Thursday, May 19, 2011 | 1:22 p.m.
Robin Leach's Vegas DeLuxe
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By Nikki Villoria
With their Chevy Cruzes loaded up and ready to go, six bands drove to Las Vegas for the opportunity to compete for a moment onstage at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena this Sunday. The initial pool of 18 artists in the competition was selected by Billboard, who tracked each band’s online fan engagement, and from those 18, the Final Six were chosen.
“We wanted to bring the Billboard Music Awards back to Vegas, celebrate every part of music, and we thought what a great forum to use to really bring some undiscovered artists to the table,” Prometheus Global Media CEO Richard Beckman said. “We took the top scoring artists from our Billboard Pro platform, created six regions of the country, we put three bands up in each of the regions, a quarter of a million of our readers voted in a two-week period of time, and the winning six bands, we stuck them in these fabulous Chevrolet Cruzers, and they drove to Vegas.”
The six bands who performed in the head-to-head battle of the bands were all unsigned and unrecognized bands, each from a different region: Hotels (Northwest), A.J. Rafael (West), Lightning Love (Midwest), Otenki (Southwest), Side By Side (Southeast) and Gentlemen Hall (Northeast).
“I can feel what these kids are going through, I really can. You know Sugar Ray received a lot of lucky breaks to make it happen, and hopefully one of these bands will receive one of those breaks tonight,” Battle of the Bands MC, lead judge and Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath said.
As one of the hosts of the event, Chevy donated six Chevy Cruzes to the bands, in which they would document their road trip to Vegas. Video clips from the bands’ trips were uploaded to Billboard’s Web site, where fans racked up page views for their favorite performer. The total page views, in combination with judges results from yesterday’s Battle of the Bands at Fremont Street Experience, would determine which band would be sharing the stage with top musical acts Sunday.
“I really want Billboard to mean music for all levels of music, it’s not just about the big stars, and tonight is a big part of that,” said Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde. “I’m just really excited, when you are at a place like Billboard and you get to play even a small role in helping talent reach that next level, that’s pretty exciting -- that’s what it’s all about.”
Crowds flocked under the neon-lit ceiling of FSE last night, where the bands gathered onstage to battle it out in the music showdown. “Tonight shows that no matter how many people slapped us in the face or disrespected us or made us feel like we weren’t good enough, we are, and they can’t take that away from us,” said Joelle Kittrell of Side by Side. Over the course of about 2 hours, each band performed two of their songs in front of a cheering crowd and four judges led by McGrath.
“I think it’s great. When I was these kids’ age, being in a new band and trying to get some exposure, a chance like this, a Battle of the Bands, going toe-to-toe with some great other musicians for a chance to play live at the Billboard Music Awards Sunday, televised in front of millions of people, my mind is boggling. So to be able to be a part of that, to be able to at least be part of the judging contingency, it’s a real honor for me,” McGrath said. “I was backstage, and the kids today, they’re just a lot cooler than we were. It seemed from the bands’ eye that it’s just another gig for them, I don’t know if that’s the best poker face ever. …. I’m nervous, they’re not even nervous, and I’m just sitting here judging the thing.”
Each band’s performance was unique and demonstrated their performance and music style. The competition was fierce, and the judges’ decision was close, but after the last band’s performance, a decision was made. With fans each screaming the names of their favorite band, McGrath took the stage, trophy in hand, and announced Gentlemen Hall as the winner of the 2011 Billboard and Chevy Battle of the Bands.
“This is pretty much the best day of my life. I know how special these songs are, and for everybody to love it as much as we do is so humbling I just can’t … I’m on cloud nine. It’s a weird place right now,” Seth Hachen of Gentlemen Hall said. “Sunday is going to be surreal -- it’s probably going to be more of a dream than reality. It’s going to be a dream come true.”
The six winning Boston rockers took the stage to claim their trophy and celebratory moment with looks of pure excitement and utter shock spread on their faces. “It’s amazing! I can’t wait to go back home to Boston where everybody’s been supporting us and everybody’s been rooting for us the whole way through, and you know, bring back the bring trophy,” Gentlemen Hall’s Gavin McDevitt said.
With the competition over, the band gathered to admire their trophy, take photos with executives from Billboard Music, family and friends and plan what they would do next. “We’ll be celebrating with friends and family,” Hachen said. “Launch our single, tour, travel around the world, play more music, write more. I mean I don’t know, it’s just going to be a wild ride, I think.”
The six guys all met living in the dorms at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where they were labeled “the Gentlemen Down the Hall” in the many disciplinary complaints filed by their resident director for loud jam sessions and late-night parties. Channeling their energy into their music, they formed their synth pop/rock band and in a year’s time have been named MTV’s Best Breakout Boston Artist and the >Boston Phoenix’s Best New Act of 2010.
Gentlemen Hall will be performing at the BMAs on Sunday, sharing the same stage as Rihanna, The Black Eyed Peas, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum and Taio Cruz, among many others. With a couple of days to prepare, McDevitt says the band most likely will perform their song “Blush” on Sunday.
“We’ll probably play ‘Blush,’ but it’s gonna be one of the two we played, so if we don’t play ‘Blush,’ we’ll play ‘All Our Love.’ So it’s one of those two.”