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Jamie Foxx explains the difficulty of being a game show host

The newly-minted ‘Beat Shazam’ host has tips on how to beat the musical app

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Shazam is one of those apps, like Venmo or even Uber, that seems ubiquitous now because of how useful it can be in everyday life. Fox’s new game show, Beat Shazam, plans to deepen that experience further by turning Shazam usage into a competition. Contestants will play for prize money by trying to guess the name of the song before their opponents — and then, in the final round, against Shazam itself.

To make things even more entertaining, the show is hosted by Jamie Foxx. In his first outing as a game show host, Foxx brings all of his many talents to bear: extensive music knowledge, stand-up comedy, and his own singing abilities. Ahead of the Beat Shazam premiere Thursday night, Entertainment Weekly caught up with Foxx to learn about his experience on this show, the things that surprised him, and how to play to win.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s your hosting style like?
JAMIE FOXX: Different. This is gonna be a chapter in my book: “The Game Show.” There’s a way that you have to do it, and certain things you can’t get away from. The guy who coached me was like, “Listen, I know it seems funny to you that I’m saying you have to learn your sh–. But if you don’t have it down, we’re all gonna be sunk.” There’s certain regulations you have, Standards and Practices, you can’t mislead the audience. So I had all this sh– I had to learn. I was on the set of Robin Hood with this huge book and someone was like “Oh, are those your lines from the movie?” No, these are my game show lines. It was crazy. But they were right. When I tried to do the show without having everything learned, I was like, “All right… who won? Where’s the money?” I had to get that learned so I could be like, “Here’s the category, the prize is $1,000, the category is disco, contestants are you ready? Are you ready?” It’s like a play-by-play. Once I got that, then we were in the money. Before that, I couldn’t read the teleprompter right so I would just do a joke. They would be like, “Foxx, it’s not about you and the jokes. It’s about the contestants.” I had already said that I wanted this to be about the contestants, but I had to get my lines learned in order for it to go smooth and be seamless.

Are there any particular game show hosts you looked at?
I know Richard Dawson from back in the day, the original Family Feud host. There’s also Steve Harvey, who does an awesome job by adding his personal touch [to Family Feud]. So I definitely stole tips from them, and then I do my own thing. It was merging those great game show hosts and at the same time taking advantage of what I do — jokes, fun, impersonations, having people like Snoop and Mariah Carey drop by, that kind of thing.

You’re a multi-talented guy. How likely are you to break into song and dance on this show?
We wanted to make sure we peppered in enough of that to make sure we’re keeping people entertained, while still going back to “here’s the situation, here’s the money.” The thing about the contestants that really took us by surprise was that nobody played for themselves. Everybody was like, “I’m here for my mom, our house burned down,” or “I’m here for my friend who needs medical attention but doesn’t have health insurance.” You know what we got mostly? Student loans. We didn’t realize that was going be a main thing. One kid from Montana won something like $250,000. They were like, “Oh, man, I can pay my loans off.” The father had tears coming down his face. Those stories really made the show pop, because it would always center or anchor back to what they’re actually playing for. Another lady won $346,000 and her husband’s out there, he bursts into tears and runs on stage talking about how they can get their life together and stuff. Those are the types of things that caught us by surprise but in a good way.

Have you seen any plays you’ve been really impressed by so far?
Oh yeah. Some people have guessed the song in 1.2 or 1.3 seconds because they’ve been studying so hard. And then when they play against Shazam, what impressed me was the different people’s backgrounds and what they know. There was this little white lady from South Carolina, 63 years old, who knew all of the hip-hop categories, all of the R&B categories. You’re like what the f—? And then this black dude knew all the country-western songs. I was like, how you know that? He said, “when I was in fourth or fifth grade, I would ride the bus and my bus driver played all country-western.” So I had to learn not to judge a book by its cover because their music knowledge was vast.

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One of the things that seem fun about the show is how music is a part of everyone’s lives, so everyone’s had the experience of competing for music knowledge or trying to guess a song but can’t remember the title. What’s your personal experience with that?
Well, I grew up on Name That Tune. I used to watch it with my parents, and basically what Name That Tune was, they would give you the information like, “This song was written by a group,” so and so, all these vague descriptions, and then go, “How fast you think you can name that song?” So somebody might go, “I can name that song in 20 notes.” That usually means they don’t really know the song. Then they ask the other guy, “How fast can you name that song?” And that guy goes, “18 notes.” He knows that he’s only saying 18 so he can bluff the other guy because he doesn’t know the song either. So then the host will go, “Okay, name that tune,” and if he can’t name it in 18 notes the money goes to the other guy. Or someone would say, “I can name that tune in four seconds,” and then you know he knows it. So I remember that, going “Oh, I know that song!” This has the DNA of a musical hits show, and that’s why we’re excited about it because once you put the technology in it with Shazam, it really makes your heart beat fast.

Are there any equivalences in this game to that kind of Name That Tune strategizing?
The only thing I would tell people coming on the show is, study all of the music, all of the hit songs. And then relax. Because once the studio audience is there, and I’m there, and they know millions of people are watching, they get nervous. We had this one dude who would guess all the songs and he was loose, he’d be dancing. But when he got tight he couldn’t remember anything so I said, “just stay loose.” It’s almost like bowling. When you’re bowling and you go down the lane one time and get the strike, you’re just trying to stay in that lane. But then ADD kicks in, fatigue kicks in, and you’re off your lane. It’s like that. It’s like musical bowling.

Have any of your songs come up so far?
No, but Ray Charles songs did. That was cool and fun. We also had Snoop show up and have his playlist, and Terrence Howard, and Mariah Carey. Snoop surprised us, and then we played with Snoop’s playlist, so everyone had to guess what kind of songs Snoop would like. There was no genre – not hip-hop, not country, just Snoop. So people are expecting hip-hop or R&B, and then it’s something completely different. Terrence Howard was crazy because the first song on his playlist was “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” People tripped out on that.

Have you ever had a situation where someone isn’t getting a song, and it’s killing you?
Oh yeah. But there’s nothing you can do because you’ve got Standards and Practices. So I would only tell them, “just relax. You’re too strung right now. And stop thinking about the lyrics, think about the title. If you can, play the song as quickly as you can in your head, to get to the title.” I keep telling people not to fall for the fool’s gold, which is when you hear a lyric and think it’s the title of the song, but it’s just a lyric. So when you hear, (sings) “You better know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,” you’d think it was “Know When To Hold ‘Em” or something, but it’s actually “The Gambler.” Times like that, you just try to help them know.

In a parallel universe where you were a contestant on this show, how do you think you would do?
I don’t know! I know that I would guess country songs a lot quicker than people would think. I just don’t know how I would fare when it comes to the actual title. That’s tough.