With so much attention focused on this week’s premiere of The X Factor, it might be easy to overlook another show that features a group of starry-eyed amateurs chasing their dreams of musical glory. That would be a mistake, especially if you prefer your talent shows without all the nasty competition and biting critiques that a certain V-neck-clad judge has been known to dish out.
Majors & Minors — premiering at 8pm Friday on The Hub — brings together 12 talented kids from across the nation and mentors them to develop their musical skills in all areas of performing, including singing, writing, stage presence and dancing. The musical artists who lend their expertise include Brandy, Leona Lewis, Sean Kingston, Ryan Tedder, Avril Lavigne, Adam Lambert, Jordin Sparks and Colbie Caillat. No one is voted off, but at season’s end one of the cast members will win a recording deal and get to sing on tour.
Evan Bogart, who has written chart-topping songs for Beyonce, Rihanna and Hot Chelle Rae serves as an executive producer of the show (just as he did for Bravo’s Platinum Hit), and also one of the mentors. I spoke to him about what makes this show different from all the other singing shows on the air, how the producers staved off any problems from stage parents, and why the mentors got as much from the experience as the kids:
Are there aspects that you found lacking in other talent shows — like American Idol, The Voice — that you’re trying to bring to Majors & Minors?
“I feel like a lot of those shows are based on a lot of judgment. Something that was really important to us was taking these young novices who felt like they were doing a lot of good on their own and reached a point in their talent or development where they probably needed a helping hand. It’s a crucial point in their lives where they could go the right way or the wrong way, and we thought we might as well do a mentoring type of show where we take very talented kids and give them the helping hands they need to point them in the right direction and really kind of fast track them into understanding who they are as an artist and helping them grow not only as an artist but as a person.”
Were they open to the mentoring? Kids do sometimes think they know everything.
“When we were casting we were definitely very wary of casting people who we felt had been almost, like, pageanted. There are a lot of kids who have gone through a lot of training. We really wanted people who had raw talent. We found in these 12 kids [that] they were starving to be mentored. They were like, ‘Man, I don’t know what to do with all this talent. Please help. Please show us what we’re doing, and what we could be doing right better.’ They were so talented and so quick to pick up on stuff. All in all, it was a very rewarding experience.”
Many of the mentors on the show were also child stars themselves, or have at least been in the business since then. Did that add an extra dimension to their time with these kids?
“The majority of the mentors started off when they were young. That was very important to us to find mentors the kids could relate to from their stories. Avril, Sean Kingston, who I worked with when he was 16, obviously Jordin and Brandy, who is the epitome of what these kids are going through, being TV and music all mished and mashed together. It definitely wasn’t by coincidence.”
Since no one is getting voted off, how are the episodes structured? What is the climax each week?
“We get to see all the kids grow and really start becoming not only amazing at performing and collaborating with each other, but start to grow into their individual unique selves and define who they are as an artist [with] the climax of each episode being a performance they’ve been working really hard on nailing. There’s a continual growth process of seeing them overcome what they deem to be their weaknesses and turn them into strengths. It’s a constant process. It may take one kid four or five episodes and it may take somebody else just the same episode and they move on to something else. It’s less about making somebody feel like they’re more important than somebody else as opposed to encouraging all of them to keep pushing and try to become better versions of themselves.”
You’re having them do a little bit of everything — singing, writing, dancing. Was there common ground as far as what their strengths and weaknesses were?
“I’d say the majority of them really have a knack for singing. But as always they were taught a lot about breathing techniques and mic techniques and things they probably didn’t even know existed. … It was important to us that we try to keep them well-rounded and teach them everything. Especially nowadays when a lot of artists who are selling albums are artists that write or co-write their own music. A lot of artists who are just selling singles [are] people who buy outside songs. We really wanted to hammer home that we’re trying to create artists here. We’re trying to give them careers and give them a career path. Some of them came on the show and they’d never written a song in their life, and [it turns out] some of them are savant writers. Some of them had never danced before, but they’re incredible at playing guitar or singing. It was really about, ‘Hey, let us give you all the weapons at your fingertips. Let us give you everything at your disposal so when you go off into the real world, whether you’re continuing to be mentored by us or not, you at least have a foundation to build from.'”
I saw an interview where you were so pleased about the success of artists like Adele, Mumford & Sons, The Black Keys. Is that kind of the standard in mind for Majors & Minors or is there a more pop vibe?
“Some of them are on the pop-py side. But it was more about finding out what kind of artist they wanted to be and helping them realize what would be the most accessible version of that self. Not necessarily pop, but the most accessible version as far as the mask of [it] and put them on that path. Especially in the songwriting process, in trying to figure out what exactly would be their single, their song and their first look. One of the girls on the show grew up listening to folk music. She was like, ‘Yeah, but you know I think I should just do pop punk stuff.’ And I’m like, ‘Why?’ She’s like, ‘Well, there’s no real way to do folk music.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean? Look at Mumford & Sons. That’s folk music.’ Now obviously I don’t know if Mumford specifically appeals to a younger audience, so it was about taking what she is and understanding that she is a teenager and doing something that encompasses her love of folk but making it something that’s more accessible to her age range. We explain it to her, and don’t just do it for her but have her do it and encourage her and inspire her to do it by explaining why and showing her examples. And then we do everything that we do, whether it’s collaborations or as an individual try to take them down that path and not lead them to be something that they’re not, but let them shine in what they are.”
It’s not surprisong most of them pictured themselves as singers. Were some of them opened to other avenues to take?
“There are definitely some of the cast here who could have careers — if it didn’t work out for them singing — as songwriters or producers, but for the most part they all want to be in front of the camera. They all want to be that. There are a few of them who are so talented that I could see them doing several different things in their career path and at some point probably settling down and not being in front of the camera. But we wanted to encourage them with what they wanted to do. … It was very important for me on the mentoring for songwriting to help them find their own wings, so that they’re not just another anything. I want them all to be the first them. That was definitely something we tried to hammer home a lot, finding what’s unique about you, finding what’s never been done, even if it’s mashing genres together and attacking that way.”
Was there a problem at all with the stereotypical overbearing stage mom or stage dads?
“Surprisingly, the parents were awesome. It’s definitely something we worried about, but I give the credit back to the casting of the kids. The 12 kids we found were nurtured in a way that let them be who they are, and let them be raw talent that was developing on their own. We really strived to stay away from any of the kids we felt were overdeveloped already. It’s not a long season, and we need to focus on helping build people up and not break them down to build them up.”
Did watching these kids bring back any memories from your own childhood and wanting to pursue music?
“Of course. All I ever wanted to do was music. I grew up in a very musical family (Note: His parents are Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart and entertainment manager Joyce Bogart Trabulus), and that was always my passion. Giving back like I was given — you know, it’s funny, I get a lot of misconceptions, ‘Oh, your mom, your dad, you must have been given everything.’ I wasn’t given anything. … For me, it was a lot of trying to find my mentors out there and I didn’t really have one. My dad passed away when I was 4 years old, and my mom was out of the business for a long time before I got into it. I made a lot of mistakes, I stumbled along the way as I was first starting. I was an 18-year-old kid trying to find my way, and I didn’t really have a mentor, and it was something that I was starving for. … So for me to be able to mentor these kids, and to give back something that I wasn’t given, it was very personal.”
Photo: Credit: Rob Naples