Question: Why are TV talent shows so popular? From Pop Idol, the Sound of Music and Joseph shows, to the enduring phenomenon of X factor, millions of viewers seem to love the formulaic scenario of singing auditions, public voting, critical judges, the tears and heartache, and the weekly countdown until the winner shines through in the final sing off. These shows create sell out West End musicals and Number One singles.
The extraordinary success of 18 year old Leon Jackson (a former Gap fashion sales assistant from Whitburn, West Lothian) winning X factor 2007 (out of 150,000 budding singers) illustrates only too well the inspiring story of young dreams and fresh raw talent as a new star is born.
The X Factor Live concert featuring 9 of the top 10 acts is now touring the UK, with sell out shows and extra dates added in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Brighton, Cardiff and Bournemouth to cope with public demand. At the SECC, Glasgow on Friday 22nd February what’s most surprising is the age range of the audience: 7 year old girls are waving “I love Leon” banners, alongside their brothers, mums, dads and granny; there are groups of teenagers, women friends and couples of all ages. As the vast arena slowly fills up, the sense of high pitched excitement is electric. Fifteen minutes later than advertised, the lights dim and the show starts with a blast of the familiar X factor TV theme tune. Presenter Dermot O’Leary appears on three huge screens and presents the “live” concert as a recorded documentary. Extracts from the TV series auditions and selected performances introduces each act.
First on stage is Hope, the girl band, prancing up and down the stage in colourful corsets and knickers, singing Rihanna’s hit song “Umbrella.” Then Andy, gets the audience on their feet with “Staying Alive” followed by Alisha, belting out “Valerie.” These two singers give rather bland, stilted “performance by numbers,” and in copy cat style both ask each side of the arena to shout out to see who was loudest, as if this were a Christmas pantomime.
The hysteria of the girls in the audience reaches a crescendo as boy band Futureproof are announced to perform their version of Simply Red’s “If you don’t know me.” As a band only created during auditions, they’re a handsome bunch and have a cool, fresh look. We are then treated with extracts on screen of the “best of the worst” auditionee failures – followed by a surprise live performance of the Japanese girl, the morbid-faced twins and the dancer, attempting to sing “One Moment In Time.” This is their 5 minutes of fame and they relish the applause and laughter. The former school teacher Beverley looks glamorous in her black diamante dinner suit and wows the crowd with her gutsy version of “I’m Every Woman.”
So far, so good as the acts perform the songs and stage movements they had learnt for the TV series. I have a strong feeling they would not be able to sing anything else.
But then Niki takes to the stage looking every inch the true professional diva in her glittering silver frock as she launches into an energetic version of “Hot Stuff” accompanied by a troupe of male dancers, followed by a classy duet with Glenn (one of the dancers) in “Total Eclipse of your Heart.” Talking personally to the audience, she exudes oodles of confidence and star quality, describing a highlight of the TV show when she met her idol Celine Dion. Niki has charismatic stage presence and deserves a career as a cabaret star.
After the interval, the top three finalists. Brother and sister double act Same Difference bounced happily around the stage, smiling, laughing and drawing a huge cheer from the kids when they sang a number from High School Musical. They should easily get a job as BBC children’s presenters. Then the blond shock-haired Rhyddian in full length white fur coat appears at the top of the stairs and really gets the audience into a frenzy with his funky rendition of “Get the Party Started” accompanied by four female dancers. The selection of songs was ideal for his voice: “You Raise Me Up,” “Go West” (there's dancing in the aisles now) and finally, “Somewhere” from West Side Story, which really shows the rich, mellow tone of his operatic voice. I can envisage a best selling CD of Bernstein and Puccini hits.
And finally here's the star of the show Leon, dressed in a coffee-cream suit and cute tartan tammy. The capacity crowd go crazy, screaming, shouting and waving, as he launches into “A Little Thing called Love” dancing around the stage. He shows off his natural flair and passion for slow romantic ballads with “ A Long and Winding Road,” “Home” ("It's great to be hame in Scotland" he shouts) - then a sweet duet with Raquelle from Hope who plays a white grand piano as they sing “You Don’t Know Me.” The giant screens of his close up illustrate only too well how young he is (just turned 19) with his Paul McCartney (c.1964), baby faced looks. He thanks the audience and Scotland for supporting him and voting for him on X factor before ending with his Number one single, “When you believe.”
A finale with everyone singing “Don’t Stop me Now” is an appropriate number for these enthusiastic young musical stars. Throughout the show the performances were enhanced by dancers, slick lighting, incredible fireball stage effects and showers of paper tinsel. Like a 2008 version of a traditional Variety show here were nine different acts showing off their talent, with young Scots boy Leon as top of the bill. It’s a simple concept: Turn a popular Saturday night TV entertainment into a live touring show for a fun night for all the family.
UK tour to Newcastle, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Sheffield, Nottingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Brighton, London, Cardiff, Birmingham and Bournemouth.
Check website, www.xfactor.tv