The loudest, meanest audience in America

Jamie Foxx is set to revive Showtime at the Apollo, television's original, and most gladiatorial, talent show

In the days before talent shows took over our televisions there was only one place to go if you wanted to watch enthusiastic would-be stars mangle tunes and flub lyrics in front of the loudest (and arguably meanest) audience in America: Harlem's Apollo Theater, which has held a raucous amateur night every Wednesday at 7.30pm for more than 70 years.

And it wasn't only New Yorkers who got to join in the fun. For amateur night also formed the centrepiece of the long-running US TV series Showtime at the Apollo, which celebrated the best and worst of the performances in addition to featuring live turns from showbiz's biggest names.

Showtime at the Apollo, which boosted the careers of everyone from comedians Mo'Nique and Sinbad (both of whom presented the show during its run) to hip-hop stars such as the Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J Blige, was cancelled in 2008 after 21 years following a decline in ratings and internal wrangling over the rights and name.

Now the actor Jamie Foxx has announced plans to bring it back. He will executive produce the show, renamed Showtime, with its original producer/director Don Weiner for the cable channel BET (Black Entertainment Television). Speaking at a Hamptons' benefit for the Apollo, he said he was confident that the contest, which will air in the US next year (there are currently no plans to show it elsewhere), could appeal to a new generation. "The Apollo did it long before American Idol, except the audience were the judges."

But will it be a hit? The early consensus appears to be yes, with Hip-Hop Wired magazine calling it the "best decision BET has made since bringing back [sports dramedy] The Game", celebrity news site Bossip.com asking "Are you as excited as we are?" and the entertainment website Innthe basement.com hailing the fact that "Showtime at the Apollo brings the greatest reality of all – a live audience that nixes you on the spot."

That audience is probably the new series' biggest appeal and the main reason why the Apollo's amateur night remains one of New York's biggest tourist attractions, even though the programme is no longer on air. The Apollo, which has given starts to everyone from Ella Fitzgerald (who in 1934, aged 17, was the first woman to win amateur night) to Mariah Carey cuts no one a break. James Brown was booed here (although he later went on to win the competition) as was Luther Vandross. Lauryn Hill sung through the catcalls as a 13-year-old (and was rapturously received when she returned, at the age of 19, with The Fugees) while comedian Dave Chapelle, who was booed off stage aged 14, credits that moment – "even the old people were booing" – with having given him the determination to succeed.

Nor was Foxx spared the audience's wrath: "They heard the words 'from LA' and started booing," he said of his first appearance at the theatre, calling it one of the toughest gigs of his life. But can that gladiatorial atmosphere translate to television in an era when the more kindly approach of The Voice is gaining viewers? Doubters argue about everything from the featured performers ("I'm not interested if it's Rihanna or Drake and Lil Wayne," wrote one poster on a US music forum) to whether the show is still relevant: "It was cancelled because it was no longer enjoyable," said a fan on IndieWire's influential Shadow and Act blog.

Those who do believe that the new show can work cite the marginalisation of black artists as a key reason for its revival. "Black artists only get to perform on shows like the BET awards and that's once a year. Where's the venue for us to perform?" wrote another poster on Shadow and Act, while others talked of the need for an "urban competitor to the likes of American Idol and The Voice".

Ever astute, Foxx has spotted a hole in the schedules, which the Showtime revival will neatly fill. This is not a programme about blandly marketed singers following the orders of a panel but something less easy to control. If its makers can capture the occasionally harsh reality of performing at the Apollo, then they'll be showing us that rare thing: a music show which is surprising, passionate, cringeworthy and frequently extremely funny as well.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn