Winston Howard didn't know what he was signing up for when he applied to be on a Fox game show, nor did he expect an interview a month later.
The former Rochester dance instructor who now lives in Australia and teaches dance there only knew the network was looking for Americans. He thought the casting call was a scam at first.
“A lot of us thought it was a trap to catch Americans,” Howard joked. “I didn’t think we had done anything wrong … It wasn’t until I had the Zoom call for them to tell me what it was and for me to relax a little bit. But even going in, we were like ‘Are they still trying to trap us?’ ”
What Howard found out after that Zoom call last summer was that he was auditioning for Fox’s new game show "Name That Tune." After several more interviews throughout the summer and fall, Howard found out he made the show, which aired Wednesday, Feb. 3.
“This was an opportunity to do something completely different than what I’ve done in my life,” he said.
Originally from Richmond, Calif., Howard and his family moved to Rochester when he was 10, and he went on to attend Mayo High School. He later got into dance, and taught ballroom and Latin partnership dance at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Rochester.
When Howard visited friends in Australia a few years ago, he started touring local dance studios. He was offered a job at QuickSteps Dance Club Studio in Adelaide, and “couldn’t refuse it.”
His background in dance was hyped by the "Name That Tune" producers, who had him do a brief dance routine with show host Jane Krakowski. Howard said he was nervous about it, but he wasn’t unfamiliar with performing in front of an audience.
“I knew how to not let it show on my face,” he said. “Thankfully, Jane has a lot of dance experience, so it was easy for her, and to make it stand out.”
When it came to the actual competition, Howard felt confident. He said he was “out for blood” during the trial runs with other contestants and performed very well. He thought growing up listening to classic rock and old- and new-school funk would help in a game show solely based on naming songs played by an onstage band or orchestra.
"Name That Tune" pits two contestants head-to-head while listening to five tunes, each tune worth $1,000, $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 and $6,000, with a top prize of $100,000 in the final round.
During the "Bid-a-Note" phase, contestants bid to see who can name the tune with the fewest notes. Each tune is worth $10,000, and the value increases by $5,000 per subsequent tune. Whoever had the highest earnings leading up to the final round proceeded for a chance at the grand prize.
The episode was filmed in December, and Howard competed against a fellow Minnesota native, Tim Ruff, whom Howard recognized early on as someone he didn’t want to face.
“I was kind of loud and out there, and he was kind of quiet. And most everybody in that room, I was like ‘Yeah, I can beat them.’ I sized everybody up,” Howard said. “I knew who I wanted to go up against, and I knew who I didn’t want to go up against, and Tim was someone who I didn’t want to go up against. I knew he was someone who had a lot of knowledge, and he was way too calm.”
Howard performed well, even though he trailed Ruff for most of the competition. Naming “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in four notes gave him a chance at $100,000, but he fell short when he couldn’t name Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” in four notes.
“Completely had no clue what that last one was,” Howard said.
Ruff went on to win the competition, walking away with $123,000, while Howard walked away with empty pockets.
Howard said it was still an amazing experience, and he got to meet Randy Jackson in the process. But Howard is hungry for vengeance against Ruff and another shot at "Name That Tune."
“I’ll be back for more,” he said.