BURBANK, California — Missy Elliott's new reality show will be a cross between "Making the Band" and "American Idol," but don't expect the hip-hop star to channel her inner P. Diddy or Simon Cowell.
"I'm not gonna have them going to get me cheesecake," Elliott said with a laugh, referring to a classic "Making the Band" episode. "Maybe vanilla ice cream from McDonald's. It is going to be like hip-hop boot camp, though. It's showing people that it takes a lot of hard work. It's not just about having one skill and getting the deal — there's a whole lot that comes with it, and they're gonna work for it. They might think it's gonna be fun, but it ain't gonna be that much fun."
As for Cowell, to ensure she's not compared to the ruthless judge, Elliott is viewing the first round of auditions on monitors behind closed doors.
"I get to sit back here and laugh and not hurt nobody's feelings," she said Monday in a sound booth at Center Staging Studios. "I'm not Simon, I can't do it like Simon. I won't have nobody throwing no water in my face; I'd have to go to jail.
"There's a lot of funny things happening out there," she added. "There's some talent too."
The UPN show (see "Missy Elliott Jumping Into The Reality-TV Game"), tentatively titled "The Missy Elliott Project," is first searching for talented singers, rappers and dancers across America through open auditions in Chicago (Wednesday), New York (Friday), Atlanta (Monday), Dallas (March 19) and even Elliott's home state of Virginia, in Arlington (March 17).
Several of the 85 who were called back out of 500 performers who auditioned in Los Angeles could sing, rap and dance, although that's not necessarily required.
"You have to be great at one thing and be able to at least do a little of everything else," Elliott explained. "If they rhyme, I'm gonna be like, 'Let me see you tap dance,' and you gotta fake it. If you sing and I tell you to belly dance [or] 'Get on the floor and do the centipede,' that's what you gotta do. And the artists have to have personality, creativity, originality, all of that combined. They don't necessarily have to be no great dancer, but be able to catch a groove."
Once the field is narrowed down to a "handful" of the most talented performers, the group will move into a tour bus and hit the road with Elliott. While on tour, the contestants will be given various challenges.
"I'm gonna go in at three in the morning and say, 'Give me the dance steps to "Work It," ' and they gotta know it," Elliott said.
The contestants will perform onstage, but not with Missy. "I'll break down a part of my show where I'll introduce them and let them do their own show," she said. "The first time they'll perform will be at Carnegie Hall, singing, rapping, tap dancing, head spinning, whatever."
Part of the show will be taped during Elliott's outing with Beyoncé and Alicia Keys (see "Missy Predicts Friendly Competition On Tour With Alicia, Beyonce"), although neither is directly involved in the show, which will debut in the summer.
"I don't want to be catching them on camera when they don't want, but if they have fun with it, then they have fun with it," Elliott said. "The show's not just directed at this tour, I'm going to be doing more dates beyond this."
Contestants, whose lives will be taped entirely (two "Big Brother" producers are working on the show), will then be picked off week by week.
"I haven't decided how I'm gonna determine the winner exactly yet," Elliott admitted. "I think it would be fun to do the viewers' pick, though. ... They'll probably end up going on because they know the dance step at three in the morning. If some guy says, 'I'm sorry, I'm just tired,' they'll end up sending themselves off."
The winner will earn a record deal with Elliott, who will produce the artist, a video and a headlining tour — "the whole package," as Missy put it.
In addition to taping the show, Elliott will keep busy on the tour by producing tracks for other artists, including some new talent, she said.
The hip-hop entrepreneur also recently revealed another endeavor she hopes to conquer in 2004 — directing a movie.
"Hopefully that will go down in the blink of an eye," she said. "Y'all might see something from me, but I'm keeping it very hush-hush."