“I don’t want reality stars,” declared Kelly Rowland at the start of BET’s new girl-group competition series Chasing Destiny. “I want stars.”
And just like that, the former Destiny’s Child phenom-turned-R&B solo star had my attention. But would the rest of the show live up to Kelly’s “talent-first, drama-last” mantra?
Based on its deeply engrossing, frequently sweet and exceedingly honest opening hour, I’d say the answer appears to be “Yes!”
Rowland, of course, was terrific in her sole season as a mentor on the otherwise not-so-fresh Season 3 of the American version of The X Factor, so it was not a huge surprise that she brought to Chasing Destiny a refreshing bluntness that somehow never veered toward cruel.
Paired up with director/choreographer Frank Gatson (En Vogue, TLC, Usher), Rowland set off to Atlanta, New York City and Los Angeles to meet young women she’d courted via YouTube, Instagram, trade publications and even friends of friends in the record business. The goal? Discover and mold the nation’s next great girl group — a successor, if you will, to Rowland’s legendary act Destiny’s Child.
Before I pass the mic to you, let me recount a handful of highlights:
* VOCALS COUNT, BUT SO DO LESS TANGIBLE QUALITIES | Sure, they’re armed with dossiers on every contestant, but Kelly and Frank still proved adept at determining and articulating singers’ weaknesses (vocal and otherwise). When Khylah — who shares a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment with 10 people — failed to radiate any light during her audition to “The Greatest Love of All,” Kelly stopped her mid-performance. “You walked in here with woes,” La Rowland observed astutely. And once Khylah confirmed it wasn’t a “stupid-ass man” dragging her energy down, the mentors sent her outside to work on her confidence – then continue the journey.
* NOBODY’S TRYING TO PULL A FAST ONE | Kelly admitted right up front that she’s known vocalist Alyxx for years — and wanted her to participate in the audition process. That brand of honesty is all too often absent among other competition programs. And once the Beyoncé-sounding diva fell off pitch, Kelly remained focused on the final prize, pointing out that Alyxx’s nerves were gettin’ in the way of what she was feeling.
* KELLY IS NOT TRYING TO HAVE AN EDIT FUNCTION | “I was actually doing something” gasped Kelly, when Frank cut short her discussion with sweet but stiff hopeful Gabby, who was taking a decent but low-energy jab at “Hit ‘Em Up Style.” (Oh man, Kelly’s harmonies were so spontaneous – and so on-point.) Other highlights? Kelly’s advice to her fledgling Beyoncés and Michelles to “Eff the [dance] step. Love the note!” when it comes to the auditions. (Just don’t take a tragic tumble on 106 & Park, OK, ladies?)
* TONS OF LEGIT TALENT | There were at least a half-dozen auditions in the premiere that left me wanting more saaanging —especially end-of-episode standout Brienna and her intricate, flamenco-esque cover of “Stay.”