'Taking the Stage': EP Nick Lachey on the show's second take

Nick-Lachey-Taking-the-Stage-MTV-320.jpgMTV's second season of "Taking the Stage" premieres tonight and it has definitely had a makeover.

Season one fans will recognize dancer/playboy Tyler Nelson and singer/drama queen Mia Carruthers, who isn't a regular, but will have a recurring role.

What you won't recognize are the gaggle of new incoming freshmen. Also other than tonight's hour-long premiere episode, the show is also only a half hour this season as opposed to last season's full hour of weekly guilty pleasure. New episodes air an hour later than last season, as well, after "America's Best Dance Crew," so it remains to be seen if its audience will stick around for new episodes in their later time slot.

"Taking the Stage's" virgin season roped us in with its real life "Fame" storylines and diverse cast. Last season, the show performed well among 12-34 year olds in the Nielsen ratings. Each week, those ratings grew and it consistently placed first in its time period at 10 p.m. Can season two recapture the show's former glory?

"Certainly these kids have it," says the show's co-creator and executive producer Nick Lachey. "It's great to see them nurture it and grow it. I think that's intriguing. If you appreciate talent and you appreciate compelling characters, it's a great show."

Zap2it spoke to Lachey about his role in discovering new talent and what makes this season of "Taking the Stage" both different and similar to its first.

How was "The Sing-Off" for you?
I had a blast being a part of that show. Going into it, I was a little nervous about the groups. I didn't know how talented they'd end up being, but I was just blown away at how good they all were and how well they all did on the show.

Both "The Sing-Off" and "Taking the Stage" have brought attention to talent that may not have had a chance before. What does it mean for you to be able to do that for others now?
What I thought was so unique about "The Sing-Off" was that it definitely reminded me of my early days and trying to get discovered and get signed with 98 Degrees. You definitely saw some of yourself in a lot of those groups. It was great to see NOTA have their dream come true and have a chance to become part of the music business.

"Taking the Stage" for me was a true labor of love in that it takes place at my alma mater. I attribute a lot of the success and the reason I'm in this business to begin with to my experience in that school. I thought it was a great opportunity to show how special that school is and give some students there the opportunity to really branch out and expose their talents.

Tyler Nelson and Mia Carruthers are the only cast members from the first season who are returning. What can we expect from them in season two?
It's hard for me to predict what's going to happen this season, because it's still kind of being put together. I'll be as interested as anyone. What happens in the first episode is that Mia graduated, but sort of stayed in town and is rehearsing and performing with her band. And Tyler has come back to SCPA [The School for Creative and Performing arts in Cincinnati, Ohio] for his senior year. It's a little different, obviously, they're not both in school anymore, but they're both still friends and that's where we pick up with them.

Do you have a relationship with Mia as far as mentoring her in her new career?
I've let her know I'm definitely here as a sounding board for her. If she needs advice or wants to use me as a resource, I'm happy to do that. At the same time, I try to stay out of the mix in terms of the show, because I think it's important we let the show evolve and happen organically. I've stayed mostly on the sidelines this time, because I didn't want to be influential in terms of what happened with these kids, their stories and their lives.

So, what you're saying is that this show is a lot less scripted than other MTV reality shows like "The Hills"?
Yeah, I don't know how other shows go about their production. I can only speak to what we do and that's keep it as organic as possible. At the same time, we try to stay as limited as possible, so they don't feel constantly bombarded. Let them have their school experience and, at the same time, when we are filming to let those moments happen as organically as we can.

There are a lot of new cast members this season. Do you think it was a mistake to have so many seniors last season?
No, it's just the way it happened. This is a show that we've been in development with for years now. A lot of these kids when we first met them, they were sophomores and juniors. By the time we were able to get it on the air, they were seniors. Fortunately for the school and the show and for everyone, there's no shortage of talented kids there. We have Tyler and Mia coming back and a lot of new fresh faces, which I think is kind of giving the show a kind of kick in the pants. It's a new kind of fresh blood, a new perspective. I think it has done a lot of good for the show.

MTV-taking-the-stage-320.jpgOne of the storylines that the show promos are teasing is a Carlton vs. Tyler rivalry for the best dancer at SCPA. I've seen the audition special. Do you really think Carlton's talent poses a threat to Tyler?
He's a great character in that he comes from a slightly different background. He's kind of a jockish kind of guy, but loves to dance and loves the performing arts. He's a confident kid and he came in there and wanted to make a splash, certainly he's giving it all he's got. At the end of the day, I don't know who's a better dancer or better performer. They're probably very different performers. He certainly has a brave approach for a new student coming to the school.

One thing Carlton does have over Tyler is the triple threat of dancing, singing and acting. Tyler will be working on that this season, right?
Yeah, I think that's really important for anyone at the school to work on every discipline. Clearly he can dance. I think he has a lot of charisma and he's probably a good little actor. Maybe with the singing, he thought he could work on. It's just a smart move on his part.

Tyler was the heartbreaker of season one and the promos tease some new relationships with the show's newbies. What can we expect in the love department this season?
They're teenagers, so it changes week to week. Certainly Tyler is a hot commodity, a good-looking kid, has a lot of personality and I'm sure he's popular with the ladies. There's no telling where that's going to take him during the year.

In season one, the episodes ended with a cast member's performance that seemed related to whatever drama they were going through. Will that continue in season two?
Yeah. What makes this show special to me is the performing arts aspect of it, so that's never something we want to lose track of and lose in the editing. Performance will continue to be an integral part of what the show's about. We are switching to a different format, to a half hour, which changes the show's format a bit. Performing is always going to be a big part of what the show and the school are about, so that's always going to be there.

"Taking the Stage" season two premieres tonight (Thu. Jan. 28) at 11 p.m. E/P on MTV.

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Photo credit: Olaf Heine / MTV