In the past few weeks we’ve had the privilege of sponsoring a new concept of musical theatre talent contest – Search For A Twitter Star – by offering a recording prize at the AJM studio, and voucher for our soon-to-be-launched website musicaltheatrebackingtracks.co.uk, to the winning Leading Man and Leading Lady. On Monday night we attended the live final at the Lyric Theatre – the first time we’ve ever been to a show where the announcement at the start asked us NOT to turn our phones off, but rather to tweet furiously! It all felt very naughty, #dear!
The talent contest was the brainchild of @westendproducer – probably best described to those who don’t already know him as the Stig of the theatre world. Known only by his Twitter handle and followed by 18,000 people, @westendproducer has become something of a Twitter sensation since joining the social media site. His tweets full of camp frankness and obvious industry insider knowledge have led to many a speculation as to whom the cheeky, Dom Perignon-imbibing theatre producer might be, and I’m sure everyone at the Lyric Theatre on Monday evening was hoping to catch a glimpse. And there he was – in the front box, downing the Dom accompanied by his blow-up Miss Saigon doll and Jean Valjean teddy, gesticulating manically at the harsh comments from the judges and even throwing host Aled Jones a thong at one point… but alas all behind a theatrical mask.
After opening the show with a group performance of ‘A Star Is Born’ (with excellent support from the backing singers), Aled Jones welcomed us to the Search For A Twitter Star Live Final, and each of the ten contestants performed a solo number.
Throughout the show, two screens on-stage showed tweets from both the audience and @westendproducer with feedback on performances, and the audience were asked to vote to knock contestants out, and finally to vote for their winner via the social media site. I can’t imagine how it must have felt for the performers to look out to a sea of people with their heads bowed down to their phones, casting judgments on their performances so publicly. In addition to that, the industry judges (agent Gemma Lowy Hamilton, West End leading lady Louise Dearman, producer David King and musical director Mike Dixon) weren’t ones to hold back their feelings when asked what they thought of the performances. Comments like “you need to go back to college”, “I wasn’t feeling that performance at all” and “you lost me for the majority of that song” didn’t go down well with the audience – but constructive criticism was what the contestants were there for, and we must remember that they are the experts, and their job was to judge and offer their professional opinions.
The interactivity of the show was paramount at these moments and created a wonderful atmosphere of banter, as the audience made their opinions on the judges’ comments known via tweets appearing on the on-stage screens. Even @westendproducer defended the contestants from some harsh comments appearing on the feed, tweeting: “Please everyone we need to remember why we are here. To help, support, and nourish the new talent. Not upset them #dear”.
After all the contestants had performed their solo numbers, there was an interval during which the audience tweeted to vote off their least favourite male and female performer. The votes were counted whilst we were treated to a wonderful rendition of Fame’s ‘I Want To Make Magic’ from the very talented backing singers, and a show-stopping performance of (one of my favourite songs) “Astonishing” from Little Women by the inimitable Louise Dearman, after which audience were on their feet. Then Aled Jones announced who was leaving the competition and we were left with a final four – Alexandra DaSilva, Kara Bayer, Felipe Bejarano and Ben Vivian Jones.
The final four performed a group ‘sing-off’ number from Catch Me If You Can, whilst the audience voted for their winners and were then wowed by incredible performances from Associated Studios of ‘Once Upon a Time’ from Brooklyn and ‘Here’s where I stand’ from Camp. Astounding solos from Leonie Bos and Helen White left the whole audience and the judges with mouths open in awe.
And finally the time had come for Aled Jones to announce the Search For A Twitter Star winning Leading Lady as Kara Bayer and Leading Man as Felipe Bejarano, and announced their prizes to include a subscription to Spotlight, a copy of Contacts, theatre vouchers, a session here at Auburn Jam Music recording studio, and roles in a charity gala concert of Our House at the Savoy Theatre later this year. They then got to ‘live the dream’ straight away, as they performed a duet with a West End star- Kara with Jon Lee (of S Club 7 fame) and Felipe with Kerry Ellis (Wicked, We Will Rock You, Oliver). Then we had a rousing finale of One Day More from Les Miserables, by all the contestants, judges, guest performers and backing vocalists.
The two winners seemed to be in shock from the moment Aled announced their names, and for the rest of the evening at the after-party – and they probably still are! We had the opportunity to congratulate them and give them their prize vouchers, and we are really looking forward to working with them in the studio very soon.
We think all the contestants were incredibly brave to put themselves out there in such a vulnerable positon, espeically given how young most of them were- the baby of the group being 17-year-old Elliot Clay. Following them on Twitter after the show, not one of them seems to have been put off by the terrifying experience at all (they are all obviously far more brave than I!) and are talking about the next steps in their performing careers. So clearly they’ve all got the guts needed to succeed in this tough industry – they all did themselves proud and we take our proverbial hats off to them!
We also want to say massive congratulations to @westendproducer and Tony Green for putting on a brilliant show and initiating a talent contest with the emphasis firmly on talent. Thanks for getting us involved, and we hope to see Search For A Twitter Star back next year.