'American Soul' Season 1: How Don Cornelius's 'Soul Train' was reimagined in BET's nostalgic new show
The trailer hints at massive nostalgia, so one can only imagine how the music, the bright colors, and the vintage cameras will transport the audience into a nostalgic frenzy
'American Soul' debuts February 5 and excited viewers cannot wait to be transported back in time to the 70s when American households danced and chimed to Don Cornelius' "Souuuuuul Traaain.' Rewinding nearly five decades, BET recreated or perhaps reimagined Don Cornelius along with his 'Soul Train' set, filming mostly in Atlanta.
Sinqua Walls takes on the lead role and channels Cornelius rather precisely with certain hand motions and rhythms, going by what the trailer shows. Taking the help of Cornelius' son, Tony Cornelius, who is also an executive producer of the show, Walls said he studied classic episodes of 'Soul Train,' and conversed with Tony to understand Cornelius' life and the way he elongated certain words like "cool" and "smooth" with ellipses in the speech.
In a recent interview, Walls said he tried to "capture Cornelius’ essence but not ape him." Cornelius was a war veteran who left his wife and two kids behind in Chicago to fulfill his dream, well aware it could tear his personal life apart. He fought against a whitewashed Hollywood to establish African-American culture on mainstream TV. He was successful and very ambitious, and after his personal life fell apart, he took his own life in 2012.
While his biopic itself would make a great story, co-creator Devon Greggory wanted to expand the horizons and looped in other characters including Simone (Katlyn Nichol) and Kendall (Jelani Winston), a teen brother-sister team, to turn the 10-episode series into a coming of age story underlined with a theme of finding your voice in the 1970s against the backdrop of one of the greatest TV sensations in the African-American community.
An insight into the trailer hints at massive nostalgia, so one can only imagine how the music, the bright colors, and the vintage cameras will transport the audience into a nostalgic frenzy. The behind-the-scenes look of the set shows a startling replica of the original set, including the classic 'Soul Train' sign, that made Kelly Price (who plays the aforementioned teens' mom) cry because being there hit her with so many happy memories.
Dubbed "the hippest trip in America," the cast members of the show talks about why 'American Soul' will not disappoint the viewers. The essence of the 70s is also brought in with what was happening in society at that time, be it the shootings, the voting, the politics and the war in Vietnam as the "parallel backdrop."
Price shared about the soulful music of the era and how "stars are born" out of it. Actor Jason Dirden affirmed 'American Soul' is so much more than 'Soul Train' even though the central arc is Cornelius, the show is about how the essence of the '70s is captured. "The way Devon Greggory has developed the show, he's painted this whole world that really encompasses America in the '70s," he said.
'American Soul,' features a star-studded cast including Kelly Rowland, who plays Georgia native Gladys Knight. Michelle Williams, Rowland’s former colleague with Destiny’s Child, will show up later as Diana Ross. Wayne Brady will play Little Richard, Bobby Brown will play Rufus Thomas and actress Gabrielle Dennis will play Tina Turner.
Two episodes air tonight on BET at 9 p.m. ET.