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Emma Bunton on Boy Band, clubbing with Rita Ora, and the future of the Spice Girls

Baby Spice is looking for America’s next top vocal group alongside Nick Carter and Timbaland

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Ian West/PA Wire

Emma Bunton is about to spice up your television. With ABC’s Boy Band (premiering tonight at 8 p.m. — say you’ll be there!), Baby Spice is looking for America’s next top vocal group alongside host Rita Ora and fellow “architects” Nick Carter and Timbaland. Below, Bunton fills EW in on the show’s surprising emotional rollercoaster, the evolution of boy bands, and what’s going on with that Spice Girls mini-reunion.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to be a part of this show?
EMMA BUNTON: Being in a group is a really amazing part of this industry. You look after each other. You travel together. You go through so much. With the Spice Girls, we had a connection that I don’t think anyone else will understand. It’s an amazing feeling to have other people with you on this journey. With this show, we’re looking for guys that can respect other people, have fun, and look after each other. That’s been one of the best parts.

How do you know if contestants actually want to be in a boy band or if they just see this show as a means to a solo career?
It’s a question that we ask them, actually! A few of these guys come from sports backgrounds and like to be on a team. You can see when the guys are gelling — there’s a sparkle when they work better in a group. We can swap people over and see how guys work together [in different combinations], and there’s definitely a magic that you see when people work well together.

With a few exceptions — like Fifth Harmony on The X Factor — U.S. talent competitions have struggled to produce actual stars in recent years. Is TV still a viable launching pad for new artists?
Absolutely! These guys have the best vocal coaches and the best choreographers. After this, they really have to prove themselves and work hard to keep it up, but it’s an incredible opportunity. In Boy Band, I want to get to know [the contestants] as a group and as an individual. As the Spice Girls, we were all very individual and different but we connected. You have to have your own thing going on.

How well do viewers get to know the contestants individually?
You get so many emotions on this show. You have young guys who are going through really personal things and want this to change their lives. You have guys who have been on the circuit for years and playing clubs. We want to build a boy band that the audience can connect with and relate to, and it’s very difficult because they’ve all been brilliant.

One Direction never rocked matching outfits or choreography. Are there more ways to be a boy band now than before?
That’s what’s so exciting about the new generation: It’s really diverse. We have an amazing rapper on the show. We’ve got a beatboxer. America is going to find we’ve got a very different sound.

Rita Ora has said that the Spice Girls were her first obsession and a major influence. When you first met, did she play it cool?
We’ve hung out quite a bit in London; we’ve been out clubbing and stuff. She has told me she’s a huge Spice Girls fan. We’ve had little sing-alongs to some old Spice Girls songs! I always ask, “Hey — who was your favorite?” She’s great fun to be around. I’m a fan of hers as well.

What’s it like to be reunited with the Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter, whom you’ve known since the ’90s?
It was great to see him! It’s obviously been many years, but we’ve been chatting about the old days and how we used to hang out. I love reminiscing about old times.

Last year, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Wannabe,” you, Geri Halliwell, and Mel B teased a mini Spice Girls reunion project. Is that still happening?
We all adore each other and are constantly in contact, but we’ve all got children and other projects, so it’s just about getting that time together. We really appreciate that the fans have been nothing but supportive. There’s a whole new generation still listening to Spice Girls songs and still watching the movie. We feel really honored.