James Brown, Michael Jackson and Ella Fitzgerald. These are just a few legends to perform at the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. You can now add Bruno Mars to the list. The 5x Grammy Award winner is coming to the Apollo for his first television special called “Bruno Mars: 24K Magic Live At The Apollo.” Mars filmed the special during a few off days from his 24K Magic world tour and the electrifying primetime performance begins with him atop the Apollo’s landmark marquee. The 32-year-old is one of the hottest artists in music today and was just nominated for six Grammys, including Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year.
Mars spoke to CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith about his earliest memories of the Apollo, why this theater is such a magical place and why 24K Magic was the perfect album to use for a TV special.
DJ Sixsmith: How did this special come together on CBS?
Bruno Mars: CBS wanted to rock and I said let’s go. I wish there was a better story, but that’s it.
DS: Everyone has a special connection to the Apollo Theater in Harlem. What are your earliest memories of the Apollo?
BM: Watching “Showtime At The Apollo.” Before “American Idol,” before “The X-Factor” or any kind of singing competition, that’s what I grew up watching. I remember watching that with my family and the laws of “Showtime At The Apollo” were if you got it, they are going to cheer you on and if you don’t, they’re going to let you know that you ain’t sh**. They’ll pull you off and you got to think about another career option maybe. I love that mentality as an entertainer, make sure you go up on that stage and give it to them. If you’re going to do it, do it right because they will let you know. They need to protect that theater at all costs because it’s a magical place and being in there, we felt it. It definitely gave us some other thing when we were performing and I think the audience felt it too. Watching the show in that theater is a special experience. Hopefully we captured that feeling on tape.
DS: You said in the past that you want your music to make people feel things they haven’t felt before. What did you specifically feel when you were on the stage at the Apollo Theater?
BM: Well, can I be honest? Because it’s on TV and we didn’t want any footage of it to get out there, so we asked people to put their phones away. That experience alone is something that I haven’t felt in a long time. Even watching the footage back, seeing people dance and not holding their phones up, it almost looked vintage. You don’t see that anymore. It was nice that people weren’t trying to get the shot or trying to post it anywhere. They were really in the moment and that made us as a band be in the moment because we are looking at people who are dancing and we are seeing the smiles on their faces and people reacting to whatever we are doing on stage. Sometimes cell phones block that. It was nice to be in a controlled environment where people were in there to have a good time and party and that was it.
DS: You spent some time in Harlem interacting with the locals. What was it like to get to know the people of Harlem and the borough itself?
BM: It was just cool to be driving around Harlem and talking to people in Harlem because it felt like they embraced us with open arms. Everywhere we went it was like “Yo Bruno, welcome to Harlem.” I don’t see that happening in Burbank, it was cool. We felt the love and it gave us this vibe to go perform the show and pass out tickets and we tried to bring as many people from Harlem to the show. It was exciting to be able to get out there and tell people to bring their friends and their family to the show. It was magical.
DS: What was the biggest surprise to you about the whole experience?
BM: That we pulled it off. You never know what things are going to look like or feel like. I was just happy that we were able to do it. We captured it. I guess that’s what you want when you are doing TV because it’s hard to replicate the feeling of being in the room. Sometimes, you perform and say “man that felt great” and then I’ll watch it later and think “Oh, that’s not what it felt like” or “I could have done better.” This is something that I feel like we came prepared for… At this very moment in time, it felt like the right opportunity. It felt like the right thing to do with the right album.
DS: What was the biggest challenge you faced in putting this project together?
BM: Being on tour. We had a couple of days off and we turned those days off into a TV special. It would’ve been much easier for us to throw some cameras up at one of these venues we’re playing at on the road and put that out. I felt like that wasn’t enough. It needed to be something unique and different and it needed to get people excited. Hopefully, it’ll feel a little bit more intimate and up close being in the theater setting.
DS: What do you want people to be thinking about by the end of the show?
BM: The message is all about this album and giving people the visuals of what I wanted to do with this album, the vibe that I wanted to create, the environment and the world I wanted to create with this feel good R&B. This band is relentless and they’re going to get you moving and they are going to be draped and cloaked in chains. I hope it is going to tie everything in. Maybe there are going to be some people that say “Oh, now that I see it, I understand. I understand what this whole message was about.” It’s just about this feel good music, bringing people together and getting everybody dancing under one roof.
“Bruno Mars: 24K Magic Live At The Apollo” airs Wednesday, November 29 from 10-11pm EST/PST on CBS.