A new fall TV show will try to find the next superstar in the world of Christian and gospel music.
“Gifted,” a 10-episode series beginning Oct. 1, will air on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and narrow contestants from around the country down to one, giving the finalist a cash prize and recording contract.
Though some critics are calling the show a Christian version of the FOX network’s popular “American Idol,” the minds behind “Gifted” are rejecting the comparison.
“In no way are we trying to create it as an ‘Idol,'” said Phil McIntyre, one of the show’s producers, on the phone from his office in Orlando, Fla.
McIntyre works for Wright Entertainment Group, whose president and CEO is Johnny Wright. Wright manages the careers of mega-groups like *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and Boyz II Men.
To produce “Gifted,” WEG has joined forces with Matt Crouch, founder of Gener8Xion Entertainment, which has produced independent Christian films like “The Omega Code” and “Megiddo.”
The joint venture is called the Wright Generation.
“Our goal is not to make programming about faith, but instead, programming that doesn’t violate faith, which is unlimited in scope and genre,” said Crouch in an initial March 17 press release about the show. Crouch is the son of Paul and Jan Crouch, who founded Costa Mesa, Calif.-based TBN in 1973.
TBN reaches 95 million homes through cable and satellite, and it is the largest group owner of satellites in the world.
TBN and Crouch’s office deferred all questions about the show to McIntyre.
McIntyre declined to talk about the show’s financing, but he did confirm other details.
Auditions for the show will occur July 26 through Aug. 29 at TBN studios in 12 cities across the United States: Dallas, Houston, Mobile, Atlanta, Miami, New York, Nashville, Chicago, Tulsa, Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles.
A panel of judges will travel to each audition city as part of the “bus tour,” and the panel will choose two finalists from each city, making a total of 24 contestants that will go on to California for the show’s broadcasts.
The show will run in 10 episodes, all of them live, with an as-yet-unnamed host. McIntyre said a panel of “three industry experts” will do the final judging, with room for guest, celebrity judges.
Each of the 24 finalists will have a chance to perform, with the winner earning a cash prize and recording contract with a major record label. Contestants must be between 18 and 24 years old.
Asked if the contestants must be Christians, McIntyre said, “We’re asking them to prepare Christian or gospel material. So, yes.”
As for what constitutes “Christian or gospel material,” McIntyre said, “I think people get the idea. We’re going to be open-minded. With that said, we’re not going to allow just secular, positive music.”
“Share Your Gift,” reads an audition flyer for the new show. “Come out, lift your voice to the heavens, and share your gifts with the world!” it says. “YOU may be America’s next Gift!”
McIntyre said the show’s title is apt.
“There’s not a better show title we feel than ‘Gifted,'” said McIntyre. “‘Gifted’ sums it up—what our goal is and what we’re trying to express.”
McIntyre added that the show won’t employ some of the tactics found in “American Idol”—namely, the presence of an exceptionally prickly judge, and audition footage that highlights poor singers.
“We will give accurate feedback to everyone that performs,” McIntyre said. “We will tell it like it is. If you’re off key, we will tell you you’re off key. We will not do it in a negative way. We’re all about people reaching their maximum potential.”
“I can say that the team that’s come together is one of the best creative teams out there,” McIntyre continued. “We’re going to show the bus tour [of auditions] in a way that’s never been shown before. And we don’t have to do it at someone else’s expense.”
McIntyre listed two keys to the show’s success: production quality and talent.
“Talent is going to be what turns heads in the secular world,” he said. “No one can deny that the majority of the talent is coming from the churches, as is.”
Wright Generation created a mission statement for “Gifted,” which reads as follows:
“God gives us so many gifts, but we reach for the one with the prettiest wrapping. In a world where MTV dictates trends and pop-stars become idols, Christianity seems to be wrapped in conditions and judgments. It is our goal to wrap God’s message—His love—in acceptance, and in a way that blends seamlessly into ‘pop’ culture while still upholding the values we, as Christians, value most. When presented with this gift, wrapped tightly in respect, we hope that today’s youth will open the trendy packaging to release God’s love—and realize in doing so that we are all truly ‘Gifted.'”
McIntyre said if Christians will support the show, more shows with a faith dimension will be possible.
“That’s our ultimate goal,” said McIntyre, “to put attention on the Christian world.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Click here for the official “Gifted” Web site.
Click here for the audition schedule.