With the second episode of FOX's talent competition [i]The Four[/i] just hours away, it's safe to say: These judges aren't sparing contestants' feelings, and they aren't about to capitulate to your idea of what makes greatness — even if you are an expert in your genre. And there has never been a network talent search with quite such an emphasis on hip hop. But in order to satisfy icons like Diddy and Khaled, you have to come correct. (Which, it turns out, contestant Illachris didn't.) Remember the basic premise: Four judges (Diddy, Khaled, Meghan Trainor, and music industry exec/savant Charlie Walk) and one host (Fergie) lord over a parade of challengers who are vying to sit in one of THE FOUR coveted chairs, which are occupied by pre-chosen contestants from the jump; once you're in a chair, you remain for as long as it takes to someone to dethrone you. If you are still seated after the show's six weeks, you win.
The show's first episode set the bar: We saw one contestant cry (after pointed critique from Love himself), two chairs turn over, and not one but two flareups between Charlie Walk and what I call the show's "hip hop axis" of Love Diddy Combs and DJ Khaled. In the first showdown, Charlie Walk approved of a contestant who covered Lorde's "Green Light" (coincidentally, Walk helped mastermind Lorde's colossal "Royals" roll-out) but Diddy didn't seen it. (Cue the crying contestant.) In the second, Khaled and Diddy muscled through an aspiring rapper named Illachris in the name of hip hop oneupmanship, while Walk demurred. I love these moments; they poetically frame the tension with trying to standardize a definition of "greatness," and of standing down when people come nosing around your wheelhouse. Overall, watching Walk, Khaled, Diddy, and Meghan Trainor hash these things out is a good look at how difficult it is to rule by committee, especially in the world of music.
I spoke with Walk and Khaled about those trying times and got their takes on what it takes to make something great — and the emphasis on excellence in hip hop.
Another thing the first episode made clear: Choose the wrong song with which to challenge and you'll be out the door. Of course there are some common sense guidelines to choosing the right song, but I know that a lot of you are aspiring artists who may find yourselves on a show like this one — maybe even this season! — so I asked Fergie, Meghan Trainor, Charlie Walk, and Khaled for some tips on picking the right track.
We even get some feedback from The Four contestants who have chairs to start Episode two: rapper Lex Lu, Australian pop singer Ash Minor, soulful singer Saeed, and the alt-pop siren Zhavia. If I'm a betting man, at the moment my money's on Zhavia. But there are quite a few challenges left.
Check out all four contestants, and The Four's judges and host, in their own words:
And for a bonus, here's a look at the behind the scenes of REVOLT, with DJ Khaled just before the show went live:
[i]The Four[/i] airs Thursday nights on FOX.