I can’t lie and say it wasn’t without a substantial amount of trepidation with which I sat down at the weekend to watch the latest of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s search-for-the-next-West-End-star television talent shows, Superstar. Amusingly, due to fear of offending their Christian viewers, the BBC has decided to boycott the search this year and so the whole shebang has been packed up in Moses baskets, lumped on the back of a donkey and promptly trotted off towards the star of the Little Town of ITV instead.
And from the fires of the BBC vs. ITV debate the smoke of the snobbery shall rise. No Graham Norton, who was marvellous fun on the BBC shows, we now have to contend with Britain’s Got Talent’s Amanda Holden in presenting duties. I am at a bit of a loss too – but not to the degree on the decision of casting Chris Moyles as King Herod when the show goes on its arena tour in September – as to why Dawn French is on the judge’s panel. Constructive as she may be every show so far has seen her behave like a housewife at a Chippendales concert in heat. Jason Donovan makes me pine for John Barrowman and Mel C is the one judge on Superstar I don’t actually mind hearing what she’s got to say, even if it’s just for the fact she’s got to work opposite the winning Jesus when she takes to her role as Mary Magdalene in the forthcoming shows.
There’s also nothing fun about the way the losers leave the stage after voting-off either. Remember in Over the Rainbow after handing back the ruby slippers to ALW the eliminated Dorothys were floated away on a wonderfully-camp giant moon across the stage, singing their little hearts out for one last time? When a Jesus is eliminated there’s just a very miserable chorus of Superstar sung sheepishly to the loser as he plods off stage, headed for the green room to drown his sorrows on Twitter.
The good Lord Webber made a promise that Superstar would not have any ‘TV-talent-show clichés’. Well I hate to be a prickly pear, but it does, the same things heard year after year in TV talent shows: “The standard is incredibly high!”; “I hate this part of the show because I think they’re both really good and they both sang their hearts out!” Looks like they had the same scriptwriters though.
Quite how any of the eleven hopefuls in Superstar have actually managed to “sing their hearts out” is a mystery because each night though we hear them sing, we are seldom treated to the boys regaling us with any real musical theatre. And this is one of my enormous gripes with these shows. If the contestants are attempting for a career in the West End, then I implore the producers to get them to sing a lot more musical theatre and a lot less bloody Adele. Pop music is all very fine, but it is not conducive to showing if the hopefuls, through no fault of their own, can pull off musical theatre numbers. Each young gentleman is onstage for an average of two minutes to sing a highly-edited pop song and it’s based on this criterion that the public are expected to pick up their phone and spend over a quid to vote for them. The one bit I look forward to is the sing-off because this is the only time you will hear them sing any show tunes before they are made to sing some overrated number by Kings of Leon the next night.
And what, actually, of the good Lord himself right now? It is crass to think is this what Andrew Lloyd-Webber has come to? Even I find myself in a small world of static awe as I struggle to make peace with the fact that he who wrote Cats and Sunset Boulevard, is now sitting in a modest ITV television studio explaining his choices on whom he wants cast in a role he originally wrote forty-two years ago to Amanda Holden.
For the record I love Jesus Christ Superstar, and yes, I am snobbish, but I also know my musical theatre too. It’s not the contestants of Superstar that I have problems with; it’s the results of the transition to ITV and the format of the show that has let me down this time. A better selection of judges is required, and crucially, less mainstream pop and more musical theatre please, because after all, isn’t this what they are striving for in the first place?