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Fox to launch singing contest tied to hit series 'Empire'

The end of “American Idol” isn’t stopping Fox from searching for the next singing star.

The network is using its soapy hip-hop musical “Empire,” which broke out as the year’s biggest TV phenomenon, to anchor a 15-city bus tour in search of a vocalist.

Dubbed “Fox’s Next Empire Artist,” the contest launches July 16 in Los Angeles and will have a gold “Empire” bus outfitted with a recording studio travel across the U.S., the network announced Thursday.

Fans will have the chance to record their versions of the series’ biggest hits on the bus, but those who record an a capella take on one of the songs from the show can enter the contest in which the winner will appear as an Empire Entertainment artist during Season 2.  

The bus will travel to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Dallas, New Orleans, Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.,  New York City and Boston. Specific locations in each city have yet to be announced.

Packed with drama, go-for-broke camp and original music, "Empire" became one of the early hits of the year. The show generated a social media buzz to match its high ratings and enjoyed unprecedented audience growth week after week. However, there were questions of whether the show could translate that success to its music.

But with original songs overseen by producer Timbaland (Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Justin Timberlake) with partner Jim Beanz, and the show's label partner Columbia Records releasing music after each episode -- as it had with “Glee” -- "Empire" proved itself as a viable musical property. Breakout stars Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray were also signed to solo deals.

The compilation of the show's original music — including appearances from guest stars Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Courtney Love and Estelle — opened atop the Billboard 200 when it was released in March.

It was the first time a TV soundtrack debuted on top of the charts since 2010, when “Glee” had three of its compilations hit No. 1.

Smollett and Gray have landed high-profile performance slots on “Ellen,” “American Idol,” the Billboard Music Awards and recently the BET Awards. No one from the cast has yet cut solo records in the wake of the show’s success, but it’s expected after Season 2.

The idea of a singing competition spin-off may feel premature for a series that’s logged only one season of riches. But how do you build an empire without risk?

For more music news follow me on Twitter: @gerrickkennedy

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