Bringing Motown to Carnegie Hall

EBONY.com chats it up with American Idol music director, Ray Chew, who is bringing the first Motown music tribute to Carnegie Hall. 

Why did you feel it was important to pay homage to Motown music at this time?

Well one of the things is that the music of Motown has been culturalized and it’s the ambassador to American music around the world. And everybody in all countries, they know all the music of Motown. I thought it was important that we not only pay tribute to the music, but tribute to the music at Carnegie hall, The great American iconic venue that traditionally didn’t have a lot of these types of presentations in their program.

What do you hope to accomplish with this event? Is this something you want to do annually or every 5 years or so?

You know every, year I want to do another event at Carnegie hall. What I am accomplishing and what I want to continue to do is kick the doors open, bring the community in and let them be apart of this presentation of this great venue. We purposely kept the ticket prices down and low because I wanted to make it accessible to the community. It wasn’t about money to me. We are achieving our goals. It will be sold out. Our community will be there represented and it will be great.

You have some notables giving a wonderful tribute to Nicolas Ashford, can you leak any other surprise guests that will be performing?

I will give away one surprise, from last seasons' American Idol, one of our finalists, Stefano Langone, he was one of our top 10 finalist. Everybody loved him, he is going to come on and sing Smokey Robinson.

That will be amazing!

Yeah! So he will be there, and we have a couple of other people, that once they hit the stage, the crowd is going to go crazy.

How did you end up getting Soledad O’brian to host this event?

I used to watch her and I was very impressed of her coverage of the Katrina disaster. It had a lot of integrity and I like how she got down and dirty and she was one of the first people down there getting to it and she made it very personable. So one day I am getting on the plane, and she sits right next to me and I did something very uncharacteristic, I wound up talking during the whole flight. You know she was really cool and we got to know each other, and I invited her to do our last event there and she is going to this one as well. And I will invite her to do every event I do at Carnegie Hall.

You said before that Motown hits weren’t just songs, but carried an artistic weight. Do you feel like music today is missing that?

Some of the music of today doesn’t have the same kind of enriched content and value. I wouldn’t say all of it. But I would say that what happened with a lot of the music that is being heard is that a lot of it is more focused on single hits. Where as the vision of Berry Gordy was on careers. If you look at all of the major artist, they have careers that have spanned over 30 and 40 years. Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, these people are still doing it today.

 American Idol is a show that does a competition for over a period of only a few months, and then they let the public vote. Do you feel like American Idol is also focused on long lasting careers like Berry Gordy was at Motown?

That is certainly a huge part of what we do. Especially my job and they have vocal coaches like they did at Motown. The vocal coaches are there to promote the best kind of performance they can get out of the contestants. To make sure that their musical presentation is proper, and also so that they have a good marriage with the music and that they feel locked and secure before the go on live in front of 25 and 30 million people.

But do you think that American Idol is really accomplishing that goal of creating careers?

Yes, I would say that if you look at some of the people that have really gone on to have stellar careers, I mean Jennifer Hudson, who didn’t actually win, and then you have winners like Carrie Underwood. You know it certainly speaks at the level at how the show can launch a career. We’re talking immediately following the show, they have a career where as just months before nobody knew who they were. So it’s a huge launching pad for those who are able to get into the top 10 and also