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'Singing Bee': Tips for would-'Bee' winners

I'm a big fan of misheard lyrics, especially the hilarious ones. I love Web sites such as KissThisGuy.com and have been known to make a few embarrassing lyrical mistakes myself. (Who knew Duran Duran was singing "It means so much to me...like a birthday or a pretty view." "Preview" made perfect sense to me. Who doesn't love a good movie preview?)

So you'd think I'd love "The Singing Bee," but ... not so much. The contestants are marked wrong for miniscule errors, and they have to not just know the words to the song in question, but the words to the song as sung by a particular artist on a particular recording, to avoid questionable answers. But I may be alone: "The Singing Bee" topped the Nielsen ratings last week, with 13.5 million viewers, and NBC has given the show a spot in its fall lineup.

Host Joey Fatone, fresh off "Dancing With the Stars," and the two "Singing Bee" creators, Phil Gurin and Robert Horowitz, talked about the show on a Tuesday panel.

"Singing Bee" beat FOX's "Don't Forget the Lyrics" to air by one day. Creator Phil Gurin said he wasn't bitter about the similar show, but Fatone joked "I was bitter, because Wayne Brady (a high-school classmate of Fatone's) is hosting that show, and he's a good friend of mine. ... Pissed me off really badly."

Fatone said he's often stumped by the lyrics himself. "I'm terrible at it," he admitted. "I look at the cards, and I'm like 'Is THAT what the words are?' " But there was one song that didn't stump him: On the very first episode, *NSYNC song "Bye Bye Bye" was among the offerings. "(The contestant) messed it up. But I knew the lyrics!" said the former *NSYNCer, proudly.

Fatone also shared a story of his own forgetfulness: On Broadway, while acting in the musical "Rent," he completely blanked in the middle of the show. "It was like pulling teeth to say anything, and literally nothing was making sense out of my mouth," he shared.

Want to be on the show? Obscure musical tastes won't help: The producers note that the songs will always be mainstream popular music, from Elvis to holiday songs to commercial jingles. Beatles music is not yet available to the show, but solo songs by the four members, as well as Paul McCartney's Wings tunes, are fair game.

Which version of the lyrics to sing? Gurin said that Fatone will always "pin a song" to a specific artist and a year. He noted that album lyric sheets, live performances, and various recordings can all differ. Contestants need to parrot the exact version called for.

Think you can study up? Gurin disagrees. "You're not going to cram for this show," he said. "You have to spend a lifetime listening to the radio and listening to music."

What are the casting directors looking for? This is not "American Idol," where only the best-voiced singers make it on, but don't pull a William Hung, either. Said Gurin: "We want personality, we want them to be telegnic, they obviously have to have some knowledge of music. ... we like them to be able to at least carry some tune." Full casting information is online here, if you're interested.