Thursday, 26 July 2012

Superstar: Ben wins the crown of thorns

Ben Forster has won the title role in the forthcoming arena tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar.

In an emotional final last night, in which all three finalists fluffed up at some point, Ben's solo performance of Who Wants To Live Forever false started as he missed his cue. However, he recovered with a stunning vocal, full of passion and strength, to put the pressure onto Roger and Rory.

Rory chose a favourite of mine, I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing, but I don't think it showed him at his best, not quite as smooth as usual and without the impact of the night before. With Dawn hanging onto every note, Roger had me, her and Mel all smiling soppily with a lovely, warm performance of Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me with even a couple of duff notes not detracting overall.

Definitely all feeling the pressure then, when it was time for the Gethsemane test, the famously difficult solo from the show, requiring a massive range, stamina and emotional depth. After the happy clappy opening of Hosanna, this is the one they wanted spot on. It was, including the three sweetest screams in the whole competition. All of them nailed it, while at the same time sounding so individual.

Multiple standations occurred, including for Mel who performed I Don't Know How To Love Him, accompanied by Andrew. I wouldn't say she was the greatest vocalist but it was rocky with a soft edge, with power and doubt in equal measure.

With Roger announced in third place - they could''ve shortened the programme by ten minutes and just announced the winner really, I always think singling one out is a bit unfair - Ben and Rory were practically exploding with anticipation when Amanda finally proclaimed Ben the winner.

Talking of Amanda, wasn't it nice that she got into the whole spirit of the thing by wrapping herself in silver foil, like an oven ready turkey? Or a cracker if I'm being less bitchy. Loved her hair though.

Ben will now join Mel and Andrew for rehearsals, with the tour set to begin in London, at the O2 on 21st September.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Superstar: The Final Cometh!

Yes, it's tonight at 9pm and our Jesus Christ Superstar crowned will be either Ben, Rory or Roger.

But first, cast your minds back to Friday and the double elimination episode, which resulted in Jeff and Jon leaving the competition, after The Lord saved Roger following their rendition of Could We Start Again Please. Both put in good performances, especially Jeff, a proper rocker although I felt the screams were a little week. The energy for Whole Lotta Love was terrific and a great performance which earned a standation from the panel. Jon had some nice moments with Still Haven't Found but overall it was just that, nice. Thought Andrew was a bit unfair though.

Roger, although not 100% (and it showed in the sing off) melted almost everybody with Feeling Good. Dawn French cracks me up; they need her on every reality show panel. Ben was Cold as Ice - I wouldn't like to have been in the shoes of the person he was singing about. Brrrr. Another standation earned.

Rory was much more expressive and vocally supreme with Silenced by the Night, while David silenced me with Apologize - I just love watching him totally sing me the story. It's like Jackanory** set to music. Nathan was in his element with Sweet Child of Mine. Another standation and destined to be a star I think, he doesn't miss a beat.

They all hast a blast with Pinball Wizard to open the show; had everyone bouncing around in their seats *groan*

** A children's TV storytelling show with celebrity narrators back in the day ...

Onto Monday and no surprise really, that Nathan went. After the comments from Andrew and a VT of him talking about himself versus the others' VTs of them working with the backstage people, it was a no brainer.

It all started well enough, with We Are Young showing them all so at home on the stage. Nathan himself, got us under way with a damn fine version of Born This Way leaving me scratching my head at first, trying to place the song. Rock Gospel, inspired. But why tweet a pic of yourself in a crown of thorns. We know it's a tongue in cheek joke, Nathan, but Some People Take Things Far Too Seriously - so why risk it?

Roger injected soul into classic Brit Pop song Handbags and Gladrags, causing Dawn to surrender herself unto him once more. David was impressive, with possibly my favourite performance by him of Too Close. He's already a God. It's an advert Mel, even I've heard of it, come on.

Rory wasn't Under Pressure at all, he well and truly got me there. Fabulous. Ben, as ever, stunned with another massive performance - as Dawn said, turning It Must Have Been Love, an 80s film sountrack pop song into a James Bond theme.

They sang Greatest Day with Gary Barlow before we confirmed what we knew already - Nathan in the bottom two, with Roger, singing Love Changes Everything. And we have our semi final four.

And what a fantastic semi final it was! From the opening group number of What's The Buzz, each of them performed out of their skin.

Rory was pure and brilliant, like a tin of Dulux white, as he entranced us with Something in the Air Tonight; Ben just needed a bright light around his hair, so awe inspiring was his version of Run; Roger was rawwwwww and way Too Hard to Handle, like a black Tom Jones but 30 years younger. If ever a performance would see him out of the bottom two, this was it. Electrifying. David had to follow that lot and for me, he totally did, giving us his own unique and special take on Macy Gray's I Try, superbly acted and vocally perfect. A triumph.

No Matter What was the sing off song choice and at this stage it was anybody's game - the general feeling was that we'd see Roger there again but no! He was sent straight through with Ben and it was Rory versus David. Rory's arenability won out for him - but The Lord is tempted to do a run of Sunset Boulevard and David would be his first casting decision.

An exciting final lies ahead, although the favourite would have to be Ben, the only one never to be in the bottom two. 9pm tonight, ITV1 - catch up with all the performances here.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Superstar: Tim and Niall leave the show

I'm in catch up mode at the moment, on account of this - the day job, having to go to all the Rochester Castle Concerts (Alexander O'Neal and Billy Ocean tonight. Someone's got to do it!) so I'm reviewing from the website.

And how bad do I feel, I, who has voted for Niall every night. I go out and look what happens? Sorry Niall. But before he left, it was Tim's turn, having faced David in the Sing Off. So distraught was our Lord, he changed the elimination to the end of the show instead of the beginning!

They sang The Long and Winding Road, with Andrew deciding with his producer's hat on: David was saved.

The group song was Viva La Vida and another impressive turn as a group. Niall went first in the solos, with, I thought, a strong performance of One. I think it's the judges comments that done for him. Rory's version of Roxanne I wasn't too impressed with, and not surprised to see him join Niall at the bottom. It lacked expression. In fact, I almost fast forwarded, having got a bit bored.

David handled the pressure superbly, a gutsy performance of One Day Like This. Jon was better than the night before, with I Won't Let You Go - lay off the falsetto though! Ben with This Love was another good interpretation, he's a good each way bet. Nathan with How To Save Your Life was captivating - exactly what I needed to hear, very subtle, less is more, softly softly, with just an itsy bitsy scream.

Roger and Here I Go Again I'd place in the same bracket as Tim's Dream On and Jeff's Kiss From A Rose - good performances but whether it's the tiredness kicking in or because I'm watching this mid afternoon, I'm not feeling the same buzz from many.

Last night's performances I found similarly lacklustre, with the notable exception of Nathan, again, with Ain't No Sunshine. Gorgeous interpretation. I didn't like the group number, Livin' on a Prayer sounded like they were struggling big time - it maybe my laptop speakers. Jeff wasn't raw enough with Satisfaction, Rory was nice with Fix You. Ben is Mr Consistent, Fast Car he nailed. Roger did Rolling in the Deep with controlled passion, while Jon with Feel may be on dodgy ground. He's the opposite of Ben, one night good, one night bad.

Apart from a couple of bum notes though, I still love Niall's voice - and he was one of the best actors in it, as demonstrated with Wherever You Will Go. Sadly not enough to save him, he did leave with praise from Andrew, who confided that a West End producer had called him about our lovely Niall and  saying that he'd make a great Marius in Les Mis.

I'll hope to get tonight's show on during a break in my life tomorrow!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Superstar: Dirk loses out to Tim

After being saved the night before, Dirk Johnston became the second Superstar voted off the show, losing out in the sing off to Tim.

Singing Christina Aguilera's Hurt, it was a strong vocal performance from Dirk but Tim was choking back tears at the end, so much emotion did he put into it and this gave him the edge. Dawn had earlier promised a pony and some double glazing to the loser - a house and a puppy went to Afnan - can't wait to see if she keeps this up!

The boys hit the stage for a group rendition of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - David stood out. Throughout the evening, was it my imagination, or did Amanda's legs become more orangey after every break?

It was much more even in the solos than previously. Roger was back on form, with a gentle and heartfelt More Than Words. Jason and Mel agreed with heartfelt while Dawn was "floating in a bath of hot Rogerness" and Andrew called it "truly beautiful, maybe better than the original ... delivered everything I asked."

For once I'd like to hear Nathan not scream and sing a ballad simply - we heard glimpses in To Be With You, and the judges agree we need to see and hear that self doubt/vulnerable side. Still another great performance though. Rory was powerful yet again effortless on Dakota, putting Dawn to mind of a junior Bono; Andrew coined a new phrase to describe him: Arenability!

Jon is taking everything on board although I don't think I Want To Know What Love Is stretched him. And there was a bit that seemed a little out of control. Dawn said he's coming up on the inside; Mel said he isn't the underdog anymore. David was terrific again, this time with an horrendously awful song unless you're Candi Staton - You've Got The Love - totally played it his own way, a real stage show performance, great acting. He left Mel a bit speechless and Jason confused over a uniquely inspired performance.

Ben sang Everybody Hurts and shot to the top of my pops, stunning. You just has to observe the judges reactions, how excited they were, bandying around words such as "incredible" and "awesome" and "proper grown up emoting". In answer to Jason, Andrew said he can exactly see how Ben could play Jesus, he dramatised the song beautifully and inhabited it beautifully.

Tim delivered a hypnotic performance with Time Is Running Out, much edgier and stronger than previously (sing-off sydrome?) Dawn called it fantastically insane; Andrew said to lose the scream. Jeff was solid, a melodic rock vocal and no screeching on How You Remind Me. It was Mel's favourite of his so far and Andrew said: "The Baby's come out of the manger. I felt you were talking to me."

Last up was the lovely Niall, with everything to prove after being savaged last night, relatively. He had to produce and he absolutely did. Dirty Diana is another of those pesky songs you kinda can't just sing and he interpreted it brilliantly, full of energy and punch, and his vocal was spot on. It was the first time Andrew got a sense of fight and Jason knew he could do it.

Andrew very much wanted to see acting strength in this episode and he certainly got it. Check out the performances here and check in again at 9pm tonight, ITV1.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Superstar - Afnan the first to leave

Afnan Iftikhar was the first Superstar voted off the show last night, after finding himself in the bottom two with Dirk Johnston.

The Lord gave them a few words of advice before the sing off: Dirk, make it your own and let your personality come through; Afnan worry about your pitch, think of the words and the emotion. Singing Memory from Cats to keep their place, I thought Afnan would just nick it when Dirk suddenly came to life and it was he The Lord saved.

The show opened with another excellent group song, Queen's One Vision - there's definitely safety in numbers and they're clearly all at ease on stage together.

Strangely, some who'd impressed me the night before were a little off and others I wasn't so into shone through! Andrew challenged them all with songs they didn't appear to be comfortable with: Niall, in particular, struggled with The Man Who Would Not Be Moved, prompting the Lord to crush him with a "I don't think you're right for the part". Dawn called him Human Sunshine, let's hope it's enough to keep him in and give him another go. Roger with Part of Me was disappointing, it didn't work for me at all which I'm pretty unhappy about. The judges agreed - bad song choice. Mel said he has a natural edge to his voice and shouldn't try to be rocky. Dirk with Titanium was far too quiet - if only he'd started like he finished. Jason called it a little pitchy and said he needs to release the beast. Andrew said Titanium reminded him of golf clubs. And I thought I was random.

In contrast, Nathan came out and owned the stage with a funky Dedication To My Ex, somehow making a big man with a tambourine look sexy. Who knew? Everyone keeps on about his rock voice: I'm hearing Van Halen does Smokey Robinson, he's got something very groovy going on there. Dawn called him mesmerising and praised the extraordinary pouting, strutting and chair & tambourine work! Jeff also hit a sweet note again with Mr. Brightside, the judges seem a little lukewarm?! Show stealer was 11th man/reserve Jon - a beautiful, honest and sincere vocal on I Can't Make You Love Me. Mel believed every word and Andrew told him he'd got the meaning of it.

Rory drew Stronger and did a good job, although I felt he just lacked a bit of fire and passion. Keeping the pitch and tone while dancing around was impressive though. Jason wants to be in his club. David's version of Nothing's Real But Love I enjoyed very much, great interpretation, passionate and still retaining that twinkle. Dawn said he has the fantastic ability to make the intention of the song clear. Ben showed a few smooth moves when performing She Said, a performance I much preferred to his first one. Andrew told him he delivered the cool dude.  Tim delivered a quality vocal on First Cut Is The Deepest and was rewarded by Dawn calling him a significant contender, and Andrew praising his connection with the material.

The second Superstar will go tonight! ITV1, 9pm. See all the performances again here.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Superstar - first live performances set a high standard

We started on Saturday with the elimination of 10 more hopefuls and a first but sadly, last, glimpse of Seamus, 40.

Twenty left and after a pleasant time in Majorca, singing for Andrew with just a guitar to accompany, they're hit with a 25 hour coach trip back to Blighty to test their stamina - they've to sing again, this time with a full live rock band, upon their return. From there, Andrew deliberates and calls them in to bestow the good tidings, or not.

Safely through go Dirk; Roger; Nathan; Afnan; David; Niall; Rory; Ben; Tim and Jeff. In a surprise twist, The Lord puts Jon through too, as a reward for his hard work and commitment to the team during rehearsals for the live shows. He'd previously been named as reserve, should any of the top 10 drop out. I think the phrase 'Made Up' applies...

Onto Sunday and they open the show with the title track of the show: They need charisma and passion and be able to rock it out but also be tender. And they do - they can all emote, act, sing and all have stage presence and charisma. Even Amanda can't upstage them with her big entrance ...

David sings Forget You - he's got a cheeky thing going on so it's likely we won't. Terrific vocal on a tough song choice. Dawn said "Excellent tight trousers" Andrew said "oozed charisma"; Dirk with Make You Feel My Love grew into it, a lovely warm tone, a little shaky to begin. Mel called him a gentle soul, Andrew said he needs to act more; Nathan surprises with Sign Your Name, full of controlled attack. Jason called him sexy and sensual, Mel said he's one of the best vocalists she's ever heard; Ben draws the difficult Somebody That I Used to Know and began well - it may be the arrangement didn't suit but I found it a little screechy. Mel called it dynamic but Andrew would liked to pick up on the emotion more. Niall has a very strong vocal but is also emotive and vulnerable with Stay. Gorgeous. Andrew wanted to say "Curl Power" to Mel, but Niall had cut his hair. Jason called it sincere and believable.

Half way through and it's Tim next with a great vocal on a funky Stone Cold Sober. Dawn didn't expect to see him smoulder, Andrew says *cliche alert* he's what the show is all about. Roger commanded your attention with his interpretation of Whiter Shade of Pale, class. Dawn said he had extraordinary presence; Andrew said he'd sound amazing with Tim (Minchin, playing Judas.) Jon with Since You've Been Gone was great on the chorus although a little quiet on the verses - but I can hear a theatre voice there. Jason told him he blew the audience away; Andrew said it's wonderful to have you on the show. Afnan sings Next To Me - lovely voice, would have liked something a bit meatier. Andrew agrees, need to see more grit. Charismatic Jeff with Red was lovely, powerful yet subtle and note perfect. Mel said magic happens when he's in the moment. Rory gives a great rocking performance of Are You Gonna Go My Way, owning the stage. Personality and perfect vocal. Dawn called him a firecracker, Andrew called him fantastic and wonderful.

All extremely strong - see the performances again here and tune in again tonight for Night 2 - they're mimicking the tour by staging the love show nightly. And the first elimination will be at the start of tonight's show!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The search for a Superstar is on

I say the, but of course, it's another one of The Lord's, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, and this time it's for the lead for a new production of an older show, Jesus Christ Superstar, which is going on an arena tour.

41 auditionees made it to Superstar Island, where Amanda Holden was waiting to welcome them to Sandal Camp. They're a mixture of industry professionals, holiday camp entertainers, complete beginners and those doing the rounds for their big break. It's like any other audition but just played out on the tellybox. Why is that so difficult for the papers to get their heads around? Nathan James didn't make it through on The Voice - is he not entitled to audition for anything, ever again? *Tuts*

Andrew tells them to look after their bodies as well as their voices, as it's a very physical part. Not to mention they've got their tops off. A lot.

A last supper sorts out the naughty ones from the goody goodies and while Niall gets away with it, because he's cheeky and brilliant and Irish, others don't.  They're tortured, sorry, tutored, by Jason Donovan and Mel C, who will star as Mary Magdalene and who will be joined by Dawn French on the judging panel. Getting on my environmental high horse for a second - did they really need two separate limos to take them over the the island? I think not. #fail

Acting Coach Donna is already the star: "You look psychotic" "You look depressed" "You look mildly depressed" "You weren't bad" - tell it like it is, no messing! Jonathan Ansell, you were a brave but stupid man for daring to Talk Back. And soon fired - there's a lesson to all the others!

Into groups of 4 to perform 'What's The Buzz' from the musical, before The Lord evicts 11 of them, leaving Mel and Jason to do the deed of telling them.

Into 5 groups of 6 to shoot a pop video, testing their creativity and teamwork. In the snapshot I preferred Grenade and Patience but need to see the whole thing. And, check it out - the website has uploaded the full length vids, isn't that kind?

At the Superstar Premiere, The Lord says:

Grenade: had a choreographer's eye to it

Edge of Glory: a strong group

Patience: quite fun; a lot of wit and thought

Jar of Hearts: the latest new pop rock directors

Without You: an advert against dumping waste (not entirely sure that's what he was after!)

And now, they jet off to Majorca, where 20 of them will be jetting back home to the rounds of more auditions, while the Top 10 hit the live show! Saturday, ITV1, 8pm

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Snippets: Strictly Come Dancing; The Voice

Latest potentials for the new SCD series: Coronation Street's Michelle Keegan, recently retired Olympic skeleton bob champion, Amy Williams,  TV presenter Sian Williams, Britain's Got Talent winner, Ashleigh Butler minus Pudsey) and model turned bodybuilder Jodie March, although they're also linking her with Dancing on Ice.

Bad bad news that better not be true - Claudia isn't sure if she'll be back for the next series of Strictly *sobs*...

Along with winner Leanne Mitchell, The Voice artists, Vince Kidd, Tyler James and Bo Bruce have all signed record deals. While you're waiting for those, a compilation album, featuring the semi finalists and finalists has been released. And they've picked the best of each of them, including Get here by Ruth, Ordinary People by Jaz and Free Fallin' by Max. Hannah Berney is also hoping to get some of her own music out there and is going live too.

Arlene Philips recounts the origins of Starlight Express.

And an interview with the all singing, all dancing, all acting queen Julianne Hough.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

An inside perspective of The Voice with Tara McDonald

If you love house and dance music, then the name Tara McDonald will be instantly recognisable. As a featured vocalist for the likes of David Guetta and Armand Van Helden, Tara – the Voice of 2010, awarded by music magazine OnlyforDJ – has just signed a record deal with Mercury Universal for her first solo album.

Most recently, Tara was involved in the Belgium version of The Voice, where she helped coach winner Roberto Bellarosa to victory. Having known main coach Quentin Mosimann for a long time, it was to her the Swiss DJ/Singer turned when looking for an experienced vocalist to mentor his charges. Says Tara:

“The Voice Belgiqie was the biggest show on Belgian TV and therefore pretty nerve wracking for the contestants. I’ve been in the industry for years and you learn on the job – I was able to pass on my experience, particularly when it came to staying healthy (I recommend ginseng and royal jelly – it takes a couple of months to get into your system but I’ve not been ill since) and coping with the stress and the nervousness. Some of the contestants were still at school yet people are so quick to criticize, they forget you’re a real person. Things hurt when you’re 17 and it’s easy to criticize but not do anything yourself. But you learn to cope: If you can read the good, you can take the bad.

“Roberto has a beautiful voice, a CD quality voice. He was my favourite from the beginning. But everyone has a weak spot and his was nervousness. You’re analysed and critiqued, feedback it might normally take years to get. He couldn’t express himself through his body, he was so stiff; moving felt unnatural to him. So I got him to sing lying down on the floor, in front of family and friends. That’s so much harder than singing to strangers. He’s now signed to Sony and making an album.

“You have to think like a winner. If you’re not switched on enough, or you let the pressure get to you, you can fail. Even the sweetest people can have tantrums or make statements like “I haven’t bothered rehearsing; I don’t know why I’m here” as another contestant did. People say and do weird things – I’m still in contact with him and he now doesn’t understand why he said that.”

Being so busy herself, Tara hasn’t had a chance to watch The Voice UK but is looking forward to catching up with it. Almost in passing, she mentions sharing a vocal coach with Tom Jones!

“Glyn Jones his name was, and sadly he’s no longer with us. I can still hear his voice though *Adopts Welsh lilt* “When I taught Jonesy ... when I had The Bassey in here ...” Now we know that Jonesy picked up more than singing tips #namedropping.

What does she think of X-Factor? “It’s cruel” she states, strongly. “Like the Romans feeding the Christians to lions, featuring people just to make fun of them. The Voice just doesn’t do that.”

Although known as The Queen of Dance, Tara’s album will see some departure from that genre, with a mix that may include ballads and more soulful tracks. It’s an exciting thought, as Tara’s voice has real depth and an earthy soul to it, unsurprising when you find out that she has supported the legend that is Roy Ayers at celebrated jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s, and sung with saxophonist Leo Green. There was even a stint on an early series of Strictly Come Dancing.

“We’re working on about 20 tracks at the moment,” says Tara, “but we’ll probably drop that to 12, with some more radio friendly tracks; we want the project to speak to as many people as possible and I wanted to challenge myself and do things that people don’t expect from me.”

The first single is Give Me More – and after a few listens, you’ll be asking just that; Tara’s stuff is extremely catchy! It’s a striking video too, very Tim Burton/Alice in Wonderland.

“It was shot in the Paris apartment belonging to a set designer of Italian director, Federico Fellini, and used to be an old factory. We were the first to ever shoot there – with rabbits running around all over the place! Considering it was a 20 hour shoot, the day went by in a blur.”

She cites David Guetta as having a major impact on dance music crossing over the way it has, with the collaborations between him and mainstream dance stars like Rihanna. “I love the club scene, it’s really me. Strangely, David I are both dip in and out of the same motivational book ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne. It helps you visualise your dreams and achieve – and you only have to see what David has achieved to know that it works.”

One last thing - what’s with the photos referencing certain burgers and clowns? “I spend a lot of time in France and they always laugh at my surname on my passport: “Any relation to Ronald?” is the standard joke (Tell me about it – “Are you one of the Nolan sisters? All my life ..) they only ever associate it with the burger brand, they don’t get that it’s just a normal Scottish surname, so it became a fun reference: laugh with me, not at me! I do pop dance and it’s fun, so I don’t take myself too seriously. It’s taken me a long time to be in this position and I want to enjoy myself.”

Having spent an enjoyable coffee morning with Tara, I had far too much material for one article – read more about her background and her work with the Plan charity here.