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Monday, 30 July 2012

ITV struggle to crown a Superstar



The Bible tells us that God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he rested. That last part must have sounded pretty appealing to the Superstar hopefuls, caught in the midst of a gruelling singing marathon. Up for grabs: the role of Jesus in the arena tour of (Lord) Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar later this year.

A few tears, a soupcon of drama and plenty of voices cracking under the strain brought us to Wednesday’s finale. Amanda Holden, impressively vapid to the end, continued her onslaught on the nation’s hearing by yelling into her mic and her assault on viewers’ patience by greeting every performance, however mundane, with: “Oh my goodness!”

The last three contestants – Ben, Roger and Rory – were, as it happened, the three I’d wanted in the final from the start. Poor Ben made a misstep as he kicked off with Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever?, but handled the boob with disarming charm (sorry, must be Dawn French’s influence rubbing off on me there).  

Rory, my first choice from the word go, was up next with local radio favourite I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing. This time round, though, I found I didn’t agree with that sentiment and started checking Twitter instead. Meanwhile, Roger’s brave, last-minute decision to change his song paid off, his warm, rich voice caressing Elton John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.

Then, in a grudging nod to the fact this was actually a show about musical theatre, all three contestants joined forces for a cut-down, cut-price version of Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar. Huge sighs of relief when that was over. (Not because anybody muffed “the scream”, but because it meant no one had to worry about pronouncing “Gethsemane” again anytime soon.)

Of course, to get a proper sense of how Rory, Roger and Ben would not only sing but, more importantly, also act the song, what we really needed to hear were three separate renditions of Gethsemane. But since ITV had long since given up on the idea of the audience voting for talent – a change in the shows’ running order early on rendering a phone vote for your favourite personality the only option – it probably didn’t matter that much.

Before the result was announced, there was (unfortunately) just time for Mel C, Jesus Christ Superstar’s Mary Magdalene, to sing I Don’t Know How to Love Him, joined by the Lord himself (no, not that one, the other one) on piano. And if, in promising us this “exclusive” performance, ITV meant “underwhelming” and “instantly forgettable”, they were bang on. By now, Amanda’s “Oh my goodness!” was sounding seriously devalued.

In the end, Rowan Atkinson lookalike Ben Forster emerged triumphant. And I suppose if Mr Bean put in a musical appearance at the Olympics opening ceremony, it’s not so very unlikely he’d pop up in a rock opera at the O2 arena.

I’ve watched most of the Lloyd Webber talent shows and this was the first series where I couldn’t pick out an obvious winner. Stripping Superstar across 10 nights gave us less time to get to know the characters involved – and a few more musical theatre songs would have helped enormously to prove who had the acting chops for the role.

Appearances by The Scissor Sisters, Paloma Faith and Gary Barlow were all very well, but why didn’t we see some contributions from West End shows? Phantom, Les Mis, The Lion King and Blood Brothers, to name but a few, all have some storming tunes, far better suited to a musical theatre talent show. Throw in a presenter who’s a personality-free zone and a production team who couldn’t see that by holding the sing-off at the start of each show they were squandering all the tension, and in the end it amounts to a less than impressive offering.

I love Andrew Lloyd Webber’s star searches and I hope he’ll do others in future. But on this showing, I’m praying 
fervently for no Second Coming from ITV.

Contributed by Laura Pledger Follow Laura on Twitter

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