'Sunday Best' Searches for Next Gospel Music Star
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, she wrote a worldwide best-seller about her life as a prostitute and madam in the 1970s. We thought we'd get her take on men, women and power today. Xaviera Hollander, "The Happy Hooker," is coming up next.
But first, what happens when you take "American Idol" to church? It's a singing competition, a search for the next gospel superstar. A recording contract is guaranteed to the winner. It's BET's latest work in reality TV. It's called "Sunday Best." Here's a sample.
(Soundbite of show, "Sunday Best")
Mr. TREVON DAVIS (Contestant, "Sunday Best"): Come on and praise the Lord with me.
Ms. SHARI ADDISON (Contestant, "Sunday Best"): Come on. Everybody stand up and praise the Lord with me. Come on. Come on. It's good to see everybody tonight.
Ms. JANICE COLLINS (Contestant, "Sunday Best"): (Singing) When you come into His presence, just think up the name of Jesus and you'll hear the music playing.
MARTIN: That was the music of Janice Collins, then Shari Addison and Trevon Davis, contestants in BET's gospel singing competition, "Sunday Best."
But some people wonder whether a competition like this is the best way to spread the good news. It's our weekly Faith Matters conversation. And joining us to talk about this is Tina Campbell. She is one of the judges on the program, and she's one half of the gospel duo, Mary Mary. She joins us by phone from her home in Los Angeles.
Ms. TINA CAMPBELL (Member, Mary Mary; Judge, "Sunday Best"): Hello there.
MARTIN: Now, you've heard some debate on this already. Do you think commercial reality TV is an appropriate place for gospel music?
Ms. CAMPBELL: Absolutely. Reality TV has been - it's been the heartbeat of America actually in the last, you know, in the last few years. It's the way that we connect and find out what's going on in the lives and in the homes of all of the normal people around. It sends messages. It creates trends. It does all of those kinds of things, and so why not allow the opportunity for music that's just positive as this music is for something that represents nothing but good. The message is totally and completely about a greater good in every way. Why not give America an opportunity to experience that in the wonderful world of reality? I think it's a great way to spread the gospel message.
MARTIN: Why did you want to be involved?
Ms. CAMPBELL: Well, first of all, I thought it was a great idea. When I found out the other people that were involved, I knew that, okay, this must have been gone over with a fine-tooth comb because these people are very concerned about the gospel community. It's not something that we just do, you know, for entertainment purposes, for money, for whatever. This is where our hearts are before there was anyone watching. This is what we were doing. It's our passion.
So I knew that with Kirk and BeBe being involved that, first of all, someone had made sure this is well researched, and that it wasn't just, you know, another network jumping on the bandwagon to do something to gain capital, that it was somebody who wanted to perhaps put something in a positive light on their network. You know, make it fun and entertaining at the same time, but represent something that's a little more positive than what we see.
MARTIN: I think that what some people are concerned about is - well, it's the competitive aspect of it. Let me read you something that was on the BET message board. It's from a writer whose handle is MomWD1(ph). And she writes: God must be so saddened to see us stoop to this level of showcasing our gift. Instead of using our gifts to glorify him and edify the body, we're using them to compete for what, to get more glory for ourselves?
What do you think?
Ms. CAMPBELL: I think that she has the wrong outlook on it. Any gospel singer before you get a record deal - first of all, I say that gospel music industry, first of all, is on the up rise when many other industries, and the other forms and types of music are not doing really well and they're not succeeding. Gospel has stayed on the constant incline, and I think it's something to said about that.
But before this music can be heard and can be exposed, it can help encourage lives and help uplift people and bring - and share a positive life - light on subjects and on things when the rest of the other music doesn't necessarily do that. Before that music can be heard, before that music can be experienced, somebody has to sing in front of an executive who will then, you know, give you a deal and fund your dream, fund this message, fund your call.
MARTIN: So you're saying competition is part of it. There is competition anyway, whether people want to believe that or not. There is a win and win in process.
Ms. CAMPBELL: It's - you know, it's a part of this world. It's a part of - if you don't expose your gift, if you don't expose it to those who will help give you a vehicle to, you know, for more exposure then you - the opportunity won't come. How will you get a record deal if you never open up your mouth and allow someone who can fund your calls if you don't allow them to hear you?
MARTIN: Okay. Let's listen to a clip of some of the feedbacks from one of your other judges, BeBe Winans. In this clip, Mr. Winans is responding to a performance by, I think, it's Saudia Mills.
Ms. CAMPBELL: Okay.
(Soundbite of show, "Sunday Best")
Mr. BEBE WINANS (Judge, "Sunday Best"): You got the look.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WINANS: You got the look, and I think you have the ability, but I just expected more and you didn't give it on that round. Okay?
MARTIN: Ouch. It wasn't really, I mean, it wasn't Simon asking and meanness, but again some of the people - writers to the message board said what is the look have to do with anything? What would you…
Ms. CAMPBELL: It has everything to do with it. It is an industry. If you go into church - let's pose this question for other people, for the (unintelligible), if you go into church and the people look downtrodden and they look sad and they look like life is coming to an end and so out of touch with everything, you're like, what's going on here? What are you guys hearing? What are you being taught? Not that you have to be, you know, totally and completely thin and you have to be a picture of, you know, you have to be the magazine beauty, but your appearance does speak volumes. It does. It doesn't mean small, it doesn't mean big, it doesn't mean light, it doesn't mean - but your appearance speaks volumes. She had something that looked exciting for Saudia. I know, she just looks - she looks like she's full of joy and, you know, she has a beautiful smile and…
MARTIN: So presentation can be part of spreading the glory?
Ms. CAMPBELL: It absolutely can. If somebody is thinking to be about God and they look all downtrodden and sad and just look like it ain't working for them, I'm thinking, well, how do you try to tell me something that - you're saying it could be true on my life but it doesn't appear to be true in any way, say, perform in yours.
MARTIN: All right. Well, Tina Campbell, come back and see us sometime. We want to hear what you do, what you're working on.
Ms. CAMPBELL: Will do.
MARTIN: All right. Tina Campbell is a gospel singer and a judge for the BET reality program "Sunday Best." She's a member of the gospel duo, Mary Mary.
Tina Campbell, thank you so much.
Ms. CAMPBELL: You're welcome.