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Aretha Franklin Is Looking For The Next Great Star ... Of Opera

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Aretha Franklin Is Looking For The Next Great Star ... Of Opera

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Aretha Franklin Is Looking For The Next Great Star ... Of Opera

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Aretha Franklin has confirmed that she is getting married. The 69-year-old Franklin quipped that she is not pregnant. She plans to marry her longtime friend William Wilkerson this summer. Franklin is also making news with a new music venture, a kind of singing competition, only not in the vein of "American Idol" or "The Sing-Off." As Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra reports, Franklin is turning her searchlight on the world of opera.

JENNIFER GUERRA, BYLINE: Attention all 18- to 40-year-old classically trained singers, Aretha Franklin wants to hear from you. That's right. The queen of soul is searching for the next great opera singer.

ARETHA FRANKLIN: Some of the older classical singers like Jessye Norman and Leontyne, Barbara Hendricks, they are retiring. They're not singing anymore, and I'd like to see some younger singers come along and take their place.

GUERRA: If she likes what she hears, Franklin will sign one, two, maybe even three performers to her label, Aretha's Records, and help the singers get established in the world of classical music. The competition itself, decidedly low-tech.

FRANKLIN: They should send their demos, CDs or cassette tapes to me, send it to me, in care of David Bennett, 30150 Telegraph Road...

GUERRA: No studio audience, no toll-free number where you can call in or text your vote, just your demo, an 8-by-10 headshot and a resume. Also, no original songs allowed.

FRANKLIN: I'd like to hear them sing the classics, the things like "Nessun Dorma."

GUERRA: Which, of course, Franklin sang, filling in for Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NESSUN DORMA")

FRANKLIN: (Singing in foreign language)

GUERRA: I was just wondering if you're going to get a couple, you know, like, (Singing) what you want, baby, I got it. You're - if you're going to get some of those.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FRANKLIN: Well, I'm not looking for that right now, just the classical aspirants and people who are studying, actively studying, someone really who is very close to being accomplished.

GUERRA: And Franklin herself will be the judge.

FRANKLIN: If they're new artists who have really got it, I'd like to hear them.

BRIAN CARTER: My reaction to that is if somebody asked me to judge who was going to be the next big R&B person, I would be equally wary.

GUERRA: That's Brian Carter. He's wrapping up his doctorate degree in vocal performance at the University of Michigan. He doesn't mean to question Franklin's credentials, but...

CARTER: My hope is that if she's going to do this right, that she's going to get good people who are going to help her make the right decision, and that the person they get really is a serious opera singer and not a pop culture version of a good opera singer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NESSUN DORMA")

PAUL POTTS: (Singing in foreign language)

GUERRA: Carter says the singers should be peer reviewed by real opera professionals, not pop reviewed like they do on shows like "Britain's Got Talent." That's where amateur opera singer Paul Potts won for his rendition of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NESSUN DORMA")

POTTS: (Singing in foreign language)

GUERRA: Back stateside, 29-year-old mezzo soprano Sarah Nisbett says pop review, peer review, doesn't matter. She definitely plans to audition.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GUERRA: Besides, she thinks the blending of pure classical music with something a little more funky, a little more mainstream is exciting.

SARAH NISBETT: Anything that can bring opera into a sort of more mainstream world, I think, is great. And I think it would just - it could be good to have a sort of pop music chaperone to sort of say, you know, hi, everybody, I'm pop music. You might enjoy my friend opera, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GUERRA: Nisbett is so excited about the competition, one might even say she's hallucinating. Like the other day, when she got an email from a friend, telling her about Aretha Franklin's open auditions.

NISBETT: And then as I'm reading it, my phone starts ringing, and it's a 313 area code, so I know it's Detroit, and I'm thinking, oh, my gosh, she knows I'm reading it. She's already selected me. So - but it was not her.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GUERRA: Well, a girl can always dream. For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Guerra.

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