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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn