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Memphis Live!: star search, Memphis-style.

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January’s featured performers: True Sol (top) and Rodney King Ellis.
It was a little over a year ago, on James Davis' birthday, and there was nothing to do -- no touring Broadway shows, no major sporting events, no concerts that evening. With nowhere to celebrate, Davis came up with a way to make his own fun. Memphis Live!, a variety show of sorts, showcases local and regional talent with performances ranging from spoken-word poetry to dance and is patterned after television shows like Showtime at the Apollo, American Idol, and HBO's Def Poets.

"I was tired of doing the same things week in and week out," says Davis. "I wanted a place to go that featured live entertainment with new talent. With Memphis Live! I wasn't looking to reinvent the wheel. These [TV] shows were already successful. I took aspects from each of them and added my own touches for Memphis."

Davis used the talent-show format of Apollo, allowed entertainers to perform two acts, as on American Idol, included poetry and spoken-word performers like Def Poets, and brought in a dance ensemble between acts like BET's Comicview dancers. "In order for a city to thrive, it must have all the necessary components: entertainment, fashion, art, music, and dance," says Davis. "So, with Memphis Live! audiences get all that."

The monthly showcases include six acts that have already gone through panel auditions. The shows are usually hosted by local radio personalities. In addition to performances, the show features audience giveaways, special guests, and a segment allowing a secretly chosen audience member to render an impromptu performance. Performers are also allowed to promote their endeavors by advertising their own books, CDs, or videos.

Memphis Live! has already had two successful showcases: one in October at Puccini & Pasta and another in November at the New Daisy. "We vary the venues because we don't want audiences to get bored. We try to get a mixture of nice ambience and good production possibilities. The show will never be at a club," says Davis.

Each month Memphis Live! partners with a nonprofit organization that provides health and social services to the community. Audiences are treated to educational information from the organization during intermission, and the organization receives a portion of the night's proceeds. This month's organization, the Alzheimer's Association, discusses the symptoms and development of the disease. The January show will contain a tribute segment to Martin Luther King Jr. Future partners will include Yo! Memphis, Friends for Life, and the Church Health Center.

Davis, owner of L.R. Clothier, a fashion design and retail business, is assisted in the Memphis Live! showcases by sponsors like Diva Entertainment, Thrifty Car Rental, Headliner Entertainment, and the Memphis Grizzlies. Plans for the February show are already under way for a retrospective 1980s showcase of acts performing music and dance from that decade while sporting their favorite '80s gear. A tribute to slain rap pioneer Jam Master Jay of the group Run-DMC is also planned.

Davis says his goal is to have a Memphis Live! annual show at The Orpheum that reunites the year's performers for a chance at a record deal, publishing contract, or professional dance audition.

"[Memphis] has a rich history of performers. Everyone knows about Elvis and the Beale Street jazz and blues performers, but there is no marketing for upcoming talent," he says. "Besides the few successful rap acts currently from Memphis, no one knows about the newcomers in other genres. That's our ultimate goal -- to make Memphis Live! a household name while introducing new performers. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved." n

This month's Memphis Live! takes place at 8 p.m. on Sunday, January 19th, at the Lounge. For tickets call 864-7196.

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