For more than 30 years, the popular TV talent show “Showtime at the Apollo” has made audiences laugh and cry.
If you’re even vaguely familiar with the groundbreaking, historically-black show, which was first broadcast in 1987, you know that performers who take the stage are booed, heckled and dragged away when their acts aren’t on par with the audience’s expectations. You may also know that the Apollo Theater has been a launchpad for some of the most iconic artists of our time, including Michael Jackson, James Brown and Stevie Wonder.
“Showtime at the Apollo” has gone on and off the air over the last three decades, but recently returned to Fox as a weekly series hosted by comedian Steve Harvey. Co-hosting with Harvey and taking on a role as backstage correspondent is former Cheetah Girl and “The Real” co-host Adrienne Bailon Houghton.
Houghton steps in and adds a new layer by mixing in the background stories of the performers who leave it all out on the stage – an element that follows the mold of other prime time talent shows. She draws on her past experiences as an actress, singer and New Yorker who is familiar with the Harlem crowd. She also has a unique perspective on the show since she performed at the theater when she was only 14 years old.
I caught up with Houghton earlier this week to talk about being the first Latina to co-host the show, what she remembers when she performed at the theater as a kid and whether or not she signed “The Wall,” a theater wall each performer signs before they take the stage.
The new “Showtime at the Apollo” airs Thursdays on Fox at 8 p.m. CT.
You’ve become the first Latina to co-host “Showtime at the Apollo,” which is a historically black showcase. This is a huge deal. How does that make you feel, especially because of the lack of diversity and representation of Latinos in the media?
It’s something that drives me. It gives me the desire to be a part of a platform that can potentially give so much mainstream exposure to black and Latina voices. I want to make sure Latina voices are heard, not so much my own. I think that it’s awesome seeing young Latinas – contestants from all over the country – doing amazing things.
Since you are a New Yorker, what does the Apollo Theater mean to you? Does it invoke memories of when you performed there when you were 14 years old?
The Apollo Theater means everything to me. To be back there at the theater watching other young talent get their start on such an epic and iconic stage is insane. I’m so excited to be a part of it. [Performing there] was one of the greatest memories of my life. I remember recognizing that [the audience] will boo you if they don’t like you. At the same time, I think it actually reinforced that you have to believe in yourself more than anyone else does.
“Showtime at the Apollo” comes with many traditions. Which ones are being maintained and what’s new?
We are maintaining that you have to rub the Tree of Hope before you get on the stage. Another is that if you get booed, the Sandman will come out and dance you right off the stage. It’s really important to keep traditions for the audience. What’s new in the show is my role – the personal backstories. Where do [the performers] come from? What’s their story? What drives them? Everyone has a story to tell and I am happy to be able to help them share it.
Have you signed “The Wall” yet?
I did! Oh, let me tell you! It happened on the final episode. Some of the incredible performers were signing it and then I got to add my name. It was an awesome moment for me.
Along with the contestants appearing on “Showtime at the Apollo,” talk about the big, huge, mega music stars that perform as well.
Wow, there’s Pitbull, Fifth Harmony, Snoop Dogg, Boyz II Men, Flo Rida, Macklemore – so many incredible artists that are going to be performing. Totally biased with my girls, Fifth Harmony. They were amazing!
I appreciate that it is a family show and can be enjoyed by everyone. Explain the importance that holds for you.
I get so excited at the thought of families getting together on Thursday nights. To encourage each other, to cheer [singers] on or boo them off. At one point, I was sending people out [onto the stage], and I was like, “What is going on out there?” Literally, the cameras panned to the audience, and I saw my step-kids and my husband all booing and cheering! They get so into it. I hope it is just as super-interactive watching it at home.
Just a few final quickfire questions if you don’t mind – Bacon or Nutella?
Tacos or pancakes?
Twitter or Instagram?
Beyonce or Rihanna?
Beyonce or Selena?