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Menudo prepares for return

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NEW YORK (Billboard) -- In its heyday, Menudo caused stampedes, played stadiums around the world and sold millions of records.

In the process, the Latin American boy band became an instantly recognizable mainstream brand -- one that Epic Records, MTV and producer Ben Silverman ("Ugly Betty," "The Office") are reincarnating for the digital age.

In a model that Epic Records president Charlie Walk called "the future of our business," the company has an equity stake in the Menudo brand, which investment group Menudo Entertainment acquired in 2003.

Epic will sign a bilingual version of the Latin-pop phenomenon. Auditions have not yet begun, but the group's first album already is slated for release in late 2007.

Unlike the bubble-gum pop of Menudos past, the new five-person group will have a Latin-infused R&B sound. Johnny Wright, who has managed acts from New Kids on the Block to 'N Sync and Justin Timberlake, will manage the new Menudo.

Meanwhile, MTV and Silverman's company Reveille will co-produce 10 episodes of a reality show documenting the band's development. The show will debut on MTV in the fall of 2007.

Walk would not enumerate Epic's stake, but the deal would give Epic a cut of such Menudo byproducts as touring, merchandise, ringtones, a cartoon series or other sources of branded revenue that might arise.

A partnership with a clothing retailer and a wireless provider are in the works, Epic senior vice president of marketing Lee Stimmel says.

Silverman, whose previous MTV projects include "Parental Control" and "Date My Mom," says parents who were fans of the original Menudo will be incorporated into the MTV show's storyline. And, as with "Ugly Betty," the series will feature Latin characters with crossover appeal.

"I think the markets are colliding," says Silverman, whose company controls international distribution rights for the Menudo program.

Formal auditions for boys ages 15 to 19 will begin at San Juan's Coliseo de Puerto Rico Saturday and will continue in San Diego, Orlando, Chicago and other locations in coming months, Menudo Entertainment principal Jeff Weiner says. MTV Tr3s, the new channel aimed at U.S. Latinos, will give audition news and updates, as well as air a "Road to Menudo" special before the series debuts on MTV.

The network is also looking into possible rebroadcasts of episodes in Spanish and other ways to incorporate MTV Tr3s. "We know the audience goes back and forth between both of these (channels)," MTV president Christina Norman says.

Sony BMG/U.S. Latin president Kevin Lawrie hopes the new Menudo will hit "right in that sweet spot with Latin that can be embraced by everybody."

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Menudo fans

Two fans hold an old photo of Menudo at a 1999 Ricky Martin concert. Martin is one of many to come through the group.

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