TV | Inside TV

Youthful singing competition 'Majors and Minors' premieres tonight: 'American Idol' vocal coach Debra Byrd dishes on what to expect

Majors Minors Brandy

(Rob Naples/Hub)

Television is already rife with singing competitions. There’s American Idol and The X-Factor on Fox, and The Voice and The Sing Off on NBC, to name a handful of the big ones. But you can add yet another to the pile-up of warbling contests: Majors & Minors, which premieres on cable’s fledgling The Hub network tonight at 8 p.m.

Naturally, Majors & Minors comes with a twist – and the “minors” part of its title gives it away. The show is focused on younger aspiring singers, in the age range of 10 to 16. But it does have lots of similarities to what’s already out there: A variety of celebrity mentors – from Leona Lewis and Adam Lambert to Jordin Sparks and Avril Lavigne – will show up to help the contestants through the series. Other celebrity mentors include Brandy (pictured above, working with the contestants), Sean Kingston, Mike Posner, and will.i.am.

Also helping the contestants is Deb Byrd, who also serves as a vocal coach to the contestants on American Idol and is a familiar voice here on EW.com. She happily touts the fact that her new show doesn’t kick off its contestants – all 12 stick around through the series, learning oodles along the way. “The mentoring of these kids is really quite fascinating because they’re such sponges. You get to see them grow before your very eyes!” Byrd marvels. “I think the buzz from kids is going to be something like, ‘Wow, I do that at home! I make up songs like that!’ I think kids will see themselves where they haven’t seen themselves before. What the audience gets to see is the process. They get to see the classroom that is like a performing arts school, but on steroids.”

Despite the fact that no one goes home, there is indeed still a prize. After 15 weeks, a “valedictorian” will receive a recording contract with RCA/Jive and an opportunity to be featured in a cross-country concert tour. “It’s like Fame, but more in depth,” Byrd continues about the series. “You watch this piano-playing kid, and then the whole lunchroom starts doing this whole lunchroom-wonderful song. But one of the things you get to see on this TV show is us creating this song and why it should go to this place instead of that place, why you should tell this part of the story or rhyme it this way. I think that’s something we haven’t seen on TV in a while.”

Byrd is immensely excited about the show’s empowering vibe. “Look at Glee, they’ve got their situations, and then they’ve got their costumes and the lights and the whole nine yards,” she says. “But you get a chance to see how we can empower kids. That’s my take on this. Kids hear so much negativity. But I would love for a kid to sit at home and see this show and go, ‘Wow, I may not be perfect, but if I keep working at it, I’ll be able to soar higher than I ever imagined.’”

And how does Majors & Minors stack up to her experience with Idol? The only departure, truly, is the age of the contestants. “Are they as talented? Absolutely,” says Byrd. “Listen, these kids on American Idol, when they were 10 years old, they were looking at American Idol, wanting to get there. So some of the kids are like, ‘I’ve been looking at American Idol since I was seven.’ It’s as if they were gearing up. These kids have been wandering around, waiting to audition for these competition shows, whether it be Idol or The Voice or X-Factor or Sing Off, you name it. These kids are at home honing their talent and practicing because they see what American Idol hath wrought. There’s no difference, other than their demographic.”

The no-vote-off factor adds to the chill, uplifting vibe of Majors & Minors, too. “I think they learn more – they have a longer time span to stay on the show, which I think is cool because it helps them develop their skills more,” Byrd explains. “Plus, there’s not that tension of, ‘Oh boy, am I going to go home this week?’ The kids benefit because they get to work with so many people over weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. I love hearing the contestants say, ‘I didn’t even know I could do that!’ It puts a huge smile on my heart when not one, not five, not 10, but 12 of them say that to me.”

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

Originally posted September 23 2011 — 10:00 AM EDT

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