The Apollo Theater is iconic. The Apollo Audience is legendary! Generations of Harlem residents have poured in to see up-and-coming artists as well as going-nowhere acts. They know what bad when they see it, and appreciate the diamonds in the rough when they see ’em. One of the acts they saw early and often was Steve Harvey. Now he’s bringing the Apollo to the masses as host of Showtime at the Apollo (tonight at 9pm ET on FOX). He sat down with the Cocktail and talked the make-or-break atmosphere.
Back To His Roots
“The Apollo for me is kinda special because this is where everything started for me. It was my first TV show of any kind.” Before there was Family Feud, The Steve Harvey Show, the Miss Universe Pageant, he was just giggin’ hard as a comic. “I had made little small appearances on a couple of comedy cable stations but nothing like the Apollo.”
And his eyes were on the prize from the time he was a kid, staying up late, and he means late, to watch, “Always wishing that it was on primetime instead of two o’clock in the morning, that was always a hope of mine.” And now he’s made that dream come true. “When we got the opportunity to do it, I thought it would be a great time to bring it back.”
America’s Got Talent.. But Not Everyone’s Got Talent
The Apollo’s most famous alumni are usually singers, Steve notwithstanding, but that stage is for anyone who thinks they can entertain. Emphasis on thinks!
“The Apollo brings out a wide variety of acts. We bring out some of everybody. It’s no telling what you’ll see. It could be some 80 year old man doing the worm all the way across the stage, or it could be some young kid singing their guts out,” Steve paused and went on, “or it could be a person standing on stage who really thought they could sing who really has no business out here singing. And then that’s when the Apollo shows you exactly what they’re made of.”
Thousands of Judges
Unlike other reality talent shows that have a panel of three or four judges, the Apollo’s entire audience serves notice. Steve loves it, “And because they’re residents of Harlem, they’ve seen the best of the best over all the years from Cab Calloway all the way up to Jay-Z all the way to Whitney, all the way to Luther, all the way to Beyoncé. I don’t care who you are.”
They know the best.. and the worst. “If 10 of those people are not feeling you, their opinion counts. They can get it started. And once the booing starts, other people go ‘you know what? They really can’t sing.’ And then it’s just a title wave at that point.”
Steve says the Apollo stage is sacred ground, and audience members are the Knights Templar of Harlem. “The measuring stick at the Apollo is high and if you don’t cut it at that stage, they get rid of you. You don’t deserve to be on the coveted stage of the Apollo. And that’s what makes it very different. The audience is the judge on this show.”
Apollo Mission To Mars
Steve told us that even big acts that fill stadiums don’t have genuine street cred til they get the seal of Apollo Approval. Case in point: Bruno Mars. He may be 24K Gold, but that doesn’t impress everyone. “If you look at Bruno Mars,” Steve said, “he just did his last special at the Apollo on CBS because his dad, who is an old school performer told him says ‘son, you can make all the claims you want. Until you do it at the Apollo you ain’t done nothing.'” Ouch. Thanks Dad.
Right Where He Belongs
As we finished our drink (and licking the ice cubes so not a drop went to waste) we asked Steve if, now that he’s made it, does he prefer being in the audience and judging, or putting himself out up there on stage. He didn’t hesitate! “I have no desire to be in the audience judging. On the stage performing is what always makes my heart beat.”
“No man, just standing on the Apollo stage watching everybody take a chance. And then the beauty of it is some people are gonna find out that they really have it. That’s the beauty of it. And then the rest of it is we’ll let you know if you don’t have it and you can go on and get yourself a day job and quit pressuring people to put you on. ”
Don’t quit your day job either, Steve. We love the Feud!
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Break out the Galliano, cuz we’re mixing up Harvey Wallbangers. Perhaps they weren’t named after our Apollo host, but they totally reflect him: light, spicy, and intoxicating!