By Mark Kennedy
NEW YORK (AP) — CBS’ latest game show doesn’t ask its contestants to have any skills — no need to sing, dance, cook or pull a rabbit out of a hat. All it asks from its competitors is adoration — lots of it.
“Superfan,” which premieres Wednesday, gathers one musical act and their fans each week into a studio and gradually whittles the contestants down to two, giving viewers the final say on who will be crowned the ultimate superfan.
“There’s too many talent shows. It’s too competitive. Some of us are not good at anything except loving the artist we love,” says Keltie Knight, creator, executive producer and co-host. “This is not a talent show. This is a talent-less show.”
“Superfan” has lured some starry first season guests — Kelsea Ballerini,Gloria Estefan,Little Big Town,LL Cool J,Pitbull and Shania Twain. Contestants come from all over the country and even internationally; a Twain superfan from Brazil said her music helped him learn English.
The contestants are winnowed down over the course of an hour through a series of competitions: Recognizing a snippet of the star’s song, identifying one of their iconic images and getting inside their head for a multiple-choice question, like picking their singer’s favorite Jennifer Lopez rom-com.
The final two try to impress the viewers — and the artists — by lip-syncing to one of their hits. For the Twain show, that meant two contestants dressed in feather boas and top hats shimmying to “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”
“I want the fans to have this opportunity to shine and to win, but it’s just as much for the artists. I want the artists to have a safe place, like those amazing ‘MTV Unplugged’ sessions that were just like Kurt Cobain in a sweater and he’s just playing for fans and he’s able to look them in the eye and tell a story,” Knight says. “That’s the vibe we’re going for.”
In addition to the title, winners can get all sorts of perks, like tickets to upcoming concerts, plenty of merch, a private listen to an upcoming album, a signed guitar or a backstage VIP meet-and-greet.
Knight is a correspondent for E! News with a long history at the intersection of journalism and music, having formerly hosted “The Insider.” She’s interviewed tons of artists and calls the annual Grammys her “favorite day of the year.”
“There’s something about musicians in a room and them all loving on each other and sparkly dresses,” she says, laughing. “I was just like, ‘What if we did that every week and made it for families and made America get to decide who the No. 1 fan is?’”
Knight has spent the better part of a decade trying to get “Superfan” to TV screens, surviving skeptical executives, industry employment churn, health scares, scheduling changes and sexism.
“I think it took me 10 years to perfect it because it really is so special,” she says.
To fill a studio audience each week, she and her team approached artist fan clubs for volunteers, enlisted the singers to recruit contestants on their social accounts and posted on social media, including Reddit and the platform formerly known as Twitter, where the final public voting takes place.
Thousands of fans applied for each show and were asked to submit videos and write essays, sit for Zoom interviews and have background checks. Once gathered in Los Angeles, producers picked out 10-15 possible contestants and revealed the final five who would compete as a surprise for each show.
“It’s really important that we made sure that not only we had our biggest superfans, but that our viewers at home and the families at home could see themselves in these shows,” says Knight, who shares show creation credit with Jodi Roth.