LOS ANGELES–Fox executives Monday unveiled their latest reality-TV venture, Appointed By America, a new series in which contestants vie for the top spot in Iraq's post-war government.
"Get ready, America, because you're about to choose the man–or woman–who will lead Iraq into an exciting democratic future," said Fox reality-programming chief Mike Darnell, introducing the show at a press conference. "Will it be Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the exiled Iraqi National Congress? Or General Tommy Franks, commander of the allied forces? Or maybe Roshumba Williams, the Macon, GA, waitress with big dreams and an even bigger voice? Tune in Tuesdays at 9 to see."
Describing the new show as "American Idol meets the reconstruction of Afghanistan," Darnell said Appointed By America will feature contestants squaring off in a variety of challenges, including a democracy quiz, a talent competition, and nation-building activities that will demonstrate their ability to lead a bombed-out, war-ravaged Mideast country.
A panel of celebrity judges will help eliminate two contestants each week, leaving one lucky winner the undisputed leader of Iraq at the end of the season. Viewers can participate by casting phone-in votes, although Darnell noted that voting is restricted to calls originating from within the continental U.S.
U.S. General Jay Garner (Ret.) will host the show under the auspices of the Pentagon. The three celebrity judges, Darnell said, will be choreographer and former Chrysalis recording artist Toni Basil, internationally renowned hairstylist Vidal Sassoon, and television star Kevin Sorbo.
"They really get into it," Darnell said. "Just wait until you see the fur fly between Sassoon and Basil."
Fox entertainment president Gail Berman said the network was inspired to create the show after witnessing its news division's ratings success over the past few months.
"Fox did such huge numbers with its war coverage, we figured, 'Why not find a way to keep this good thing going?'" Berman said. "I'm confident that our loyal Fox News viewers will find that reconstruction can be just as thrilling as destruction."
The first episode has already been taped in front of a live studio audience, though results will remain classified until airtime. The winner of Appointed By America will be sworn in as president of Iraq on June 24 in a gala two-hour season finale broadcast live from Baghdad.
According to Berman, Fox received more than 3,000 applicants for the show during an open casting call. While most of the hopefuls were American or Iraqi, some 600 aspiring rulers from more than 100 nations auditioned for the coveted 20 finalist spots. Contestants included a San Diego interior decorator, a Philadelphia inner-city schoolteacher, and a peshmerga fighter from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Contestant Kymbyrley Lake, a cashier from Garland, TX, said she has a "good feeling" about her chances.
"I just really believe I am going to win this show," Lake said. "I feel it in my heart that Jesus is going to grant me the chance to help all these people. Ever since I was a little girl, I've dreamed of doing something to help bring about a more peaceful world."
Lake just might get her chance. Inside sources say she was among the top five vote-getters in the first episode, with Kurdistan Democratic Party official Fawzi Hariri and pre-Saddam Iraqi minister Adnan al-Pachachi–both early odds-on favorites–scoring low points for stage presence.
At a Pentagon briefing Monday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz gave his blessing to Appointed By America.
"It is great that Fox will play a vital role in post-war Iraq," Wolfowitz said. "Heck, we didn't really know what we were going to do."