By SOLVEJ SCHOU
BURBANK, Calif. — Flanked by a television crew, three young women huddle around a keyboard on an airy sound stage trying to out-sing each other. ‘‘American Idol’’? No, but close. It’s ‘‘My Grammy Moment,’’ the Recording Academy’s mini-edition of reality TV; a talent search for unsigned artists that maybe could offer a little ratings help for the Nielsen-troubled Grammys show (7 p.m. Sunday on CBS). ...
Last year, the Grammys faced off directly against ‘‘Idol’’ and lost face dramatically. ‘‘Idol’’ pulled in nearly twice as many viewers, 28.3 million compared to Grammy’s 15.1 million, according to Nielsen.
It was the least-watched Grammy Awards telecast going back to the 1970s, Nielsen noted.
This year, the live Grammycast isn’t up against ‘‘Idol,’’ but the question of its ability to rebound in the ratings still hangs over it. No surprise, one answer producers turned to was to try to grab a little of the ‘‘Idol’’ magic.
‘‘My Grammy Moment’s’’ three finalists, the ones huddled this day around the keyboard — 30-year-old Africa Miranda of Montgomery, Ala., 22-year-old Brenda Radney of Staten Island, N.Y., and 18-year-old Robyn Trout of Houston, Texas — are vying for the chance to sing onstage at the show with sexy nominee Justin Timberlake.
Since January, the public has voted online at Yahoo! Music for their favorites of an Academy-selected pool of 12 contestants, narrowing down the field. What is now three will be one on Grammy night, to be announced live before her performance with Timberlake.
But will the contest actually boost the show’s TV audience?
Phil Gallo of Daily Variety said the Grammys need to pick up three to six million more viewers, and ‘‘My Grammy Moment’’ doesn’t guarantee anything.
‘‘Running a contest via the Internet and coming up with the reward of a performance certainly reeks of ‘American Idol’ influence,’’ Gallo said. ‘‘I don’t think a singing contest will get more viewers unless people are really following along and there’s this incredible payoff. This is probably going to end up, ‘OK, this is nice. They let this girl sing with Justin.’ ’’
Still, KC Morton, the manager of soul singer Cee-Lo of the Grammy-nominated troupe Gnarls Barkley, said the contest represents a great way to bring in younger viewers.
‘‘It’s a mature type of event, the Grammys. You have to be dressed up. [The contest] brings it down to that MTV level, to get the youth more involved,’’ he said.
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow looked beyond ratings when talking about ‘‘My Grammy Moment.’’ He cited the contest’s double agenda of ‘‘promoting music education for young people and creating some interactivity.’’
The recognition, he said, is that reality shows, and not just ‘‘Idol,’’ have besieged viewers.
‘‘For us, one of the particular challenges with planning this contest was that the Grammy voting process is by peers, members of the voting group of the Academy’s membership. ... We wanted to maintain the integrity of that process, and involve the public,’’ he said.
That, Gallo asserted, is one major issue facing the Grammy Awards.
‘‘The toughest question for the Grammys is how do you distinguish that you want to do something new and different from the fact that your true mission is to honor the best,’’ he said.
For Miranda, Radney and Trout (who had tried out for ‘‘Idol’’), merely being given the possible opportunity to sing onstage with ‘‘the best’’ represents a mind-whirling dream.
On Tuesday, the women spoke to The Associated Press just before rehearsing two tunes for the show: one, a classic soul number, and the other, an R&B hit from Timberlake’s Grammy-nominated soul-pop hybrid ‘‘FutureSex/LoveSounds.’’
Trout, with a melodic purr resembling her R&B idol Aaliyah, said that the fact that people from her hometown of Houston have been so excited about her ‘‘My Grammy Moment’’ status has been a ‘‘big shock.’’
Radney, sporting a rich vibrato honed from vocal jazz training and gospel roots, espoused her love of rock and hip-hop, from U2 to Timbaland.
She widened her eyes when asked about auditioning for any reality TV-based competitions.
‘‘‘American Idol’ always seemed like a last resort, if things didn’t work out,’’ she said.
As for Miranda, who lives in New York City, she has been trying to ‘‘make it’’ professionally for the past eight years — showcasing her confident voice in recordings and at shows.
‘‘In this business you live and die by your entertainment age. So that’s one thing that almost kept me from entering the contest,’’ she said. ‘‘I just turned 30 on Christmas Eve. I was so depressed. ... But now, I’ve never been more comfortable in my own skin.’’