CINCINNATI – Greater Cincinnati will be well-represented on a new reality TV show that's set to air this fall – a show that mirrors the likes of "The Voice" and "American Idol" but puts the spotlight on artists/songwriters and their original works instead.
Aaron Patrick and Aaron Bright, frontmen for local pop/rock group Green Light Morning, and indie-influenced solo artist Sami Riggs are among 15 finalists who have been chosen to film a pilot for "The Song," a new reality music competition.
Country star Darius Rucker, former lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish, is set to head the show's celebrity panel of judges. Filming will span four days this month in Muncie, Indiana.
The Aarons and Riggs, who have performed on the same stage at least once before, were chosen from among thousands of video submissions. If either wins, they'll have their own song rewritten, composed and recorded for national release. But a bulk of "The Song" contestants seem doomed for early exits – a large round of cuts is planned for the competition's first day.
"Aaron and I both heard about the show online and thought it would be kind of cool, so we said, 'Let's do it,'" Bright said. "I actually like and watch a lot of 'The Voice' and 'American Idol,' but I always thought they missed out on the writer side of things. So it's exciting that somebody might actually take a different angle on a show."
West Chester residents Bright and Patrick are the only official duo on "The Song's" roster. The two met while touring with their respective former bands, the Big Creak (Bright) and Oval Opus (Patrick). In recent years, they have found themselves grounded in Cincinnati, both with families, young kids and similar day jobs.
Their connection ultimately led to the formation of Green Light Morning in 2011, a band that's part The Script, part Lifehouse and part The Fray. Collectively, they've written hundreds of songs together; "Island," their winning submission for the show and a story about relationships and heartbreak, was perhaps their quickest bout of creative work to date.
"As songwriters and good friends, we have an interesting perspective to bounce ideas off each other in a very honest way that also has, I guess, some vulnerability to it," Patrick said. "I think we actually wrote ("Island") in one night. Some friends were having some challenges, and it came from a real, emotional place, and sometimes that's the easiest place to write from.
"The chance to learn from these other artists and grow, that's always a goal," he added. "We're always looking for good stories. Everything, even a drumbeat that makes you want to sing, is a song. We felt like it was bulletproof in that it has a complete story to it, a catchy hook, and it wasn't complicated."
Meanwhile Riggs, an Independence native, and her co-writer Brian Lovely, of Blessid Union of Souls and Faux Frenchmen fame, chose to submit one of their more unique selections, ironically titled "Big Shot."
Riggs, 24, said she was musically influenced at a young age by her mother's side of the family; she said her mother sings and writes poetry and short stories, and her grandmother played dulcimer and guitar. She herself started playing the latter in roughly the sixth grade.
She has played at the Taste of Cincinnati, Covington's Mainstrasse Village Maifest, Oktoberfest and more. Per her website, her music is reminiscent of Sheryl Crow or early Liz Phair.
"I probably started writing songs when I was in middle school – I still have tons of old notebooks with song lyrics in them – and since then, it's just evolved," Riggs said.
While Riggs is the official contestant, she and Lovely will tackle the show as a team. That has been the case since the two started writing together nearly two years ago.
"I've learned a lot working with Brian," Riggs said. "We work together really well, and I feel like we come up with some good stuff together."
"I accompany her and I'm her coach," Lovely added. "But to what extent I'll be in on everything, I don't know. I think whatever happens (on the show) it should be interesting. We're going to go in with a fun attitude and if something happens, great. If not, it's just a few days and we move on to writing, recording, performing and building her up. But I think for Sami, this kind of thing happens when you're serious and committed about being an artist, and that's what she's been."
Neither set of contestants knows exactly what to expect. Details of the show have been released in spurts; at this point, it's still unknown what network will air the premiere this fall.
But filming will run from March 9-12 at Ball State University. On the first day, the contestants will perform their original songs for Rucker and the panel of judges. If contestants make the initial cut, they will go through an "intense" workshop/boot camp, where they will have 48 hours to ready their tune for national release. The winning artist will debut their reworked song in front of a live audience and as an opener for Daya, whose single "Hide Away" hit No. 7 on pop charts; alternative rock artist Ryan Star; and newcomers Tryon, whose debut release "Somebody to Love" dropped Monday.
Skip Bishop, a 30-year label veteran, will join Rucker on the judges panel. Michael Braverman of A Smith & Co., the same production company responsible for TV hits like "America Ninja Warrior," "Bar Rescue" and "Trading Spaces," will direct the show. Also included will be Sister Hazel’s Drew Copeland, Eliot Sloan, Cincinnati-based producer Mark Liggett and others.
"We're excited," Bright said. "Both of us have been aspiring to figure out a way to do music for a living. Having families, regular jobs, and the fact that we used to be touring musicians and we're not anymore, it's hard to find an outlet to actually be able to succeed that way. If this is the avenue, that would be a dream come true."