Jason Derulo on his new BBC talent show Project Icon and playing singer Ron Isley
The R’n’B artist and social media star reveals why his new talent show Project Icon is going to produce another global superstar.
Jason Derulo has achieved a lot of things for his 33 years. He’s sold over 250 million singles worldwide including Want To Want Me and Whatcha Say, has accrued 57 million followers on Tik Tok alone, collaborated with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Nicki Minaj, starred in the movie version of Cats, and was recently announced as the new judge on The Voice Australia – replacing Keith Urban.
But tonight sees him launch his first TV show, Project Icon, on BBC Three, which is a concept he created with his former manager turned business partner Frank Harris. It’s a six-part music competition where they hope to transform a bedroom singer into an all-round music star in just a few weeks with the help of their own extensive experience.
It’s inspired by Jason’s own career, which has seen him succeed on numerous platforms as well as in the music industry, after realising being multi-talented was the best way to have a long standing career. With Jason, Frank and The Voice UK semi-finalist Becky Hill as mentors and Jordan North as the host, it promises to be a gripping watch.
“The success rate of someone winning a talent show and then being able to stand the test of time is very small when you’re supposed to be one of the best talents in said countries,” explains Jason, who’s in the UK to promote the show sporting a head of bright blue and yellow hair. “And I think it's because those shows are only about singing when the music industry is about way more than that.
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“First and foremost, can you create a song that's going to make people feel something? Can you perform on social media? Do you have a brand that people will connect to? That's really important, especially now in a day and age where the 13 biggest songs last year, 12 of them had some sort of Tik Tok virality. If you're not in tune with social media, it's going to be really tough for you. Also can you shine on camera? Can you do interviews?
“We test the eight contestants on all of these different things. And they're all put into one house, so as you can imagine, eight talented, egotistical artists in one house, there's going to be some drama, romance and craziness. It’s kind of like an artists’ bootcamp and I think it's a dream for a viewer because there's just so much to latch on to.”
At the end of the series, the winner receives a US music deal with Jason’s label Future History, a collaboration with him and a live performance at BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend in May. It’s a life changing opportunity for someone.
“It is and it feels good,” admits Jason, who had a son in 2021 with his ex Jena Frume. “I've done a lot in my life but to be able to help other people always feels equally as good. I'm excited and nervous for them; it’s like starting all over again!”
Jason thought Becky Hill would be the perfect person to be a mentor having had such success after appearing on The Voice UK in 2012 – and she proved as good as he hoped.
“I thought Becky would be great because she has experience on both ends,” he explains. “She's a mega star now but she was also on a music show so she understands what it's like. And she came on and surpassed all of my preconceived positives that I had in mind for her. She was just phenomenal on the show; it was like a dream. People are going to really like her. We all got to spend some long hours together, so I got to know everyone pretty well. We definitely got lucky with casting because it was a pleasure to work with everyone.”
Project Icon was filmed in Manchester at the end of last year, and the R'n'B artist only knew the city from performing at its Arena so he was happy to spend some more time there. However, he didn’t get to experience the nightlife as much as he might have liked.
“I've been to Manchester a bunch of times, but actually being on the ground there and experiencing the city for a while was nice,” he says. “I went to Mnky Hse but that was the extent of the nights out – we had early mornings so it was tough. You’ve got to decide whether you want to go to sleep! But I love being in the UK. It brings me to a very relaxed state: it might be the weather, it might be the clothing, I don't know. There’s some great food here as well.”
Jason can also be seen on the big screen at the end of this month, playing singer Ron Isley in Spinning Gold, which is based on the life of Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart. It was something he wasn’t sure about doing after the poor reception the movie version of Cats received, in which he starred as Rum Tum Tugger in his first foray in to film – but he’s glad he did.
“Cats happened and it wasn't my favourite beginning to film,” he says. “It’s not how I’d have written the story of how my acting career would have started. So it kind of ruined my experience of it for a minute as I didn't think doing another musical was the right route, but I had already committed to it. I was supposed to be in the film a lot more but I just did a portion of the film and looking back at it, I’m so glad I did and took a chance on it. Because it allowed me to dive into an artist that I really respect. I'm looking forward to seeing the film myself.”
And will he be watching Project Icon from his home in Los Angeles when it starts this evening?
“Yeah, for sure,” he smiles. “I got my VPN ready! We're really excited about the possibilities and I hope there’ll be more series, absolutely, because it's going to be the number one show in the UK!”
Project Icon starts on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer on Sunday 26th March at 9pm.
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