With the finale of the locally produced singing contest Carolina Star less than two weeks away, Xpress talked to producer/sponsor/judge Kevin Geagan about the show, the judges, the performers and the whole “American Idol knock off” thing. For further Xpress coverage of the show, click here.
Xpress: Does it bother you that people are calling this a “local version of American Idol,” and do you think that’s a fair comparison?
Geagan: Well, it’s certainly a knock-off of American Idol, because it’s a vocal-performance contest.
Xpress: What made you want to create Carolina Star in the first place?
Geagan: It was originally conceived as a way to do something nice for the community. I own Auto Advantage, and we’ve sold 20,000 cars to people in the area over the last 10 years. We’ve done various charitable projects with groups like Eliada Homes over the years, but this time we wanted to do something different. This seemed like a fun project to sponsor for the community, and to celebrate our last 10 years as well.
Xpress: There have been some criticisms about the show’s production quality, which is certainly less polished than something like American Idol. Any thoughts?
Geagan: There are always people who will point out that it’s not a very expensive production. We don’t clean up the audio files at all, and we don’t pitch-correct the songs or anything. About all we do is add a little reverb. It’s very a raw kind of recording, and it can be very hard to sound good under those conditions.
Xpress: Among the people who are aware of the program, it seems like it’s gotten a fairly positive reaction. But, it also seems that a lot of people are still unaware that the show even exists. Have you been kicking yourself for not promoting it more heavily?
Geagan: We think that the people who do know about it enjoy it. The contestants, their friends and families, and the people who do watch it — they all seem to love it. The Orange Peel seems to have been very excited to have us there, and they’ve been great to work with. But, you’re right to point out that we really haven’t marketed or promoted it much.
Xpress: Why is that?
Geagan: Partially because we’re new at this. We’re still learning the whole production process, and we really wanted to get some experience before it got to too many eyeballs. But it seems to be doing well. We’re getting a 6.0-share in our time slot on WLOS. That’s pretty competitive against Saturday Night Live, and we’ve heard that WLOS hasn’t had a local program that’s done that. It’s really been a fun project.
Xpress: For those that haven’t been keeping up with the show, what can they see if they tune in to WLOS on the next two Saturday nights?
Geagan: Our 11th episode airs this Saturday at 11:30 p.m., and will feature the “Soundtracks and Showtunes” theme. We’ll air the final episode, which we shot last weekend, on June 30. But, even though the contest is over, we still haven’t announced the winner. We’ll be announcing that on live TV.
Xpress: I was at the final taping. It seemed like there was an awful lot of content to crunch down into a half-hour TV program.
Geagan: There was. In the final contest, the contestants performed three songs. One song was chosen by the judges, one was chosen by the band, and the other was chosen by the performer. The songs are only 90 seconds each, so with five performers that only makes for seven-and-a-half minutes of video. We’ll edit all that down in post-production, probably by editing each of those songs down a little bit. Or, maybe we’ll pick out the best two songs, to get the show down to the right time. We’ve also got some interviews with the finalists that we may find a way to work in. We’re reserving the last 10 minutes of the final show, and WLOS will be switching live to the announcement of the winner.
Xpress: And you’ll be switching to a kind of wrap party, right? Can you give us some of the details on that as well?
Geagan: There will be a party and concert at the Auto Advantage dealership (5998 Asheville Highway in Hendersonville — exit 44 on I-26.), starting at about 9:30 p.m. All five finalists will be performing with the band, and we should see a mix of new songs and songs that they performed during the competition. It’ll be free and open to the public.
Xpress: New songs? How have they had time to rehearse now that the contest is over?
Geagan: Our house band, Crocodile Smile, is pretty popular, and they perform a lot around the area. In the last few weeks, they’ve invited the contestants to perform with them at some of their shows. So, they’ll be playing a lot of songs that we haven’t heard before.
Xpress: The last time we talked, you mentioned that you still hadn’t ironed out all the details about the recording contract that is part of the grand prize. Have there been any developments?
Geagan: Nothing is certain yet, but we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve been very clear about the recording contract with all the contestants from the start. We’ve gotten copies of the show to some talent managers that could sign the winner to a development contract. That would allow them to introduce the winners to a record label, and to get them booked in some venues. It’s nothing concrete, though.
Xpress: I was talking to one of the contestants at the finale, and they told me that the recording or development contract wasn’t something that they were really all that interested in. Have you considered what you’d do if someone simply wasn’t interested in it, but was interested in more money, some studio time or something else?
Geagan: Not really. I know that some of them really want to go after a career, and others don’t. Some people don’t really want to go on the road and perform, while others like Nikki Talley are already touring around the region. It’s really some of both. They are all excited about the money, though.
Xpress: Am I wrong in guessing that you already know the winner?
Geagan: Actually it hasn’t been decided yet. There’s been close to 50,000 votes cast online at Star 104.3’s website, and we haven’t tallied those yet. Those won’t count as much as the live audience’s and judge’s votes, but we’re certainly going to look at them. And then, we as judges really want to sit down with the tapes and make sure we’re making the right call. Some of the performances seem different when you watch them over again, and we’re planning on watching the last tape together before we make the final decision.
Xpress: That’s a shame, because my next question was actually going to be me begging you for a hint about the winner.
Geagan: People have asked me about that all week, and I really mean it when I say that it’s 20 percent to each. It’s really hard to pick a winner, because they all have their own unique talents. For instance, Heather Landreth has been consistently awesome. Then you’ve got Michael Morgan, who, when he sings something in his range, is almost indistinguishable from the original artist, but he doesn’t have the breadth of talent that some of the others have. 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 like Nikki, or someone like David Manas, who has the least vocal range, but has an unbelievable performance talent? Or, should we go with someone with a trained voice like Kenny Cheek?”
Xpress: So, what traits will decide the winner?
Geagan: Part of the problem is that we’re still trying to decide what it is we want out of the first Carolina Star. We’ve really left it kind of open.
Xpress: Since we can’t discuss the winner yet, at least we can talk about the people who are making the decision. It’s obvious that you’re on the team because of your role as a producer, but how did you pick the other two judges?
Geagan: I’ve known Heidi Daugherty for a while, and she’s so bubbly, excitable and charismatic that I thought she’d be a good fit. She really wanted to do it, and we’ve been very happy with that choice.
Xpress: She’s one of the most enthusiastic listeners I’ve ever seen. You know, I counted it, and she used the word “awesome” to describe a performance at least 10 times during the last taping.
Geagan: I wasn’t counting, but I certainly believe it.
Xpress: And Mark Andrews?
Geagan: Mark is the morning DJ on Star 104.3, and he has extensive music experience. Auto Advantage has worked a lot with Clear Channel over the years, and he was kind of a natural choice for us. Mark’s musical ear is great, and in addition to being a DJ, he’s also a very experienced performer himself. He really understands music.
Xpress: So now that the end of the first season is growing close, do you think there will be a second season of Carolina Star?
Geagan: I’m not positive, but I think so. I’m certainly hoping we’ll do it again. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s also been a ton of fun. The first season of anything, you learn a lot.
— Steve Shanafelt