A former Chattanoogan who's chasing his music dreams in Nashville is getting an assist from a cable television reality show.
Chris Shupe, who was born and raised in Chattanooga before his family moved to Trenton, Georgia, when he was 5, is a contestant on AXS TV's "Banded: The Musician Competition," which debuted May 13. New episodes air at 9 p.m. Saturdays, leading to the finale July 1.
Shupe, who described himself as a lead singer and guitarist in his taped introduction on the show, said in a phone interview he was singing in a Midtown bar on Nashville's Music Row when a scout in the crowd asked if he'd be willing to audition for the show.
"I was actually going to 'The Voice.' I had made it through to the second round, but you have to move to California to be on that show, and I didn't want to do that," he said of NBC's singing competition.
When he was told "Banded" would be based in Nashville, "I chose this path," he said.
Shupe, 37, made it into the Top 100 contestants and then into the final cut of 25, all of whom moved into a Mount Juliet mansion in August 2022 to begin filming the show's eight episodes, he said. Producers divided the 25 musicians into five bands, each with five members. Each musician has different strengths and talents, but all are able to play, write and sing.
After a day or so of getting to know each other, Shupe said, they were put in a room with Grammy-nominated music producers and told, "Let's get to work."
The members of Shupe's band chose the name Honeysuckle Rose from the show's list of possibilities and decided their sound would be country music, though the drummer has a punk-rock background and another guitarist formerly played metal. Shupe toured for 10 years fronting a rock band, Hour Late, before setting his sights on country music in 2020, when the band was idled during the pandemic.
The biggest challenge for him was sharing lead vocals with the only female member of his group, he said.
"I was not really happy with that in the beginning," he said. "I wanted my own band. I never envisioned being in a band with a girl, but I knew I had to do it. It wasn't really my choice."
He's been surprised by how well the pairing has worked out, comparing the collaboration to "a Lady Antebellum or Fleetwood Mac kind of thing," he said.
He believes the songs they've written have the potential to be Top 10 hits if the band wins a record deal. "They're really, really good," he said.
Producers challenged the bands with different assignments. They might write a love song one week and a rocker the next, performing their latest works in front of live audiences at Nashville Municipal Auditorium, Shupe said. There are no eliminations. Each band continues in the competition until the winner is decided in the finale.
Musician and television personality Brandon Jenner hosts the show, with "American Idol" finalist Didi Benami as co-host. Each week features a roster of mentors and guest judges, including metal icons Vince Neil (Motley Crue) and Kip Winger (Winger, Alice Cooper), country star Steve Azar, rock drummer Mark Schulman (Foreigner, Cher) and musician/event producer Kevin Lyman, the mastermind behind the Vans Warped Tour, a traveling rock festival.
In a news release, Katie Daryl, AXS TV's vice president of programming, praised the "truly talented competitors and world-class mentors onboard."
"'Banded' is the perfect complement to our growing lineup of all-new original music-themed programming, putting a fresh spin on the standard music competition format that brings viewers into the fascinating creative process that each band undertakes," she said.
Shupe, who graduated from Dade County High School, studied cosmetology at Chattanooga State Community College and worked at Hair Benders on Gunbarrel Road before deciding music was his calling, said winning the show would be life-changing.
"Nothing would be the same after that," he said.
In the meantime, the father of two said he values how all 25 contestants came together as a family.
"We all love and support each other," he said. "It's crazy how much talent was in that house."
"Banded: The Musician Competition" airs at 9 p.m. EDT Saturdays on AXS TV, available on Direct TV (channel 340), Dish (167), AT&T U-Verse (1106), Verizon Fios (215), Spectrum (299) or via app.