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What Does THIS Have To Do With Music?: Steve Harvey’s Family Feud

By Paulo Camacho

Those who know me know that I’m an avid YouTube watcher. If you’ve followed my blogs in the past, you probably figured that out for yourself, based on articles like this one, or this one, or this one, or even this one.

Like I said — YouTube’s a big part of my free time.

So it would not surprise you to learn that I have been binge-watching compilations of Family Feud moments over the past decade (yes, they have those on YouTube). Family Feud has been a staple of Americana for generations — from the early days of Richard Dawson in the 1970s and 1980s, to the rebooted series hosted by the likes of the guy from “Life With Louie,” Elaine’s eclectic boss from “Seinfeld,” and Al from “Home Improvement.” But Family Feud in the 2010s has been defined by one man: a brilliant stand-up comedian from the early 2000s who is probably more known now for an infamous gaffe at the Miss Universe pageant (and the event never letting him forget it).

I’m talking about one Steve Harvey. Since he started as host of “Family Feud” in 2010, the show has been reinvigorated by a combination of eclectic personalities and a hilariously wholesome host. The Family Feud studio’s move from Universal Studios in Orlando to Atlanta helped create a vivacious new pool of contestants — both engaging and accidentally hysterical.

But what really makes Family Feud’s characters stand out is their knack for musical talent. A surprising number of families take advantage of the show format’s “center stage” introductions in order to show off their musical abilities.

Take gospel singer J.E. McKissic from Texas. He came on with his family to The Feud in 2014 and described himself as a “Sang-Ger” — a slang moniker that Harvey wanted him to elaborate on. He responded with one of the best renditions of “Amazing Grace” to grace the Family Feud stage:

His use of portamento in his vocal performance is typical of Southern Gospel vocalists, and McKissic had obviously been perfecting this style of singing for years. His smooth soul sound, capped off by a fitting falsetto flourish, wowed the studio audience, and visibly stunned Harvey — it was definitely a welcome change for a contestant who was ribbed for unknowingly repeating an answer already on the board.

Then there were acts like Ilio Siolidis — a talented singer/songwriter who confessed to following his dream of being a musician, thanks to the ‘Family Feud’ host:

His soulful sound is a unique blend of R&B, Folk and Jazz. That, combined with a calmly energetic stage presence led to Harvey proclaiming that Ilio had “IT” — roughly speaking, that special, unspoken “thing” that every successful performer has, in order to make it in show business. While this hasn’t translated to any measure of mainstream success since the episode’s recording, the artist known as Ilio Rey has the talent to back up any opportunity that presents itself to him.

Musicians that appear on Family Feud aren’t always vocalists. Take violinist Kari Nelson-Arnold, who appeared on the show in 2015. Based on her website bio, she is originally from Minnesota, and had been playing the violin from the age of 7. While classically trained, spending a majority of her tutelage at the Manitoba Music Conservatory in Canada, she latched onto contemporary performance later in life. Check out her Family Feud appearance:

Her performance was definitely a blend of the classical training she received earlier in life and the contemporary Southern fiddle style required to play songs like “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” As the brother of a musician who studied and played the violin for years, I can recognize that blend in many a violinist, and she definitely has the same mannerisms — proper board fingering, and accuracy (slightly) over showmanship, but with a classic fiddling sound. And a Charlie Daniels song in Atlanta? The best kind of pandering to the crowd.

Then there are acts like the Wardlaw Brothers — a gospel quintet who arrived on the Family Feud in 2015:

Their artist biography describes the act as such:

Often describing themselves as gospel music’s answer to Boyz II Men, Georgia siblings the Wardlaw Brothers create a sound that mixes smooth soul and vocal jazz with classic gospel, filled with the power of the Lord’s message.

And it’s not that far off — the brilliant vocal sounds that perforate from the mouths of these talented singers absolutely ring true as “gospel’s answer to Boyz II Men.” Born and raised in Georgia, they are the sons of a popular Vidalia, Georgia pastor, Rev. Carl Wardlaw, Jr. They were taught the value of musical worship, despite their father paling in comparison in terms of vocal talent. They had gone on to record multiple gospel albums since 2000.