Friday, June 4, 2010

Before American Idol

The television program that would eventually become The Original Amateur Hour, and would spawn such modern programs as Star Search and American Idol, actually began in 1934 as a radio show called Major Bowes' Amateur Hour.

Bowes's field assistant was Ted Mack, who scouted and auditioned talent for the program. After Bowes left the show in 1945 (and died the following year) Mack brought the show back in 1948 on ABC radio, where it ran until 1952.

The television debut came on January 18, 1948 on the DuMont Television Network with Mack as the host.
The format was almost always the same. At the beginning of the show, the talent's order of appearance was determined by spinning a wheel. As the wheel spun, the words "Round and round she goes, and where she stops nobody knows" were always intoned.

Various acts, sometimes singers or other musicians, quite often vaudeville fare such as jugglers, tap dancers, baton twirlers, and the like, would perform, with the audience being asked to vote for their favorites by postcard or telephone. The winners were invited to appear on the next week's show. Three-time winners were eligible for the annual championship, with the grand-prize winner receiving a $2000 scholarship.

Some contestants became minor celebrities at the time, but few ever became really big show-business stars. The two greatest successes of the show's television era were Gladys Knight, then only a child, and Pat Boone, singing sweet ballads or occasional "covers" of songs which had been written and recorded by black artists which were then largely unknown to the show's predominantly white audience.

In fact, Boone's appearances on the show probably caused the closest thing that it ever had to a scandal. After he had appeared, and won, for several weeks, it was revealed that he had appeared on the popular CBS Television show Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, meaning that he was technically not an "amateur" singer. He was removed from the program, but by then his fame was assured. Other future celebrities discovered on the show include Ann-Margret (in 1958) and Irene Cara (in 1967).

The greatest fame attained by anyone appearing on the show was that achieved by Frank Sinatra, who appeared on the show during its radio days with "The Hoboken Four". As the years went by, the audience for this program aged as well; the best proof of this was that the CBS Sunday -afternoon version of the 1960s was invariably sponsored by Geritol and other patent medicines.
Here's some more info about Geritol you might find interesting.

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