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.
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 email@example.com]
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 www.carolinastar.net