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Audible Announces Judges and Host for First-Ever Audio-Only Singing Competition Series

By Tammy Reese







Audible Inc., the leading creator and provider of premium audio storytelling, today announced the judges for Breakthrough, the first-ever singing competition series developed and launched exclusively as a podcast. Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress and musician Sara Bareilles, and Grammy Award-winning singer and actress Kelly Rowland have signed on to judge the show.

The pair will mentor and guide the performances as well as the artistic development of five artists through a season of musical challenges-- all while each contestant’s physical appearance is concealed, allowing listeners to connect with these undiscovered performers exclusively through their music.

“I am so thrilled to be joining this group of wildly talented people for Breakthrough!” said, Sara Bareilles. “I love that the creative team are on the same journey as our audience - getting to know these artists without seeing them - developing a sense of their artistry through only their music and storytelling. These five incredible souls showed up to each challenge with courage and vulnerability that invited us all into a remarkably intimate space, and I learned so much from them. No matter where you are in your career it is always inspiring to witness someone reach for the deepest parts of themselves and be willing to share that tender space.”

“I am so happy to be a part of this series that highlights and gives a voice to emerging artists,” shared Kelly Rowland. “Audible is an ideal space for this and Breakthrough is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to up-and-coming musicians. I’m rooting for them all!”

Along the way, Grammy and Tony Award-winning host Daveed Diggs will escort listeners on the contestants’ journeys as they learn from industry notables. At the end of the competition, one artist will be crowned the winner of Breakthrough.

Over the course of nine episodes, the artists will be challenged with covering well-known tunes that mean the most to them, stretching to genres outside of their comfort zones, and writing and recording hooks and full original songs. Mid-season prizes, including additional vocal coaching sessions, studio recording time, and recording equipment, will be awarded during each challenge.



“With our long-standing, highly popular Words + Music series and our newer Origins series, Audible has created a unique auditory experience for our listeners. Breakthrough pushes the boundaries of audio even further and invites music lovers to participate in the first of its kind, audio-only singing competition,” said Zola Mashariki, Head of Audible Studios. “We are excited to have the immensely talented Kelly Rowland, Sara Bareilles, and Daveed Diggs guide the contestants as they hone their musical abilities and learn from some of the top artists in the music business.”

“Sara, Kelly, and Daveed bring such unique industry experience and incredible insight to this brand-new format in the podcast space,” said Will Malnati Founder & CEO of AT WILL MEDIA. “We are thrilled that, along with the fearless and forward-thinking team at Audible, and these incredible mentors and host, we are able to give listeners a chance to experience artists’ growth in a medium that strips away the bright lights and big stage, and allows us to focus on their raw, natural talent.”

Breakthrough expands upon Audible’s mission to amplify and give a voice to emerging talent, offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to up-and-coming musicians.

The new Audible Original, is created in collaboration with AT WILL MEDIA, an award-winning independently-owned podcast studio with a focus on original scripted and non-fiction podcasts. Will Malnati, Founder & CEO of AT WILL MEDIA, serves as co-creator and executive producer alongside TV/film producer Ethan Russell. Breakthrough is also executive produced by Alex Pall and Drew Taggart of Grammy Award-winning and Billboard Chart-topping artist/producer duo, The Chainsmokers, along with Adam Alpert and Dan Marcus via their production company, KICK THE HABIT PRODUCTIONS. In addition, Charles Boyd, whose credits include “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” serves as Showrunner and EP, along with EP Peter Toumbekis. The deal was brokered by UTA, which represents AT WILL MEDIA and Breakthrough.


Audible, Inc., an, Inc. subsidiary (NASDAQ:AMZN), is the leading creator and provider of premium audio storytelling, offering customers a new way to enhance and enrich their lives every day. Audible content includes more than 760,000 audio programs from leading audiobook publishers, broadcasters, entertainers, magazine and newspaper publishers, and business information providers.


One of the fastest growing independently owned podcast studios in the U.S., AT WILL MEDIA is an award-winning production company with offices in Manhattan and Los Angeles, founded in 2016 by CEO Will Malnati. AT WILL MEDIA’s diverse slate of non-fiction and scripted originals consists of the Webby and Ad-Age award-winning WILD THINGS, an Apple TV+ docu-series exploring the lives of famed magicians Siegfried and Roy (now in scripted TV development with AppleTV+ alongside Imagine Entertainment), UNSEALED: THE TYLENOL MURDERS with the Chicago Tribune, and the Audible Original KOZ, starring Taylor Kitsch and Kate Mara. AT WILL MEDIA is repped by Oren Rosenbaum at UTA.


Will Malnati started his creative career at Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's production company LivePlanet before going on to grow famed Boston-based restaurant brand TORO, which earned him a spot on both the Zagat and Forbes’ 30 under 30 lists. Malnati is the Founder & CEO of award-winning podcast studio AT WILL MEDIA. In addition to Audible, he has created strategic partnerships with industry leaders, including Amazon Studios, Netflix, Apple TV+, FX, Wondery, Sony, Audible, iHeart Media, Spotify, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Will is a graduate of Cornell University.


Ethan Russell is a Film and Television producer based in Brooklyn, NY. He currently works with AT WILL MEDIA on creating unique formats for the audio space.


Founded in 2017, Kick The Habit Productions is the film, television, podcast and digital production company of The Chainsmokers. Their first theatrical feature film WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS was released in 2020 and currently lives on Amazon. They have other projects in development at TriStar Pictures, Amazon Studios, 3BlackDot & Village Roadshow. KICK THE HABIT PRODUCTIONS is repped by CAA.


Kelly Rowland is a four-time Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, actress, television executive producer, NY Times Best-Selling author, and a global pop superstar. On her own, she is a platinum-certified recording artist with over 40 million records sold. But she’s also known as a founding member of Destiny’s Child, one of the best-selling female groups of all time. Kelly Rowland has released four successful studio albums and an EP, all of which have topped music charts in several countries around the globe. Kelly has guest starred on several hit sitcoms including “American Soul,” “Being Mary Jane,” “LA’s FINEST” as a recurring guest opposite Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba, and became an Executive Producer of her very own docu-series, “Chasing Destiny.”

She co-produced a digital series called “MILK + HONEY” with EP’s Idris Elba and Issa Rae. She has been a judge for the immensely popular shows, The X Factor (UK 2011) and the U.S. version of The X Factor (2013), and as a guest mentor on NBC’s The Voice (U.S.) working alongside Jennifer Hudson in 2017. She joined the lineup as a judge on The Voice Australia in 2020. She is a NY Times Best-Selling author for her book, “Always With You, Always With Me,” and has starred and executive produced a trilogy of holiday films for Lifetime; “Merry Liddle Christmas”, “Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding” and “Merry Liddle Christmas Baby.”


Sara Bareilles has received two Tony Award nominations, three Primetime Emmy Award nominations and nine Grammy Award nominations, garnering a 2020 Grammy in the category of Best American Roots Performance for her song “Saint Honesty”, and a 2023 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album for Into The Woods. On Broadway, she composed music and lyrics for Waitress, and stepped into the lead role in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. Other musical credits include a song on the Tony Award-nominated score for SpongeBob SquarePants and Emmy Award-nominated appearance as Mary Magdalene in NBC's Jesus Christ Superstar Live. Bareilles produced original music and executive produced the musical drama series Little Voice, teaming up with Jessie Nelson, J.J. Abrams and Apple. She plays Dawn Solano on the Emmy-nominated musical comedy series Girls5eva, and recently stared as The Baker’s Wife in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods.


Grammy and Tony Award winning actor, rapper, writer and producer Daveed Diggs is widely known for originating the dual roles of Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in the Broadway sensation, HAMILTON. He received a Grammy and Tony Award in 2016 for his stage performance in addition to a 2021 Primetime Emmy Award nomination for the Disney+ version.

This Spring, Diggs will star in the live-action film adaptation of Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID, where he will voice the role of Sebastian, directed by Rob Marshall and releasing on May 26, 2023. He will also star in AppleTV’s “Extrapolations," which will begin streaming on March 17th, 2023. Diggs serves as the co-creator, co-executive producer and writer of the Starz series, “Blindspotting,” which will premiere its second season at SXSW this March before premiering on air this Spring. Additionally, he lends his voice to Apple TV+’s hit animated musical sitcom, “Central Park,” he will also lend his voice to Disney+’s new drama series, “The Crossover.”


Grammy Award-winning and Billboard Chart topping artist/producer duo, The Chainsmokers, have evolved into a dominating musical force with a diverse repertoire of songs that have led them to become one of music’s hottest recording artists. Comprised of Alex Pall and Drew Taggart, their signature sound deftly reaches across indie, progressive and pop realms and has seen them develop some of the biggest breakthrough songs over the course of the last few years. Starting with their success in 2016 of 3 Multi-Platinum certified hits - “Roses,” featuring Rozes, “Don’t Let Me Down” featuring Daya, and “Closer,” featuring Halsey, which went on to become the longest running #1 single of 2016 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Since then, the group has released three albums. In April 2017, their debut album titled Memories…Do Not Open, that debuted at #1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 chart. Followed by Sick Boy in December 2018. These albums culminated Multi-Platinum smash hits “Paris” and “Something Just Like This” featuring Coldplay, “This Feeling,” featuring Kelsea Ballerini and many more. In 2019, the duo released new their building third album, World War Joy, which boasted Multi-Platinum certified singles “Who Do You Love” featuring 5 Seconds of Summer, “Call You Mine” featuring Bebe Rexha, and “Takeaway” with ILLENIUM featuring Lennon Stella. They rounded out 2019 with their headlining “WORLD WAR JOY” 42 city North American arena tour, while also maintaining their extended residency at the Wynn in Las Vegas. In 2022, they released their fourth album “So Far So Good” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Electronic Albums chart. THE CHAINSMOKERS are repped by CAA.

Follow along on this musical journey when Breakthrough premieres, exclusively from Audible on June 1, 2023:

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Tammy Reese began her career as a theater actress performing in 60 live stage shows a year with The Media Unit TV and Stage Production Company. She also directed the weekly live TV show Rough Times Live.

Eventually, she went to Empire State College to obtain her degree in media studies. After graduation, she did more theater and wrote and produced her own videos to spread awareness on social issues through the arts.

Tammy is an award-winning journalist and is best known for her legendary interviews with Sigourney Weaver, Meagan Good, Jennifer Connelly, Laurence Fishburne, Mona Scott- Young, Geena Davis, Essie Davis, Vivica A. Fox, Omar Epps, Joseph Sikora, Nelly, Ryan Coogler, Carmen Electra, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Giancarlo Esposito, Dedee Pfeiffer, Leon, Patina Miller, La La Anthony, Neyo, Britt Lower, Michael James Shaw, Aleks Paunovic, Courtney Kemp, Janet Hubert, Tom Arnold, Michole Briana White, Matt Cedeño, Raven Goodwin, Amber Riley, Ross Marquand, Merritt Wever and many more.

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