“Who wants to be queen for a day?”

For more than two decades Jack Bailey, the pioneering American game-show host, asked that question on the popular program, “Queen for A Day.” Now a new stage musical puts the spotlight on the iconic game show that started in radio in 1945, moved to television in the1950s and became the forerunner to reality TV.

“Bailey was a true original,” said Alan Thicke, 65, who portrays the groundbreaking American figure on stage in “Queen for a Day: The Musical.”

“Bailey started out as a carnival barker and worked in vaudeville. He had his highs and lows in the business, and was one of the first people in the industry to talk openly about his alcoholism,” Thicke told CTVNews.ca on Thursday.

“But what made Bailey so different is that he had real empathy for his contestants, who came on to his show to tell their life stories – most of which were real hard-luck tales,” he said.

Each day Bailey would choose three or four women from the audience after he opened with his signature line, “Who wants to be queen for a day?”

These contestants poured out their hearts about their lives and why they deserved to win a prize. The contestant who received the loudest applause from the audience would win the show.

“Every day 2,000 women would come down to the studio for a chance to be on air,” said Thicke.

“Many of their stories were heart-wrenching. But Bailey never made it maudlin. He entertained you, but had real compassion for the people he talked to on air. That’s tough to do,” said Thicke, who launched his own career in the 1970s hosting the TV game show “First Impressions,” in Montreal.

According to Thicke, today’s reality shows owe a lot to forerunner “Queen for a Day.”

“You can trace the whole idea of extreme makeovers shows back to the format of ‘Queen for a Day,’” said Thicke.

“The show tried to brighten people’s lives with the prizes they gave, whether it was a washer someone longed for or something a mother wanted for a child,” he said.

The actor’s latest project, “Queen for a Day: The Musical” makes its world premiere on Sept. 26 at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, in Richmond Hill, Ont.

The boisterous production takes place in Hollywood circa 1953 and centres on Claribel Anderson (Blythe Wilson), an outgoing woman who goes on the show and finds her 15 minutes of fame.

With her new celebrity, however, Claribel begins to re-evaluate her as a woman living in conservative, 1950s America.

“There’s an undercurrent in the show that involves some sociological issues of the 1950s. That’s what makes it interesting to watch,” Thicke said on Thursday on CTV’s Canada AM.

“Back then, women were perceived as housewives in America and not much more,” said Thicke

Showcasing that issue appealed to the star is who best remembered for his portrayal of affable dad, Jason Seaver, on the 1980s sitcom, “Growing Pains.”

The chance to sing in a musical premiere also grabbed Thicke’s interest.

“I like a challenge,” Thicke, a native son of Kirkland Lake, Ont, told CTVNews.ca.

“At this stage in my career, it’s not about the fame or money. It’s about the challenge. I’m still looking for that everywhere I go,” he said.