With basketball aerial feats, dog tricks, singers and swordplay, it almost feels like the circus has rolled into town. That's not the case at all, though. This is "Canada's Got Talent," a new reality series premiering on March 4, 2012. Based on "America's Got Talent" (of course), people from all over Canada showcase their unique abilities in front of a live studio audience and either move on to the next round, or get buzzed and booted, until a winner is crowned.
Today, initial auditions are taking place at The Metro Toronto Convention Centre, before the judges jet off to Calgary later in the week. The Huffington Post TV Canada was on-hand to discover 10 things viewers should know before tuning in to "Canada's Got Talent."
Expect the Unexpected
Sitting through the audition process is reminiscent of an "The Ed Sullivan Show": almost anything goes. Indeed, there are hardly any restrictions on who performs, or the routines they put on.
"There is absolutely no criteria in terms of age or what you can do, providing it fits into what I would call family fare," reports executive producer John Brunton. "This is an 8 p.m. show. It's really the kind of show you want the whole family to be able to sit down and enjoy. We have some things that are risqué. They're not dirty. We've had a couple of strippers and some pretty sexy dancers, but it's not rude. That's where we draw the line."
Tinkering with the Formula
Apparently, the producers couldn't care less about the old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." In terms of format, "Canada's Got Talent" will follow in the footsteps of its American big brother -- to a point -- but then some fine tuning has made it even better.
"You tailor the show to your own territory and to the talents involved," explains Brunton. "On 'Canadian Idol,' we always said we wouldn't just be the different version of the American judges. We had four judges; we didn't have three judges. We didn't have one Simon Cowell, per se. The format is a little bit different in that we're following the UK format for the number of episodes we're doing as opposed to the American show. We'll be a little tighter. They drag it out a little down there. We want to get there quicker. Our format is going to kill."
Meet the Judges
Someone has to criticize the performances, and that guilty pleasure falls on the shoulders of three Canadian superstars: actor Martin Short, soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and musician Stephan Moccio.
"I'll put our judging panel up against any panel in America and the UK!" says Brunton. "Martin Short was made for this. He is one of the funniest guys and the ad-lib king of comedy. We've all seen him on 'Letterman' and 'Carson.' He's been on TV, live on Broadway and a huge movie star. He's the triple threat. Measha is just incredible. Stephan is this huge budding star. He's very bright. He was the composer of 'I Believe,' which was the theme song for the Olympics. In many ways, he's kind of like Canada's new David Foster. He's written songs for some of the biggest stars in the world, including Celine Dion. The judges are a great contrast and just gelled. You cannot create chemistry."
There's always one judge in every crowd. We won't mention any names, but you know them already. There's the crusty one who delivers the harsh reviews or the loveable over-the-top judge who blathers on too much.
"What's great about doing this show is hopefully we'll create a Martin Short or a Stephan Moccio, so we can finally have a star system that doesn't require us to reference celebrities in other countries," offers Brueggergosman. "It just depends on the act, frankly. We have such a varying scope of experience between the three of us that I think we respond and embrace very different things."
The Gift of Gab
With great power comes great responsibility, and no one claimed judging was an easy gig. There are the long hours, not to mention figuring out what to say in the heat of the moment. A true pro, Short was even injecting his trademark wit into the comments.
"What's challenging is to not come across as arrogant," offers Short. "You have to continue to be supportive, to not crush dreams and certainly remember this is just silly old showbiz, not something that could affect the climate. It's not to be taken that seriously. It's a game with gongs."
Clash of the Titans
Given their wide range of backgrounds and fortes, the judges are bound to butt heads and buzz in at different moments. But that doesn't mean they're starting arguments just to make the show more entertaining.
"We genuinely disagree when we genuinely disagree," states Brueggergosman. "It doesn't happen often. We don't fight, but we can try and convince each other. I've changed a few minds. If I really felt strongly about someone and I'm seeing something in them that maybe needs to be fostered.. it depends on the day. Sometimes I feel this person can be so much more and I want to give them another chance. Other days, I feel if they didn't bring it in the 90 seconds we gave them, then it's over."
Distinctively Canadian, Eh!
This is "Canada's Got Talent," after all, which means some acts will be bringing their diverse heritage to the forefront.
"I'm from the East Coast, so I'm a big bagpipe, Celtic dance, fiddling fan," reveals Brueggergosman. "From Quebec, we might expect to see a lot of aerialists, country singers from the Prairies or street performers from Vancouver. All bets are off! In addition to holding true to those stereotypical regional talents, the idea of being Canadian has expanded and modernized and grown to include so many cultures. Whether it's the large Filipino population in Winnipeg or the Bollywood culture in Ontario, the list goes on and on. In a way, we're going to learn a lot about Canada and celebrate it."
Many contestants believe they have some natural ability. Case in point: a man who rapidly rambled off so many large-syllable words in the allotted 90 seconds that it was virtually impossible to understand him. Amusing or cringe-worthy?
"Oh, it's never horrifying," reassures Short. "Some of those people get up there and know they are going to be buzzed. They're just there for the dare of it. Once and a while, you see people who really, really believe that they're the next Prince and they're not! Or they want fame more than they want to develop their talent. Especially when they're younger, it gets a little heartbreaking to see their faces fall when they don't make it to the next round. It would be unfair to the people with talent to put the others through."
Eye on the Prize
Over the course of the auditions, "Canada's Got Talent" will have visited such places as Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Halifax and Montreal. With thousands of contestants competing, surely some have blown the judges away.
"There's been quite a few for me," admits Short. "There was a guy who came out and gave a Shakespearean 'Richard III' reading. No one's done that. There have been some amazing dancers and singers. Right now, we're in the phase where there's 90 'yeses,' which have to be whittled down to 42, which have to be whittled down to 22 and then down to 10. That's when the show gets a little daunting from our point of view."
Going the Distance
Reality television comes and goes. "Canadian Idol" belted out six seasons, while "Project Runway Canada" got cut off after only two years. Competitions appear to be goldmines with viewers these days, which could bode well for the longevity of "Canada's Got Talent."
"I think it has enormous legs," concludes Brunton. "The complication with shows like 'Project Runway,' and 'Canadian Idol' is they are very expensive. We can't produce them in Canada a lot cheaper than they can produce them in the United States. Everybody in Canada is going to compare this show to the U.S. show. The last thing they want is "Oh, look at the crappy Canadian version of that show." When we did 'Project Runway,' we had to compete with Heidi Klum. We had to search high and low for a host. For 'Canada's Got Talent,' I'll put our judges and host against 'America's Got Talent' any day of the week. I think ours is better. I think our show has more heart and soul. We are better storytellers than the Americans."