So here it is — the start of ten weeks that aims to repeat the success of the hunt that found Connie Fisher and created a critically-acclaimed West End star. It’s from the same team, and we’re not allowed to forget it: the series’ heritage is worn on its technicolor sleeve from the very first.
This first show concentrated on the initial auditions to find the 100 ‘boys’ for the London callbacks. As with Maria?, and unlike most other talent shows, there’s no celebrity judge involvement at this stage - just casting director David Grindrod. Imagine that — involving a casting director in a casting process. It says something that this seems like a novelty for shows of this type…
With a brief diversion as Andrew Lloyd Webber visits an amateur youth theatre project in Camden. Just his presence there seems to stimulate the whole group and there’s a great atmosphere. “The name’s Cowell. Simon Cowell,” he japes with them. Upon the second visit, to a gospel choir, it’s clear that far from emulating ITV’s Mister Nasty, he’s really interested in inspiring singers to deliver the best out of themselves.
As the auditions progress, both ALW and Tim Rice pop in to the auditions process, and it seems no time at all until all 100 places have been filled. Again, how different from the Cowell approach. No comedy auditionees, no judges’ spats — just concentrating on glimpsing the talent, and moving on so that we have more time to spend finding the top singers from a pool of good potential. That’s why I love this show.
On to the callback process, and here’s where some of the more conventional TV audition techniques get introduced. Kick off with a couple of great performances - check. Unlikely candidate with backstory videotaped with syrupy backing music - check. And gods, is that a Westlife track as he scrapes through to the next round? We’re in no danger of a cheese deficiency, that’s for sure.
After a slew of successful auditions, we start to see some failures. And with the failures, come the begging and the scary girlfriends. For some it works - James and Brendan get through after initially being turned down, but Tom’s backtalk is not so successful. And as for Sarah, the girlfriend who claims to not be scary? Who’d want to be her partner Brendan?
It’s Irish Nick’s turn for his callback. “I think this is impressive,” says Graham Norton, “but it’s very hard to know”. I can’t help thinking that ITV would put Graham on a judging panel… Nick gets through.
One can’t help but feel sorry for Ian, a self-taught amateur who fails to impress the judges. “You’re right, it is unfair,” consoles Graham. “But every other audition process you go through will be like this”.
And that’s the key, isn’t it? Other talent shows help promulgate the notion that a TV talent show is the be-all and end-all, causing failed auditionees to break down as their artficially built-up dreams are shattered. Here, an unsuccessful audition is rightly dealt with as a disappointment, but not a permanent setback.
And so — North Londoners who can’t sing “Close Every Door” notwithstanding — we eventually end up with the fifty boys who are going through into Joseph school. Except, what’s this? Three failed auditionees ‘decide’ to drop in on ALW at his office? And this impromptu visit just happens to coincide with the presence of a TV crew? And, after auditioning, one of them will be given an extra place at Joseph school? That’s not been planned by the TV producers at all, has it. It’s quite disappointing in its transparency, really. Although that won’t stop me crossing my fingers that amateur Ian makes the grade.
All in all, a promising start to what is already proving to be a riveting series. Next week: Joseph school takes
50 51 down to 20, and a performance in front of members of the public, celebrities and Louis Walsh determines the final 12 for the live finals.