BET's 'Sunday Best' brings the all stars out starting July 19

Crystal Aiken performs during BET's "Sunday Best." CREDIT: BET

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Crystal Aiken performs during BET's "Sunday Best." CREDIT: BET

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Sunday, July 19, 2015

During a recent taping of BET's "Sunday Best" at Turner Studios in Midtown, one performer got on stage and finished his song but was so pumped from the positive feedback, he kept reprising... and reprising... and reprising. The crowd cheered him on.

"Who put that man on that song?" said judge Donnie McClurkin after he finally finished. "That was crazy! This isn't about being a gospel star. It's about inspiring and that with God, anything is possible."

In its eighth season, BET's gospel singing competition has remained a quiet, praise-worthy alternative to "The Voice" and "American Idol." It's been the longest-running reality competition show shot in Atlanta. And now they have culled 10 of the most popular singers from the first seven seasons via viewer votes.

I spoke with the judges backstage.

"The format has stayed the same," McClurkin said. "If it's not broken, don't change it. It's been really positive. It's got great viewership, a couple million of people watching each year."

"We had seven seasons of amazing talent," said judge Yolanda Adams. "People grew over those years. And you have folks who really wanted a second chance."

"It wasn't necessarily a matter of wanting more exposure" for these contestants, McClurkin said. "They have come to sharpen their gift. Each season they develop a family. This brings a bond that's even stronger. And they were a lot less nervous. They've been in this spot before."

He said the 10 "have been judged by us before. It's not anything unexpected. The level and caliber and vocality and musicality is increased. They've learned a lot from some other critiques we've given them before."

Judge Kierra Sheard, 28, is a relative neophyte in the business compared to Adams (also a syndicated radio host heard locally on Praise 102.5) and McClurkin, both Grammy-winning gospel veterans.

"They're on a higher level than I am," Sheard said. "I am more on the level of the contestants."

"Kierra has added new life we needed after six seasons," Adams said. "She brought effervescence, representing a new generation. She brings freshness and flair."

Sheard, for instance, is very active on social media including Twitter (244K followers) and Instagram (348K followers).

Adams, in comparison, has 333K followers on Twitter and 81K on Instagram. Adams' Facebook following (given Facebook's older-skewing nature) is an impressive 2.4 million vs. 408K for Sheard. McClurkin draws 449K on Twitter, 43,400 on Instagram and 1.2 million on Facebook.

"Fans want to know your business," Sheard said. "If I'm not on social media one day, people wonder what happened!"

The eventual winner will compete for a cash prize, a recording contract with Franklin’s record label, Fo Yo Soul Recordings, and the crown.


"Sunday Best All Star Edition," 8 p.m. Sundays, beginning July 19, 2015, BET