Scores of preteens shriek and swoon as pop heartthrob Mario heads into a midtown TV studio. The singer is there for a brief chat with the show’s host, who then breathlessly reels off the top 10 most-requested videos of the day. All the while, a giddy, manic audience offers unconditional squeals of approval.
If you’re looking for Carson Daly, prepare for a letdown: This isn’t ”TRL.” It’s BET’s ”106 & Park,” and cohosts AJ and Free trump Carson’s Nielsen numbers daily. ”Park” (airing weeknights at 6) has grown quietly since its September 2000 debut and now not only tops its MTV counterpart but also has helped launch the careers of hip-hop and R&B new jacks like Bow Wow and B2K. Currently a stalwart presence in the urban-music industry, ”Park” is appointment TV for labels looking to break new acts.
”It’s in our mission statement,” says Kevin Liles, president of Def Jam, home to Ashanti and Ludacris. ”There are five things you need to do to be successful: Sign a superstar with a great image, have a great first single, get great word of mouth, get them on the radio, and get them on ‘106 & Park.’ Those things start projects.”
At the same time, ”Park” has single-handedly reinvigorated the adolescent-pop-R&B genre made famous by artists like the Jackson 5 and New Edition. ”One of the things that fueled 106 & Park was the absolute dearth of [urban] artists that 14- to 16-year-old girls could lose their minds over,” says BET VP of music programming Stephen Hill. ”It was just one of those obvious holes. You’ve got credible hip-hop, you’ve got adult hip-hop, you don’t have that New Edition group. ‘106 & Park’ was intended to be the perfect vehicle.”