"Opening Act" documented the journey of 21-year-old Arielle O'Keefe on its premiere episode. Plucked from relative obscurity, the Texas coffee house singer was given a chance to open for the legendary Rod Stewart in Las Vegas. Of course, she accepted. The catch: She has five days to prepare.
If ever there was a show created to inspire even the shyest, most reclusive pop, country, or rock star wannabe, E! network has it. Called "Opening Act," it is what it says it is and as straightforward in implementation as the title suggests. It sounds simple: Scour YouTube for some talented but as yet undiscovered artist, pay them a surprise visit, then get them ready to open for an established star. And it might be simple, except for that one unavoidable and unpredictable variable: the human element. And throughout the show, the viewer is left with one question: Will the artist chosen be able to handle the transition to become the next opening act?
Because everyone is not meant to be a singing sensation or the next big thing. For some reason, call it lack of opportunity, failure to take advantage of certain circumstances, or even lack of charisma, some talented musicians and singers never make it. But on "Opening Act," Nigel Lythgoe ("American Idol" producer, "So You Think You Can Dance" judge) and his team of artist builders have five days to pluck an artist from relative obscurity and hopefully prepare them to open for a major recording artist. His team consists of:
Antonina Armato, half of the songwriting/production duo Rock Mafia
Martina McBride, multi-platinum country artist
Jason Derulo, R&B artist
Pete Wentz, pop/rock frontman for Fallout Boys
Nick Cooper, vocal coach (Beyonce and Nicki Minaj)
Olivia Lee, British comedienne and host
After an intro for the series, the world premiere gets started. The first artist who needs an opening act? The inestimable Rod Stewart. The multiple multi-platinum-selling artist with over 100 million albums sold throughout the world needed an opener for his headlining act at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.
Their talent scout/YouTube ranger, Lyle Dohl, offers up a number of entries, some good, some bad, some embarrassing. And some excellent. The team seems to settle on two standouts -- Danielle and Arielle. But when a vote is taken, Arielle wins by democratic count (and one just knows that Danielle sitting at home and watching the show has to be crushed by the near miss).
Host Olivia Lee springs into action and hops a flight to Allen, Texas, where she sets up a surprise reveal for the aspiring singer in a local coffee shop. Lee tells her that she knows Rod Stewart and that they the famed singer had found himself an opening act on YouTube. Even after Lee tells the young singer that the opener's name is Arielle, it takes an additional "That's you" before it sinks in for Arielle that she's been chosen. And to ensure that she doesn't have to worry about being punked, a large flatscreen television comes to life and Rod Stewart himself tells her he loves her voice and can't wait for her to open for him in Vegas.
The thing is: The show is at Caesar's Palace. They have five days to prepare. Lee and Arielle have to return to Hollywood immediately. So it is off to California after a brief stop-in to tell the O'Keefe family, who appear to be in a bit of shock. Arielle's mom tears up.
Back in Hollywood, Arielle meets part of the team, including Nigel, and they get her started singing shortly after introductions are made. She performs one of her own songs, "Monster" (which was actually rather good), but Nigel and team believe the song's tones might not suit the audience, so they bring in a song written by Rock Mafia which was originally slated to be recorded by Selena Gomez. Although Arielle says she's not comfortable doing a brand new song, she's willing.
Antonina Armato and Tim Graves of Rock Mafia get her to sing in the recording studio. She has trouble hitting the high note entering the song's bridge and the Rock Mafia duo worry that she might not be able to nail it in concert.
So she's off to vocal coach Nick Cooper -- and this is where the show takes a dramatic turn. As Arielle struggles, Cooper confronts her with her feelings about herself. In an inspiring moment of pure openness, Arielle confides that she has always been told she wasn't good enough, not only with her music but with her beauty and who she is. Cooper gets her to vocalize that she only has to be good enough for herself, that what others believe don't matter if you can find the inner strength to believe in yourself. Arielle told the viewers in a video aside that she and Cooper spent more time working on her than they did on her vocals, but that what he had taught her was invaluable.
One of the best moments of the show was on the day of the Caesar's Palace concert, Stewart's manager came to her hotel room. In the middle of a hair makeover, he informed her that there had been a major development. After watching a few of her videos, Stewart had decided he would like her to do a duet with him. She was handed the sheet music for "Have I Told You Lately," one of Stewart's biggest hits.
But even with the newfound confidence, the girl from Texas who had just performed in a coffee house the previous week got jitters when it was time to hit the stage. Still, she mastered them, then did well with the song. Stewart came out and the two performed "Have I Told You Lately."
Stewart was gracious throughout the show (what little was seen of him), even coming backstage to meet the O'Keefe family. But, then, the show was about his opening act.
Was Arielle good enough to perform with a legend? Certainly? Did she deserve to be there? She was asked the question and said she found it strange. She also said she didn't know if she deserved it but she was going to make the best of the opportunity -- to do what she had always dreamed of doing.
Sometimes that's all that we get: An opportunity. The dream is either realized or it is not. The show's motto sets it up: "Some dreams you don't see coming." And even then, it is what you do with the dream when it arrives that matters most.
Although some of the acts are bound to be drama-infused trainwrecks or marginal talents, some will rise to the occasion. Either way, opportunity is knocking for these amateur, unheard-of artists. Hopefully, most of their stories will be as affirming and inspiring as Arielle's. And regardless of the outcome, "Opening Act" looks to be a hit.
In coming weeks, Nigel Lythgoe and his team will attempt to put together openers for Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, and Lady Gaga.
"Opening Act" airs on E! network on Mondays at 10:00 p.m. EST.
(photo credit: Greg Hernandez, Creative Commons)