Growing up in Boston, Pat Rogers was a fan of "Community Auditions," a TV show that played host to local talent of all ages hoping to win cash and prizes like cars or record contracts.
Despite Rogers' singing ability being limited, his parents thought it would be a good idea to get him a spot on the show. Only once he was accepted did he discover that plenty of other people with far more talent — comedian Sarah Silverman and "ER" actor Scott Grimes are alumni — had been accepted as well.
The concept of a similar show for Richmond grew out of that childhood memory.
"I was curious whether anyone I knew, someone with Richmond ties that go back much further than mine, had any recollection of a local talent competition that was aired on broadcast television," he explains, dubbing such inquiries as his version of research. No one in any bar where he asked the question could recall such a TV program. "So, I thought it would be fun to put one together. No one was successful in talking me out of it, so now we're doing it."
Dubbing the project StaRVA, the show's first season debuts on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 1 a.m. on Fox Richmond Late Night and runs through May 11. Thirty minutes each, the first eight episodes of its 13-week run will consist of preliminary competitions featuring three music or comedy acts per show. After each contestant performs, a three-judge panel scores them on criteria such as originality, studio audience response, stage appearance, enthusiasm and engagement, and overall performance. Once the judges have tallied their scores, they name the performer with the highest cumulative score as the week's winner, moving that winner on to the semifinals.
Rogers' twist is with the viewing audience's role. Viewers will be encouraged to go to StaRVA's website and vote for the act they thought was the best performer. Of the performers throughout the competition who don't win the judges' decisions, the top three online vote getters will compete in a special audience-choice round, with the winner joining the other eight semifinalists to compete for a chance at the finals.
Because the goal is to showcase talent from central Virginia, Rogers had to set out finding it.
"So, I've been prowling around any open-mic and even karaoke nights, looking for people who are at various stages of their performance journey. So if you're performing in a venue like that, I might just be lurking. But in a good way." The challenge, he says, is to make people aware of this new outlet and showcase for their talent.
Holding down the judge positions are Pierre Redding, A songwriter, producer and lead singer of regional band the Groove Motive, platinum record producer and Sound of Music recording studios founder John Morand, and pulling double duty as both StaRVA's producer and judge, J.R. Mercante, a former standup comedian in Manhattan and currently working in television and film production.
Filling the role as host and executive producer is Rogers himself, who sees his main function as staying out of the way and making sure everyone has the tools they need to put the show on the air. "It's something that I have wanted to do … to make a contribution to the greater performer community," he explains. "Something that has a chance to have a somewhat lasting impact."
Putting aside a textbook definition of success, Rogers believes that, for entertainers, being seen and heard by an ever-widening audience allows them to expand their brand and leverage the increased notoriety to take advantage of new and more interesting opportunities. "If I'm not mistaken, that's what every performer and entertainer is after," he says.
As a come here with six years under his belt, Rogers finds himself in the not-uncommon position of being a Richmond cheerleader.
"There's so much that I love about this city and I have to believe that anything that showcases the positive, creative aspects of the people of Richmond has to be viewed as an opportunity for the city to shine. And for RVA, that's what this show promises to do."
"StaRVA" premieres Saturday, Feb. 16, at 1 a.m. on Fox Richmond Late Night.