Producer of the Stellar Awards
As a top-notch Los Angeles-based producer, Wilson has had her fair share of success over the years, placing her golden touch on everything from marketing research for shows such as Taxi and Laverne and Shirley for Paramount, to public affairs television programming in Chicago to closely guiding her independent production company, DreamStar Inc. which produced the 2001 Essence Awards.
Gospelflava.com spoke with Barbara Wilson about the upcoming 18th Annual Stellar Awards, her perspectives on Gospel right now and a host of other relevant issues.
Gospelflava.com: You’ve been producing the Stellar Awards for 15 years now. Can you briefly outline your responsibilities in that position?
Barbara Wilson: I spend a total of 8 months of the year working on The Stellar Awards. It starts in May with the voting process. I take the show from concept to completion.
I’m responsible for the theme of each year’s show, for hiring the staff, the directors, for hiring the Gospel talent that appears on the show.
I hire the various co-ordinators, the art director who designs the set, the lighting director, the audio director, and I work with them to come up with set design and theme music.
I’m also intricately involved in booking talent to perform on the show. I set up schedules for rehearsals and I work with the publicists to co-ordinate the talent.
So, from the talent to the staff close to 150 people are involved. I am responsible for all of them.
The key to this is to surround myself with competent people who know what they are doing. I am working with people who are experienced and who have worked on the Stellar Awards show for many years.
Gospelflava.com: The voting process for The Stellar Awards is an area which always raises questions from fans and from those in the Gospel music industry. Can you elaborate a little on how it works, and your involvement with the process?
Barbara Wilson: Beginning in May, I work with the staff at Central City Productions [the organization which puts together the Stellar Awards] to put together voting packages and making sure that they get to out to the record companies.
We use a system similar to that used by the Grammy Awards. The Stellar Awards Nominating Committee, which is composed of announcers, retailers and others who are not representatives of record companies, sends out the nomination packages to record companies. The committee then looks at the nominations and examines the material to ensure that the nominations are eligible, and they finalize the nomination list before it is sent to the voting body [SAGMA, see more information.] I work with that whole process.
Gospelflava.com: We frequently hear from people who have questions about why a certain artist was not nominated in a particular category. Is there a means by which such concerns can be addressed?
Barbara Wilson: We’re always open to talking to anyone who calls us with a question, we’re always talking to people. Very often all it is just a lack of knowledge about the process. I would say that 85% of the time, the answer to why an album or artist did not make it to the nominee list is because it did not meet eligibility requirements. To qualify, the album must have been released between Aug 1 through to July 31. In Gospel music, sometimes an album won’t really catch on until several months, or maybe a year after it is released. So when an album becomes very popular, it may not qualify since it was released in the previous year. [Editor's Note: Central City Productions can be reached at 312 321-9491.]
Gospelflava.com: Must an album meet a minimum sales requirement in order to qualify?
Barbara Wilson: No, there’s not necessarily a sales minimum, but the nominating committe does consider many things [in order to verify that an album has a degree of popularity]. The album should chart, for example, using standards such as the Billboard Gospel chart, which of course is based on Soundscan, on sales. But we also look at radio playlists from across the country, playlists from radio announcers in as many regions as possible. We look at charts in various Gospel magazines too.
Another crucial thing is the quality of the product itself, how it sounds, how it is produced, these sort of things. We need to make sure that the quality is there.
Gospelflava.com: The nominees in the Gospel Hip Hop category is one area that always seems to generate a lot of discussion.
Barbara Wilson: Really, there aren’t that many Gospel hip hop artists out there. The ones that are there, they seem to be a different group. What often happens is that sometimes a Gospel artist will record a hip hop song, the style will be hip hop, so sometimes you will see an artists such as that who will fall into that category.
Gospelflava.com: Regarding the selection of hosts, The Stellar Awards has a pattern of combining some familiar names in Gospel music with a popular name from the mainstream entertainment circuit. Can you explain the thinking behind this approach?
Barbara Wilson: Ratings! (laughing) We’ve been doing the Stellars for 18 years, and the situation is always that it is a challenge to sell advertising, to clear the show on TV stations where the station managers don’t have a clue to what Gospel artists are all about. They want recognizable people involved in order to sell advertising and to gain their audience.
Gospelflava.com: What do you find the most challenging part about the overall process of producing the Stellar Awards?
Barbara Wilson: That would have to be coming up with a mix of artists for the live taping that reflects what is happening in the Gospel industry. There are 12 performances on the show, and there something like 200 to 300 artists out there, so it is difficult to pull together a select few.
It’s very challenging to sit down and listen to hundreds and hundreds of CDs, and try to determine what is representative of the particular year. I find that for one year, choirs will be a big thing, soloists the next year, and maybe traditional artists the year after that.
This year (2002) I find that the sound is much younger, more contemporary, than before. There’s also a significant amount of praise and worhship out there. It is a major challenge to put it all together, to eliminate some, and to choose the right ones. I try to get a good mix, a combination of brand new artists and long-time favorite artists.
Gospelflava.com: Aside from aiming for a good mix of representation of styles, is there anything else in particular that you look for when deciding to ask a particular artist to perform on the Stellars?
Barbara Wilson: Of course, the sound of the artist is important, but yes, beyond that, I need to consider how the artist will come across in a live setting. They may be really good on a CD, but in person, an artist might come across as rather flat.
Gospel artists are not like secular artists of course; the music is spiritual and comes directly from the soul. But this is television that we are dealing with, it’s very visual. So, sometimes I reject an act because of the lack of visual appeal.
Gospelflava.com: In that regard, what advice do you have for artists?
Barbara Wilson: I advise the up and coming artist to work on their presentation. People don’t often like to thing about this aspect, but beyond the Holy Spirit coming through the music, we need to also consider the visual impact.
Gospelflava.com: Can you tell us what The Stellar Awards mean to you personally, and what personal satisfaction you derive from your work with this annual event?
Barbara Wilson: What we have done with the Stellars is to give Gospel artists exposure that they have never really had before. Of course I have seen the bigger artists over the year being pursued by the various big awards shows, Essence, The Grammies, but with The Stellars, I feel very good about the smaller artists and the exposure that they receive.
And I fell very good about what these artists get out of the Stellars experience. Often an artist will see a 100 or 120% increase in sales, and more bookings. I am reminded of Tonex, when he appeared on the Stellars in 2000, he shot straight up. Producers here in LA were calling me, asking me for clips because they wanted to book him.
Really, it’s an opportunity for millions to see these artists, for the artists to reach those that they would never be able to touch otherwise.
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