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(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Ms. EVIE DAY (Host, Stairway to Stardom): Hello. Hope you're enjoying the show. How would you like to appear on Stairway to Stardom?

(Soundbite of song “Stairway to Stardom Theme”)

Mr. FRANK MASI (Host, Stairway to Stardom): (Singing) There's a long way to go on the stairway to stardom. And you'll find…

NOAH ADAMS, host:

Back in the 1980s, New York's Manhattan Public Access television aired a do-it-yourself talent show called Stairway to Stardom.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This no budget precursor to Star Search and American Idol might have gone the way of most public access TV shows, that is, quickly forgotten, but a few devoted fans kept the show alive, trading tapes and eventually posting clips on the web.

ADAMS: Producer Jennifer Sharpe visited one of the show's biggest fans. His name is Mitch Friedman and he told her the story of how Stairway to Stardom became a cult hit in the Internet age.

Mr. MITCH FRIEDMAN: There was this strange voice; it had a kind of unidentifiable accent.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Ms. DAY: I come in contact with so many talented young people whose main ambition is to get into show business.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: And she was talking about how you can audition for this show, this Stairway to Stardom.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Ms. DAY: If you can sing, dance, do comedy, magic, anything at all, you can appear on Stairway to Stardom.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Evie Day was a former vocalist for a big band.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Ms. DAY: And now introducing our favorite nostalgia man with songs to remember; here's Frank Masi.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: And she's the one who told him he could do a show on public access. It was called The Frank Masi Nostalgia Hour when it first started.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Mr. MASI: (Singing) There are songs to remember as years go passing by.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: They started the show together. She was the talent coordinator and the musical director.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Ms. DAY: (Singing) I feel a song coming on.

Mr. MASI: Oh, thanks, Evie. That was nice.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Doug Miller, my friend and roommate at the time, put on public access. Some show just came on.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Mr. MASI: (Singing) On the stairway to stardom, you seem to marvel…

Mr. FRIEDMAN: On that first half an hour were Don Costello doing the swivel-hip dance to the Sesame Street song, Mahna mahna.

(Soundbite of song, “Mahna mahna”)

Mr. FRIEDMAN: There was this stand-up comedian named Al Villa.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”

Mr. AL VILLA (Stand-up comedian): I could be a hero myself but I don't look too good between two pieces of bread.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Lucille Cataldo doing Hairdresser.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Ms. LUCILLE CATALDO (Singer): (Singing) Hairdresser, hairdresser.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I was in shock and luckily enough they kept running that same episode for about the next three weeks.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Ms. CATALDO: (Singing) Cut my hair, it won't behave. Cut it up with jelly and a wave. One or two ringlets.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: There are more episodes, not too many more new ones. And then it kind of went off the air briefly. So we were getting a little desperate. You know, how - there's more of this, there's got to be more of this stuff. But luckily the host of the show would put his phone number at the end in the credits, so we called that number and spoke to him. And we came up with this scheme that we were making a documentary about public access TV shows. Not true at all; we just wanted to see more of these shows.

(Soundbite of TV Program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Unidentified Female #1: (Singing) Information, give me long distance.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: He lived on the first floor. It was down this long, kind of dark hall; tiny, little apartment, somewhere in Brooklyn that wasn't very fancy and nice. And when we met him, he told us, I'm just getting over a little cold so I'm, you know, I'm not really in voice today. So anytime he tried to sing little bits for us, he apologized for not sounding so good.

(Soundbite of TV Program “Stairway to Stardom”)

FRANK MASI (Host, Stairway to Stardom): (Singing) Gone. Love is never gone.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: He had always had wanted to be a singer and he thought he was going to be the next Bing Crosby and he - then he became famous. He thought he became famous in his own way.

(Soundbite of piano music from “Stairway to Stardom”)

Unidentified Man: Cuckoo.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: We talked him into the fact that we needed, at the very least, to borrow all the tapes that he had and maybe make copies of the parts that we wanted to use. He had about 40 three-quarter inch tapes. And, you know, we knew what we were going to do with them right away. We were going to copy every one of them.

(Soundbite of music from “Stairway to Stardom”)

Mr. FRIEDMAN: When he first started doing the show, he was contacted by somebody from Metro Media who had seen the Stairway to Stardom show and was interested, you know, maybe had an idea to do something with it. You know, the big time. So Frank sent this guy tapes and never heard from him again. And then, two years later, Star Search was on the air and it was on Metro Media.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Mr. MASI: You're going to go places, hon; you are. And I'm going to keep my eye on you, too.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: He says that he was very particular. He would hold auditions. So everybody that was on the show passed his litmus test of being talented.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Mr. MASI: You a little nervous?

Ms. CATALDO: Yes.

Mr. MASI: A little bit?

Ms. CATALDO: A little.

Mr. MASI: Okay. Lucille Cataldo, everybody.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. FRIEDMAN: The last time I saw him was 91 or 92, he was probably in his early 60's. We brought him a hundred dollars and a dozen cannolis. And as he told us, you gotta excuse me, I'm in convalescence. I just had the balloons done. Meaning, he had bypass surgery where they insert little balloons in to try to clear the passageways. I hope he's still around, but I don't know.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Mr. MASI: I guess that's about it for this time. So until next time, God bless you.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: He liked the cannolis.

(Soundbite of TV program “Stairway to Stardom”)

Unidentified Female #2: And don't forget, say a little prayer for somebody.

Mr. MASI: Right.

Unidentified Female #2: They need it.

Mr. MASI: (Singing) There's a long way to go on the Stairway to Stardom.

ADAMS: Our story was told by Mitch Friedman and produced by Jennifer Sharp.

BRAND: If you want to watch some great moments from the show, there are video clips from Stairway to Stardom at our website, npr.org.

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