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”That’s about the prettiest thing I’ve ever sung to.” It’s a warm July evening and Grammy winner Amy Grant is performing on a stage in front of the Plymouth County Court House in Le Mars, Iowa — a.k.a. the Ice Cream Capital of the World. She’s looking down at Dean Hanno, who’s just raised his 19-year-old daughter, Megan, from her wheelchair to share their most meaningful dance since a 2003 car accident placed her in a coma. ”Once she recovered enough to regain speech, she started asking ‘Did I miss my graduation?”’ explains Grant. Megan had — until last night, when 80 strangers from a new NBC reality show re-created it for her.
In the world of Three Wishes, obstacles like wheelchairs, medical bills, and missed milestones vanish — at least temporarily. Its premise is a literal interpretation of reality TV’s thriving ”wish fulfillment” trend: Folks in small-town America (you know you’re there when the home numbers of the Thursday Ladies Bridge Club are advertised on TV) make a wish on NBC’s website. The crew selects a town, and then invades, setting up a tent where Grant and contributors Carter Oosterhouse (Trading Spaces), Eric Stromer (Clean Sweep), and Diane Mizota (Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls) play genies. ”If you had a wish, what would it be?” they ask. Following a meeting in which the staff and producers debate which desires to fulfill (with the help of corporate sponsors like the Home Depot), it’s magic time.
Or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition without all the drywall — but with just as many tears. Exec producers Andrew Glassman and Jason Raff, though fans of ABC’s construction cryfest, are quick to point out that their show is different: ”In that show, you just ship the people away. They jump up and down in the beginning. They jump up and down in the end. In ours, they really tell their story,” says Raff. Adds Grant: ”Nothing against anybody that shouts through a megaphone, but I can’t do that…. I hope the person watching this is inspired, not because Daddy Warbucks came in and solved the problem, but because people pulled together.”
The possibility-filled question at the show’s center means Grant and Co. can be pulled in any direction. ”It doesn’t always have to be, Oh, they’re building a house because somebody has cancer,” says Oosterhouse. For this episode, he’s helping a young woman — an orphan — who put herself through college to fulfill her dream of becoming a dancer in New York. And Stromer’s planning a new $500,000 farm for a couple who lost theirs in a fire. Heavy stuff indeed, but what’s surprised the cast most is how modest the wishes can be: A 73-year-old woman asked for a new lawn mower — or just new wheels for her old one — so she could continue cutting her five-acre yard herself. A young girl who uses Clay Aiken’s music to cope with her neighbor’s illness asked to meet the singer. Sadly, Mizota had to pass on Grant-ing that particular fantasy: ”I was like, ‘Clay Aiken?’ Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh.”
Even without a Claymate-pleasing cameo, NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly expects Three Wishes ”to pop” in the ratings, particularly with the over-30 female crowd. (The women posing for photos with Oosterhouse and Stromer 30 minutes after Grant’s concert ends seem interested.) ”We have something that actually does good and brings out the best in people,” Reilly says. Seated at Le Mars’ famous Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor, Stromer concurs: ”In a climate of people eating bugs on television, to receive this job is an honor.”