On April 2, Spike TV premieres Lip Sync Battle, an expanded version of Jimmy Fallon’s popular Tonight Show duels in which stars face off lip-syncing two songs each. Fallon is among the executive producers, as are fellow competitors John Krasinski and Stephen Merchant. Yahoo TV phoned EP Casey Patterson, who’s also the EVP of Talent Development and Production for Viacom Entertainment Group, to find out exactly how the show works.
1. Do participants get to choose their opponent?
Yes. "We generally start with one person who we know would be fantastic at it, and they generally have very specific ideas about who they want to go up against," Patterson says. "In a half-hour show, you have the ability to show more of the rivalry between them, which is half the fun."
Empire stars Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, for instance, will battle in a special hour-long season finale. “What makes this show so much fun to produce and so much fun to watch, in my opinion, is that the celebrities are so committed. They pick something silly and they commit hard to it, and those two were the most competitive we had all season,” Patterson says. “Their relationship goes back to Hustle & Flow, and they know each other so well, and obviously the characters that they play [on Empire] sort of help with that chemistry, but those two came to win. They were friends before and they’ll be friends after, but that was on pause for our show.”
She also says the Devil Wears Prada reunion between Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway in the April 9 episode is one for the ages: “They’re best friends, and the competitiveness between the two of them was ridiculous.” Watch an exclusive clip of Blunt lip-syncing “No Diggity” below.
2. Who really picks the songs?
The stars. “We decided that the best possible version of the show is if we don’t feed them the songs, that people come up with the songs on their own, because everybody has something that they sing in their car, or a break-up song, or just their jam from high school. The more they know the song and the more emotionally connected they are to the song, the better,” Patterson says. Because they get two songs, they usually try to make one of them unexpected — as Krasinski and Anna Kendrick each managed to do in their battle airing April 16. “Anna Kendrick did ‘Booty’ and she broke into the Pitbull rap — she just crushed it,” Patterson says. “And John Krasinski, when he did ‘Proud Mary’… just his fitting with his dress could have been a stand-alone half hour. He was very specific about how much fringe.”
And what happens if two stars pick the same song? “We’ve had that many times, and when people can’t get their song, like, the one that they knew they could win with, it’s tough,” Patterson admits. “We have to get back on the phone and we just go through the soundtrack of their life.”
3. Will we get to see the preparation?
Yes. We’ll get to see the visits to wardrobe, rehearsals, backstage, everything. “We’ve been saying this a lot about the show, but it’s the most classic form of old-school variety: the hair and makeup department is right next door to the wardrobe department, which is right next door to the choreographer and our troupe of dancers that are always the same. Everybody’s sort of mashed together, sort of like you’re joining the circus,” Patterson says.
Generally, stars would have weeks or months of notice (though, she notes, some were booked just the day before if an opportunity presented itself and they were comfortable performing). “The rhythm of the show is that people love the idea, and they [practice] at home, and it’s going to be so exciting, and they get all wrapped up in it,” she says. “Then when you get really close to it, it’s ‘Oh my God, I’m actually going to do this.’ They get really nervous. ‘Wait a minute. People are going to see this. And this?’ As they come onto the stage, there’s always the same look. It’s just this wide-eyed, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’”
Producers recommend stars spend at least 30-45 minutes rehearsing with them. "On other shows, you worry if you’re going to get enough rehearsal time. Talent doesn’t generally like to do that — they’ve got it — and on this show, they couldn’t get enough," Patterson says. "They want to come and rehearse. They want to see the stage. They want to do multiple fittings. They want it to be great. Everybody’s playing to win."
Henson and Howard made a full day of it. “They were going to rehearse and leave, and they decided just to move into the dressing rooms. They ordered food. They met with the choreographer multiple times. They really got into wardrobe,” she says. “We film the entire experience, from the time they arrive until the time they leave.”
Patterson notes that Dwayne Johnson, who takes on Fallon in the April 2 premiere, essentially produced himself: “He had the wardrobe, he cut the song down himself, he knew exactly what he was going to do. I think he even helped us to clear his song.”
4. And they really don’t know what songs their opponent is doing?
"They don’t know the songs, and they certainly don’t know the production element for the second song," Patterson says. "They have to go into hair and makeup before we even bring their opponent down to rehearse. We have to work very hard to keep everyone separated so we don’t give away the surprise. They put so much time and thought into the song choice, into the production value, how they’re going to win, and seeing the look on someone’s face when their opponent comes out is gold. So we are very, very protective of that process."
5. Are they allowed second takes?
Yes. But, Patterson says, “I don’t think we had it happen at all in the first season. I think we had one technical problem, but nobody going, ‘I want to do that again.’ They give it [their] all, and the good news is it’s not about being perfect. It’s just about being ridiculously committed. That’s really how you win.”
6. We know what LL Cool J does as host, but what is Chrissy Teigen’s role as color commentator?
"Really, she’s supposed to do commentary after each performance, but she gives commentary whenever she feels like it," Patterson says, laughing. "He’s such a good buttoned-up, professional host, then Chrissy is a wild card. You never know what she’s going to say or what she’s going to do, and it definitely keeps him on his toes. She’s just a little bit dangerous, in the very best way… When you watch the cutaways of Chrissy, you would think that she was competing in every song. She is totally immersed and on everyone’s side." (Even when her husband, John Legend, takes on Common in April 2’s second episode?)
7. Who determines the winner?
The audience in the room. “Jimmy’s brand of comedy is so pure, and that’s exactly the tone of the show. So we didn’t overcomplicate it with levels, and gameplay, and points. It’s just pure entertainment, top to bottom,” Patterson says.
8. Is the prize just bragging rights?
No. Each winner also gets this belt.
Lip Sync Battle premieres April 2, with back-to-back episodes starting at 10 p.m., on Spike TV.