Houston singers idol-ize pride.
by Rich Arenschieldt • photo by Dalton DeHart
It’s 9:45 p.m. on a Thursday at Meteor, Houston’s stylishly retro nightclub. The stage is set, every seat is taken, and fans display huge placards championing their favorite performers. The judges are on the dais, and Montrose’s version of homo harmonics, Houston Pride Idol, is about to begin.
The man at the helm of these musical maneuvers is Ernie Manouse, vice president of Pride Houston and one of the judges for the competition. Having hosted Houston’s annual Gay Pride celebration for the last decade, the Pride Idol gig was a natural fit for Manouse, who is Houston’s Emmy Award-winning gay media star and host of InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse on local PBS affiliate Channel 8.
“Last year, the Pride committee asked us if we wanted to manage the Idol show in its entirety,” Manouse said. “We saw this as an opportunity to expand this event, and did so by relocating it to Meteor. This allowed us to get the contest in front of a larger audience in a venue where the sound system, staging, and audience space are great. Currently the competition is in its second week, and there has been tremendous interest locally and throughout the state.”
In a process similar to that of its network namesake, open auditions, where contestants perform a preliminary audition, are held each spring. Judges choose the finalists, whose ranks are thinned on successive Thursday evenings leading up to the June Pride celebration. During those evenings, the contestants perform for the audience and are critiqued by the judges. The audience is then asked to text in their favorites—input that accounts for 25 percent of their total score. The winner receives a surprisingly substantial prize package that includes, cash, sponsored performances, recording time, and a
“Idol is in its fourth year,” Manouse said. “I came in as a judge around the time the show began.” Manouse shares his responsibilities with two other judges, Joey Guerra, award-winning critic from the Houston Chronicle, and local music producer and Internet radio host Miss Money.
The judging for Pride Idol is a somewhat kinder, gentler version of the critiquing that occurs on the gargantuanly popular network version. However, Manouse admits to being “the Simon Cowell of the panel. I think of myself as trying to give the participants honest feedback. Being from a media background, I look at the total presentation offered onstage.”
Most of the time, the judges seem to recognize many of the same attributes or deficits that contestants possess. However, according to Manouse, no particular outcome is guaranteed. “Singers can perform well one week and then fall apart the next.” Fellow judge Guerra concurs: “One of the difficult aspects of this is that sometimes contestants go home for the wrong reasons. This competition doesn’t always reward the best talent; if someone has a bad night, they’re done. If they make a bad song selection, they may be eliminated. Also, even if the judges score a singer favorably, if the audience score is low, that percentage is so significant that it can make or break a performer.”
Guest judge Miss Money offers the most upbeat assessment of Pride Idol: “I love seeing new young talent. A lot of these singers are from the GLBT community and they are trying to find their own way in the world, musically and otherwise. Here, they can find complete acceptance and support.”
In spite of the competitive aspect of the evening, those involved really try to keep it from getting too serious. Tye Blue, the show’s lanky and gregarious host, serves as emcee and ego booster to the singers. “I try to keep up the pace of the show, keep it light and fun, and foster an encouraging atmosphere throughout the evening.”
Given Pride Idol’s success, Manouse is looking toward the future. “We are packing them in every Thursday. If we outgrow our current space, we can move right down the street to South Beach. But at this time, Meteor is an excellent location for us.”
Meteor: 2306 Genesee Street, 713/521-0123 • meteorhouston.com
For more information on the Houston Pride Idol competition, visit houstonpride.org and click on Events.
Rich Arenschieldt profiled Holland Taylor in the May issue of OutSmart magazine.