Jamie Foxx hasn't had any trouble tapping into an onscreen persona for his new role hosting the music-based game show Beat Shazam; decades in the entertainment industry have helped prepare him for the job. Still, it's some of the more technical details the actor and musician has struggled to be totally comfortable with just yet.
Beat Shazam will debut this summer on Fox, with production beginning next month, and Foxx tells Billboard familiarizing himself with the network's standards and practices guidelines and the run of the show have taken more work than expected. He has even been putting in extra hours "studying" at home to get fully off-book.
"We did test episodes that have been fun and a little bit tougher than I thought. I thought I was gonna come in and wing it, but I actually had to prepare," he says. "You really have to know the show, and there's so many things I didn't know you couldn't say. ... After all the contestants would leave, I would have my kid and her friends and we'd play the game, so I just keep practicing."
Billboard spoke with Foxx as he prepares to unveil the new project, discussing what makes this game show especially fun, how partying with Diddy and Drake helped ready him for the job, and whether he could personally beat Shazam.
Why get involved with this show? What appealed to you about it?
What it was is that everybody has shows -- J.Lo has a show [Shades of Blue], Kevin Hart has a show [Real Husbands of Hollywood], The Rock has a show [Ballers] -- and I've always been a TV person, right? And we'd been trying to get the show together for the past couple years with [executive producers] Jeff Apploff and Mark Burnett, and it's a perfect fit for me because I come from music, we dig the fun, I'm always throwing parties, and so that's what we're gonna do. We're gonna have a party atmosphere, but we got a game show in it with the app Shazam, so it all sort of made sense.
It's fun; I called some of my friends to come hang out. Like, a good friend of mine is [New York Giants wide receiver] Odell Beckham Jr., so I said: Listen, while we're doing this show, why don't we do Odell Beckham's playlist? Because he's got the great energy. So he said he'd come out. Or if it's Vin Diesel, if it's Drake or if it's whoever, so we have that aspect. But then what we learned when we started doing the show is the contestants, they're colorful and crazy and kooky. One dude said, "I want to win this money by guessing these songs because my wife, we never had a honeymoon." So it's got all the ingredients and it gives me the opportunity to come back to TV and have fun.
Do you need to do anything to get into your game show host character, or is that just kind of Jamie Foxx normally?
No, it's just sort of like me. I feel like I've been living a game show my whole life. Because the aspect of it is, like, I would do this party at my house and I would call it an On My Balcony Party where I would have like Drake or Diddy or someone like that host and I'm sort of emceeing the party. It's basically the same muscle; it's just like now it's wrapped up into a cool game show format where all the music being played and the people having to guess the songs -- it's really dope.
Can you give a rundown of how the show will work?
Basically each song is played by a DJ, and if you can guess it they give you money -- $10,000 in the first round, and it goes up. The team that has the least money at a couple of rounds, they leave, then the remaining team will battle against Shazam. During the show, the contestants have multiple-choice answers, but when you're going up against Shazam, it's just one song. So you choose a category, Shazam will say how fast it takes for it to recognize the song -- 4.8 seconds -- that means you have 4.8 seconds or less to guess the song. If you can do that and beat Shazam six times, you win the big money. But as the game progresses, things get tougher.
Now, while all of that is going on, the audience is dancing to their favorite No. 1 songs. When we did some of the mockups, there were people in the audience ... these black guys are in the audience and I'm thinking, "Oh man, when the rap category comes on, these guys are gonna go wild." And I'm profiling already. But every song that came on -- it was like Hall & Oates -- they knew all these different songs that were classic rock, and then we played something from Nate Dogg, "Regulate," they didn't know the song, but this white kid over here, he knew the song. So as we're doing the song, the audience kind of comes alive and we see them and sometimes we'll branch out and let the audience members dance, and of course the contestants will dance, and they'll give their testimonies and things will just be going and things like that will pop up -- not getting in the way of the game show, but there will be things like that.
You mentioned involving some of your celebrity friends with the show. Will you be surprising the audience with special guests then?
Yes. There's a piano on the set, and I say I've got a "magic piano" and sometimes when I sing on this piano, whoever I'm singing, the artist will come out -- maybe -- so I'll sing, "Where are you now that I need you?" -- you never know, [Justin Bieber] may come out. Or Barbra Streisand, or Drake, or anybody that I've hung out with or worked with. You never know who might stop by, but that's just the element of having fun. And then there's certain little things that we'll do where I will be dressed as the genre or dressed as the character or do a funny idea of the character: As opposed to The Weeknd, I'll be dressed as The Week Day -- I'm five days of entertainment; The Weeknd is only two days. Things like that.
Do you think you could beat Shazam?
I could beat Shazam. On a couple of them, especially when it's at a 5 or 4.8 [seconds] or something, give me some time. But it definitely gets down to where people will hit that button because they want to be fast and they'll know the song but they can't get to the title. And then we have this thing that's called a Fool's Gold. The Fool's Gold is when you hear a lyric and you think that's the title, but the actual title is something else.
If you're going to beat Shazam, what are your winning genres?
It'd be the '80s, man. You know, like Prince 1984, Michael Jackson '83, Madonna, Lionel Richie, you know what I'm saying. That's where I dig in.
Are we going to hear any of your songs on the show?
I hope not. That would just be too on-the-nose, right? "The Jamie Foxx playlist, all night for three shows."
What kind of references are you pulling for the show? Do you have favorite game shows you've looked at or favorite game show hosts?
Family Feud -- Richie Dawson. I feel like that sometimes when I go up to the podium: "So tell me, ma'am, you come from Des Moines, Iowa..." I use that and I also use Don Cornelius, Soul Train: "We're here with The Whispers, whom I've known for a number of years here on Soul Train. Next up we have Stevie Wonder, of course Marvin Gaye, so all you guys tune in."
You talked about wanting a show -- needing a show -- it feels like game shows are having a bit of a renaissance with Match Game and Lip Sync Battle, as well as some of the talent competition shows and older staples.
Yeah, you've got to look at LL Cool J's show [Lip Sync Battle], you've got all these different shows that are out there. Everybody's got a show. I was like, I want to be in on it. And our show is the celebration of music, and how it's going to evolve is what we're looking forward to because of the game show. When you see that part, you're gonna be like, "Oh I knew that!" It's like me watching Jeopardy! I never know the answers; I know the answers after they show the answers: "Damn, splitting the atom.... Yeah, 'What is splitting the atom?'"