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Saturday, 7 January 2017

Let it Shine: Has the BBC's new talent show have what it takes?

It’s the talent show that no one really expected (or perhaps even asked for), but here BBC Ones Let It Shine is anyway. The format is much like talent shows of yore: there’s going to be a new theatre show and a team of judges are looking for the cast members. But this is where the crux of the show is found. This isn’t just any old musical, this is going to be about a boyband and will feature the songs of arguably the UK’s biggest pop group, Take That. But crucially, and as is repeated throughout: this show is not looking for a new Take That, this is looking for just a generic boyband to sing the songs of Take That. See, it’s a completely different thing.

The new musical, ‘The Band’, will be penned by Mr. Take That himself, Gary Barlow, as the head judge in search for five members of this completely-fictional-and-not-at-all-related-to-Take-That boy band. Joining Andrew Lloyd Barlow are pop icons Danni Minogue and Martin Kemp, along with Glee’s Amber Riley, who is the guest judge at the first stage of the competition. Hosted by Graham Norton and Mel Giedroyc, the show’s six all come together quite nicely; there’s not really an ego and they do actually provide nice support not only to each other but also the contestants.

I say ‘contestants’ very tentatively. It was hard at times to remember that these hopefuls were competing for a role in Barlow’s new musical because it was all very friendly. Instead of being left to drown themselves in their  nerves, the contestants all hung out backstage with Mel playing pool and if they didn’t have any family in the audience to support them, fellow ‘Thatters’, Mark Owen and Howard Donald were there to provide support and more importantly, solid banter. It was all actually really nice.  Mel’s lovable personality was the real thing allowed to shine here as her playful side flourished whilst she effortlessly made everyone feel very comfortable, but then again, the super stressful Great British Bake Off would have been excellent practice for that.

It’s safe to say that there is absolutely no #bingate on this show however, as all of the contestants are very, very good. It’s refreshing to see a talent show that is unashamedly looking for the full package, and if a face doesn’t quite fit the bill, like poor Wayne’s, the judges will tell them so. After all, a competition this is not; it’s an audition, and if you aren’t quite right, you won’t get the job. This makes the process sound brutal but it was far from it. Rejected contestants didn’t leave feeling crushed. In fact all of them left with a new found purpose to go out and keep grafting. It’s very fuzzy, in exactly the way that Saturday night TV should leave you feeling.

Before I go further, it would make sense to explain how the contestants actually get through. Replacing the simple yes/no format is the very fancy and a little tedious, 'Starway'. Immediately after each performance, the judges score each contestant out of five. The singer needs a total of fifteen stars to get through to the next stage and so follows the tries-to-be-tense-but-isn’t-really sequence where the Starway lights up one star by one until the contestant’s final score is revealed. But as Graham Norton announces before one contestant, 30-year-old professional musical theatre actor Jason, who got high praises and the all important standing ovation, ‘can you imagine if you didn’t get through now?’ Likewise, with 17-year-old student Nicky, it was glaringly obvious that not only would he get through, but he would cruise through with twenty stars, ensuring both him and Jason not only a place in the next stage, but also ensuring (probably) a place in the final.

Whilst the show wasn’t really tense at all, it didn’t need to be. As I said earlier, this isn’t a competition, it’s more of just an entertainment talent show, where actual talent is on offer and no one is left feeling emotionally purged or drained after each act; gone is the dreaded sob-story. The segments to break up the auditions were all very lovely as well, including a big old sing and dance along to Kemp’s Spandau Ballet hit, ‘Gold’, which revealed that Mel has got some moves. But perhaps the highlight of the show, and definitely the most heart-warming moment came from the surprise nomination of young Tyler from Scarborough. A lifelong Take That and Barlow fan, Tyler’s mum and Gary successfully surprised the cafe-worker mid-shift to invite him along to the audition of which, no surprises here, he sailed through. Whilst it kind of detracted a little from the talent show aspect of the show, it was actually a welcome inclusion, making Let It Shine more than it’s format.

Saturday night is the hardest night to get right. The BBC have struggled to find a hit especially this time of the year. Whilst not reinvesting the wheel Barlow and show have created a show for Saturday Night that hits all the right notes. Yes, it’s hard to really call it a talent show, but who actually wanted another one anyway? Gary Barlow’s offering was always going to have to be different to stand out. With the first round being admittedly to the book, the small hints of originality are enough to make me want to watch some more; I for one am intrigued to see what the next rounds consist of at the very least. So have a little ‘Patience’ with this one; yes, you’ll hear ‘A Million Love Songs’ and it might not ‘Rule the World’, but Let It Shine is certainly a ‘[Take That and] Party’.

Let it Shine Continues Saturday on BBC ONE
Contributed by Helen Daly

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