The Apollo Theatre in New York is legendary. Everyone from Aretha Franklin to Luther Vandross, The Jackson 5, Lauryn Hill and even rapper Machine Gun Kelly graced that stage before they were ever hailed as, in the words of LL Cool J, something of a phenomenon. Some of these artists, like a 13-year-old Hill who performed at Amateur Night at The Apollo, were boo-ed. They even had a fellow called The Executioner who would sweep the boo-ed performers off the stage with a broom. True story.
Mostly filled with audience members who were itching to boo people, the Apollo was often also a good indicator of whether someone had skin tough enough to survive the criticisms that abound in the world of entertainment in general and the music and comedy industries in particular. This is what makes the Apollo Theatre an iconic venue and movement, period. It makes sense then that in a world where there is no shortage of talent competitions, one that helps to toughen that skin is necessary.
Following in the footsteps of Showtime at The Apollo – which was on US television for 21 years, until 2008 – is Apollo Live. This new talent show, staged at the iconic Apollo Theatre, will premiere in South Africa on January 14.
You can catch the show that features many music, comedy and more hopefuls on Top TV’s BET (Black Entertainment Television) in the new year. Apollo Live will be hosted by Tony Rock, who you might know as an actor on series such as All Of Us. Or you might know him as the comedian living in the shadow of his famous big brother, Chris Rock.
Gladys Knight (pictured) will be the opposite of Paula Abdul on this judging panel. She might look like your grandma but the former frontwoman of Gladys Knight and The Pips is tough as nails when it comes to rewarding talent.
She is joined at the judges’ table by hip hop pioneer and beatbox extraordinaire Doug E Fresh. Michael Bivins of classic crooning crews Bell Biv DeVoe and New Edition brings the number of people who have the power to make or break a hopeful’s career to three. Unlike in other talent shows, the judges get along quite well.
Apollo Live won’t be a picnic for contestants, but it will at least feature wise words from people who have been in the industry for a long time – like Eric Benet and Angie Stone. Couple that with the years of experience that Mama Gladys, Doug E and Michael have between them and The Executioner shouldn’t be sweeping the stage too often.
• Apollo Live starts on BET (TopTV channel 190) on January 14 at 10pm