ORLANDO, Fla. – The Wright Entertainment Group, best known for managing the careers of sexy teen stars such as Britney Spears and ‘N Sync, is negotiating to create a Christian version of the popular TV show “American Idol.”

The show, to be called “Gifted,” is scheduled to debut in October on Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest religious television network.

A spokesman for Orlando-based Wright Entertainment, Philip McIntyre, confirmed Thursday that the company is part of a joint venture with Matt Crouch, son of the founders of Trinity Broadcasting Network, to create the talent-search show.

A spokesman for Fox Television, which produces “American Idol,” declined to comment on the Christian version.

One strategy for interweaving religion with popular culture is involving recognizable stars and personalities.

In a June 22 letter addressed to pastors, Wright and Crouch said the purpose of including “mainstream market “A-list’ celebrities” on “Gifted” is to give “a “cool’ face to being true to your faith.” None of the celebrities are named in the documents.

Plans for the show include a cross-country, summer bus tour to 11 Trinity stations where auditions will be held for solo singers, ages 18-24.

The tour, which is scheduled to begin July 26, will stop in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New York, California and Washington state. The contestants will perform gospel or contemporary spiritual songs.

Before every audition, the show’s producers plan to canvass large congregations, college campuses and youth programs. At each stop, two finalists will be chosen, and when the tour is complete, 24 will be flown to Hollywood. They will perform before a live studio audience, where they will be critiqued by celebrity judges.

Eight winners will go on to the finals, where the television audience will choose the ultimate winner, whose career will then be managed by Wright and Crouch.

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Both are experienced hands in the music and entertainment business.

Wright has managed such artists as Justin Timberlake, Boyz II Men and P.Diddy, and is now working on re-launching the Backstreet Boys.

Crouch has long been known as an innovator in Christian entertainment. He began doing a show on Trinity featuring Christian music videos in the 1990s. His 1999 feature film, “The Omega Code,” earned $12 million at the box office in the United States. Several years ago, he developed a television show for Trinity loosely based on the hit reality show “Amazing Race,” using young missionaries as contestants.

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Crouch learned about television at his parents’ knees.

Trinity Broadcasting Network, which is based in Costa Mesa, Calif., began with a single station in Orange County, Calif., founded by Paul and Jan Crouch and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in 1973.

The Bakkers left the station in an acrimonious dispute, founding their own television ministry, PTL, in Charlotte, N.C. While PTL ultimately dissolved in scandal, Trinity has grown to hundreds of stations in the United States, and hundreds more around the world. The network also is carried on many cable and satellite systems

Trinity estimates its audience in the millions. In 1994, Trinity purchased Twitty City, the estate of country singer Conway Twitty, and turned it into an entertainment and production complex.



(Orlando Sentinel correspondent Hal Boedeker contributed to this report.)



(c) 2004, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

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AP-NY-06-17-04 2037EDT



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