and American Idol) are what’s wrong with music. People won’t like the winner because they are the best, they will like them because of the personality that the creators of the television show want to showcase.

    It was Bill Hicks who deemed “family friendly” groups as being contrary to what the spirit of rock and roll should be. The waving of the hand in the air of the New Kids on the block was the exact same thing, to him at least, as a Nazi “Seig Heil”. Is that extreme? Probably, but it sums up how I feel batter than anything I can put into words.

    Open mics sell you on the singer’s ability. If they are any good, they get asked back. If they aren’t they don’t get asked back.

    Television sells us on so much more besides the music. You have to be photogenic, you have to be willing to sing the horrible songs they pick out for you.

    If you are an artist who isn’t willing to play ball with the producers of Carolina Star, than you aren’t going to get much, or any airtime at all.

    There needs to be something to document what’s happening with real artists in this town, and not just the lap dogs of a used car salesman and a television station that thinks that Jon Le is funny.

  4. heather

    I think there is plenty of documentation/showcasing on local and “real” artists in this town. I don’t think you’re looking at the Xpress very well.

    You’re talking about two different singing worlds. An open mic is to allow singer songwriters to showcase their ability in a very organic and local fashion. Carolina Star is not geared toward the singer songwriter arena. And personally I think its okay that there is a singing competition for those artists that don’t songwrite however have immense singing talent.

    Seriously, either you are a music fan or you aren’t. Open your mind to all types of arenas and venues and try to appreciate a good “artist”, be it an official songwriter or no. And there is plenty of space for local songwriters/musicians and for people that are in a simple singing competition.

    If all of your favorite musicians were showcased and liked by the majority the same “new kids on the block” type obsession would occur again, hand waving and all, I’m sure. That’s the beauty of either liking a musician/band or not. But seriously, the hating is what takes the fun out of it. I’m no Britney fan, but I don’t hate her. Just let her do her thing.

  5. You and I both know that what Carolina Star is offering is trite crap. That’s my opinion. I am a music fan, and that’s what makes this so upsetting.

    A friend of mine once joked that you aren’t allowed in the Olympic games unless there is a tragedy in your family that you can make a movie of the week out of. The same thing goes with the performers in these “talent” contests.

    What have these people done to deserve the recognition that they are getting other than answering a cattle call by a used car salesman seeking another form of revenue? With the exception of Nikki Talley, whom I’ve seen live, nothing that I’m aware of (if I’m wrong about any of these other performers, than my apologies go out to them). They haven’t done anything except smile and look pretty.

    Pop music is loaded with tremendous talents that never wrote their own songs (The Temptations, Rod Stewart, and Glen Campbell are three that come to mind), but they at least partnered up with someone with a viable talent, and if they were puppets, the strings weren’t so obvious.

    I’m not some hipster that is arguing my music’s superiority over others, I’m actually damning the herd for valuing crap and entertainment over talent and artistry.

    May Carolina Star and American Imbecile never see another day.

  6. heather

    I’m glad that you’ve recognized Nikki as a talent. It’s just sad that you aren’t giving the others a chance as well. I think you are “damning the herd” a little too early. How do you know the others aren’t out performing as well?

    I see and respect your point and partly agree. I just think that you can hold an opinion and damn all you want without being disrepectful to those that really enjoy the entertainment. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t watch it, don’t vote, and continue to support YOUR musicians.

    And I think its safe to say that there are people that are exercising their right to not watch the show. And who loses out on that? the “used car salesman seeking another form of revenue”.

    i just say, relax, live and let live, and let people personally be the judge of what they like and don’t. but don’t be so negative about it. you know?

  7. And just to echo something that Heather points out, all of these folks are local — the singers, the crew and the fans. Because of that, I find it really hard not to support the show just on principle. Musically speaking, there’s not a vast difference between what you see on Carolina Star and what you used to see when the SexPatriates played Vincent’s Ear. (Then again, I’ve never seen any of the Carolina Star contestants get ragingly drunk and strip down to their g-strings while covering a Stooges song.)

    I actually expect to hear much more from some of these folks in the future. I’d be surprised, for instance, if some bar-loving cover band out there didn’t snatch up David Manas to be their frontman. He’s not a great singer, but he’s definitely got the ability to sell a song.

    Lastly, I think we all need to keep in mind that this is a late-night, local network TV show. It’s free! Where’s the harm? (Other than to the creative sensibilities of certain viewers?)

  8. heather

    “I have every right to be negative about it, it’s my bread and butter.”

    geez that negativity..its just not attractive. i would be more open to your point if you said it more deliquite..without references to Nazi Germany or the wrestler.

    on a positive note i think you are a great writer, despite the outrageous comments, and should pursue it if you aren’t already.

    take care.

    P.S. May I suggest the next go round that you atleast come OUT to one of the Carolina Star shows- to see it live? Or would you rather have your toenails pulled off one my one while listening to barbara streisand and being spanked by monkeys? :o)

  9. That’s the spirit, Heather.

    I’ll go on record as saying that if they do another Carolina Star I will go to one of the tapings. I’ll keep everyone posted when I do that. I’ll even share my thoughts.

    But, about me being delicate, I’d rather not be delicate. Being delicate leaves room for ambiguity, and being harsh only opens the doors for laughter.

  10. Jargon

    Then why do you have so much trouble actually stepping through the door?

  11. Mostly because of my weight problem.

    I’m not sure what you mean, Jargon. What are you referring to? I said that if they did another Carolina Star, that I’d go to a show. So what do I have trouble with?

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