It was an inevitable combination, the beloved pastime of karaoke meets game shows. What couldn't be expected is that two networks premiered different karaoke-themed game shows the same week.
Last night, NBC premiered "The Singing Bee" hosted by former boy band member-turned-dancing star Joey Fatone. The format is much as the title implies, like the familiar spelling bee. A panel of contestants move on by correctly filling in the missing lyrics, or if they miss they're eliminated, until there is one. The winning player plays a "bonus round" of sorts where they can earn the top prize of $50,000 for correctly answering 5 out of 8 missing song lyrics.
The concept is good, and fits well within a half-hour format, and is actually surprisingly entertaining to watch. Joey Fatone is no great host by game show standards, but he is entertaining and fits well with the excitement and theme of the show.
Tonight, not to be out done, FOX premiered "Don't Forget The Lyrics!" hosted by another man known for music, Wayne Brady. While it also has its roots in karaoke, it is vastly different from "Bee". First, it uses the familiar money ladder ripped off from Millionaire, with the top prize of $1,000,000 if you answer 10 missing lyrics correctly. You also have 3 lifelines, or as they are called, "backup singers," if you need help along the way.
Wayne Brady does a decent job and is pretty funny, though you know he just wants to join in and start singing along with them. Also in a half-hour format, it would fit much better stretched into an entire hour. The premiere's contestant only made it through 5 lyrics before the episode completed, and you can't really expect to watch every episode to keep up. If you're going to have a half-hour show, at least finish a contestant in a half-hour.
Despite the differences, there are a lot of similarities between the two shows. First, both feature live bands, though the Bee's house band was far superior. The songs used were all hits that most anyone would know, and the missing lyrics weren't too obscure and usually came from the chorus. Though I don't find it particularly compelling splitting hairs about every "well", "and", or other extra syllable in the lyrics. Don't Forget did a much better job of handling this, by limiting the answers to a small set of words that usually didn't involve such minor bizarrities.
One of my biggest issues with Don't Forget is that the contestant sings the entire verses leading up to the missing line. I do NOT need to hear a bad singer trying to muddle her way through a song, if I wanted that I'd watch American Idol. Fortunately Bee resolves that by having professional singers as part of the band, who sing everything up until the missing lyrics along with the contestant, who you can barely hear. This makes it much more like listening to a great cover band than a bad karaoke night. Seriously, karaoke is all about hearing people you know sing bad, not people you don't know.
The Bee also included some gratuitous dancers, who I think were all previously laid off from Shatner's short-lived "Show Me the Money." While I didn't really understand the purpose, they certainly added to the exciting and upbeat setting of the show.
Overall, I think The Singing Bee comes far closer to the mark than Don't Forget The Lyrics! does. Neither is perfect, but I'll actually set the DVR for the former.