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'American Idol'-Style Show to Air on Religious Music Channel

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NEW YORK ( -- Ford Motor Co. will be the lead sponsor an American Idol-style gospel music show set to debut in September on the Gospel Music Channel.
The new branded entertainment show 'Gospel Dreams 2005' is being called an 'American Idol' for the gospel set.

According to the Atlanta-based cable channel, Ford has signed on for Gospel Dream 2005, a talent search for new gospel singers from any number of genres from rock to country. Ford has not yet determined which vehicle will be promoted during the show, which begins airing Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. A Ford spokesman was not immediately able to comment on the deal.

Ford is also one of three sponsors of the Fox Network's top-rated American Idol.

Churches and radio stations
The Gospel Music Channel will promote Gospel Dream with the help of local churches and radio stations. Auditions for the contest begin in July, and 100 singers from 10 top markets will be whittled down to a final 10 contestants. A two-part finale will be held in Atlanta and will air Dec. 8.

The Gospel Music Channel said Ford made a multiyear commitment to the channel. The network's vice chairman, Brad Siegel, told last week during the National Cable & Telecommunications Association conference: "Gospel Dreams is a branded-entertainment series. It's American Idol for the gospel set. There will be product placement, and Ford will be the exclusive auto sponsor."

Not a niche programmer
Mr. Siegel said the majority of U.S. households define themselves as Christians. "That's not [a] niche," he said.

The Gospel Music Channel features young singers in videos that are hard to distinguish from those on any other youth-oriented music channel. Eight percent of all music sold in the U.S. is classified as gospel music.

Mr. Siegel, a former president of the Turner Entertainment Network, said the Gospel Network has signed other advertisers, including Sony Pictures and Reckitt Benckiser, a maker of household cleaning products. The Gospel Music Channel debuted in October and reaches 1.6 million homes and is on track to reach 4.5 million homes by the end of the year. The channel is backed by two companies, Alpine Equity Partners and Constellation Ventures.

Recognizing Americans' beliefs
Media companies and advertisers are beginning to recognize Americans' religious beliefs, especially Christianity. Almost 9 million people tuned in April 8 to broadcast and cable networks coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II. NBC is airing a miniseries, Revelations, beginning tonight, which will try to tap into the same audience that has made best-sellers of The Da Vinci Code and the Left Behind series of books.

Christian groups are also updating their images to reach wider audiences. Even Christian publishers have repackaged the Bible to look more modern.

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