Musical Theatre: The real winner of TV talent contests

I came across a promotional link from Bedworth Civic Hall the other day, which announced that West End star Lee Mead would be returning there in July with his brand new concert show for 2015. The actor has become a household name through both his stage and TV roles, but of course, first became known back in 2007 through the BBC talent contest Any Dream Will Do, in which Andrew Lloyd Webber searched for an unknown star to play the lead role of Joseph in his revival of Joseph and The Technicolor Dreamcoat. Mead won the public vote and starred in the West End show for the next 18 months, gaining critical acclaim for his performance. He went on to play leading roles in further West End productions, including a UK Tour of the play Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime and popular musicals Wicked and Legally Blonde, as well as several pantomime appearances. He was also asked to join the cast of West End Men and performed alongside such names as Matt Willis, Glenn Carter, Stephen Rahman-Hughes, David Thaxton, Matt Rawle and Ramin Karimloo in that time, as well as touring his own concert shows (An Evening With Lee Mead, The Love Tour, Lee Mead in Concert) and has released three solo albums to date (Lee Mead, Nothing Else Matters, Love Songs). He’s made a few guest appearances in television programmes such as Bedlam and Casualty, joining the latter as a series regular in 2014.

Mead’s career has gone from strength to strength since winning Any Dream Will Do, and thinking on this reminded me of a recent conversation a friend and I had about a different TV talent contest: The X Factor. Simon Cowell’s creation has been on the air for ten years now, and in that time, the only one of the show’s 11 winners to have had any real, lasting success in the music industry has been Leona Lewis. It is in fact the contestants who didn’t win that have had the most successful careers. The general public will know who G4, Ella Henderson, Ollie Murs and JLS are, while it goes without saying that One Direction, who came third on the The X Factor in 2010, have gone on to become the biggest boy band in the world right now. In comparison, who remembers the likes of Steve Brookstein any more?

It’s interesting to note that in the theatrical-based talent contests, such as Any Dream Will Do, however, most of the winners have managed to secure themselves lasting careers on the stage, in addition to branching out into other areas as well. Connie Fisher won the first ever of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV talent shows, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, and was enjoying great success until vocal problems limited her singing work. Jodie Prenger, winner of I’d Do Anything, played Nancy on stage in the West End revival of Oliver! after the show and then went on to star in Spamalot (UK Tour) and One Man, Two Guvnors, as well as appearing in pantomime at Manchester’s Opera House and taking on a number of television roles, such as in the BBC drama Waterloo Road. She’s currently starring in the title role of the Calamity Jane UK Tour, which is playing at the Theatre Royal, Bath until 24th January 2015 before continuing to travel around the country through to the end of summer. In 2010, Over The Rainbow searched for an unknown star to play Dorothy in a revival of The Wizard of Oz and found her in Danielle Hope. She spent a year in the show and won an award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance (BroadwayWorld UK). She’s since starred as Eponine in Les Miserables (Queen’s Theatre), the Narrator in the UK Tour of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, and has just embarked on Bill Kenwright’s 2015 UK Tour of The Sound of Music, playing Maria von Trapp. The most recent TV contest was Superstar, won by Ben Forster who then starred as Jesus in the Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. His subsequent stage roles have included playing Brad Majors in the 40th Anniversary Tour of The Rocky Horror Show and Magaldi in the UK Tour of Evita, in addition to releasing his debut album, Acoustic Covers, and the recording of Alexander S. Bermange’s three-person musical, The Route To Happiness, with Louise Dearman and Kerry Ellis.

All the winners of Andrew Lloyd’s five TV contests have been able to build themselves a career off the back of them, but they’re not the only ones who can credit their success to their appearance on those shows. Many of the other contestants from each show have gone on to become stage stars in their own right, such as Helena Blackman, Antony Hansen, Daniel Boys, Sophie Evans, Lauren Samuels, and David Hunter. I’d Do Anything was probably the show which yielded the most talent in the end though, as Sarah Lark, Niamh Perry, Rachel Tucker and Samantha Barks were all contestants and have had highly successful careers despite not winning the role of Nancy.

Whether this says anything about the quality of talent in musical theatre in comparison to the music industry is up to you to decide. Perhaps it does, or perhaps it’s more revealing of the ‘fad’ factor of The X Factor…after all, several X Factor contestants have chosen to work on the stage instead of pursuing a career as a pop star, and done very well for themselves out of it. If nothing else, it’s interesting to just look at the two aspects of the TV route to musical success side by side and note the similarities and differences. If it was a comment on the level of talent in either area though, then it seems that the West End has certainly had the last word.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Tuesday 20th January 2015

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