At 'The Next' Hippodrome taping, four Baltimore singers vie for show's semi-finals

When Joe Jonas, Nelly, Gloria Estefan and John Rich took the stage at the Hippodrome last night, the audience burst into screams and applause.

Most of the excitement was for Jonas and Nelly -- girls proposed and sang the musician's songs to get their attention.

The four celebrities were in town to shoot an episode of "The Next: Fame is at Your Doorstep," the CW’s new summer singing competition. The show features four unsigned artists who have a following in their hometown.

Each of the contestants is matched up with one of a celebrity mentors, and they have 72 hours to prepare for the big performance. At the end of the show, the audience helps choose the person they want to represent their city at the semi-finals in Los Angeles. The winner will get a recording contract with Atlantic Records and be the opening act one of their mentor's shows.

The first performer of the night was Shannon Ramsey, whose mentor was Gloria Estefan. Shannon is the choir director at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and performed inLil Wayne'sSummer Jam Concert. 

Estefan surprised Ramsey at her church and proceeded to sing back up for her with the choir. Then, Shannon taught Estefan how to eat crabs and the two talked about how Shannon could improve her stage presence and image.

Of all the contestants, Ramsey had the biggest makeover -- her once-long hair was gone, and she appeared in a form-fitting black dress. 

Ramsey chose to sing Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger." She kept the audience entertained, and Estefan said, "She looks hot, she sounds beautiful."

Jonas had the most to say about her performance, "You look great and sounded incredible. We were all so captivated. … It was incredible seeing you up there. Everyone was moved."

The next contestant was Jenny Leigh Freeman, a country singer whose music has been played on 93.1 WPOC.

Rich surprised Freeman at a family gathering with a plate of crabs. Freeman said her goal is to get to the next level, musically, but not lose sight of her hometown.

"I'm not going to apologize for being from Baltimore," she said. "It gives me that soul, that flavor."

Freeman performed Miranda Lambert's "Gun Powder and Lead" and captivated the audience with her commanding stage presence. 

"The way you attacked the song from the beginning [to the end], it felt like it was your song," Nelly said. 

Nelly partnered up with Chris Bivins, the third performer of the night. Bivins' song "The Glow" has over 100,000 views on YouTube, and he has performed at a Ravens halftime show.

Nelly worked Bivins pretty hard, getting him to practice dancing and singing at the same time -- an important skill, especially since Bivins wanted to dance when he performed Usher's "More" last night.

At the Hippodrome, the judged felt like Bivins was more concerned with his dance moves than singing the song well. Rich was the first to let him know.

"I respect how seriously you take what you do," Rich said. "The dancing is way better than the singing. There were some weak spots in the singing." 

Jonas agreed. "When you are dancing, make sure you hit those notes." 

The final performer of the night drew the most screams from the audience. Jordan Baird, whose mentor was Jonas, charmed the audience with his good looks and boy-next-door charm.

Baird talked about how he always put his family and church first and now he wants to focus on his music and success. Jonas encouraged him to step outside that realm and do something for himself.

Baird enchanted the crowd with his cover of Gavin Degraw's "Not Over You." His charisma and stage presence seemed like the right formula for a pre-teen heartthrob. 

When the performance was over, the mentors gave him rave reviews.

"You know what you are doing and you connect with everyone," Estefan said. 

Nelly applauded him on his star-like qualities. "You looked like a star and acted like one. You drove the girls nuts. That helps. Your song choice was perfect and showed off your voice [and range]." 

After all the contestants performed, Jonas and Estefan sang "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" together on stage. It felt a bit uncomfortable.

Overall, the judges and the host shared great chemistry. Estefan liked to shoot off jokes while Rich showed off his southern energy and charm. Meanwhile, Jonas and Nelly formed an unlikely bromance.

The show's host, Fuse network host and reporter Allison Hagendorf, had plenty of charm, and seemed genuinely interested in the success of the contestants. 

At the end of the taping, the audience was left wondering who will represent Baltimore in the semi-finals. The results will be revealed when the show airs on Aug. 23.

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