Last night saw the final of the X Factor style, @westendproducer's #searchforatwitterstar. This was the chance for the ten finalists of a nationwide competition to battle it out on stage to become Leading Man and Leading Lady of the West End – titles invented by the organisers, of course, but with a lot of industry experts on the scene the night really did offer the chance for these young people to have their talent spotted.
The eponymous and enigmatic @westendproducer was there himself, and live tweeted throughout the event between scowling at the four judges from his box and miming throwing wine bottles at them across the stalls.
If it's all sounding like a bit of a mess to you, don't worry, really this was just a glorified talent contest, with a lot of theatrical licence and a few celebs thrown in. The judges were music man Mike Dixon, West End veteran Louise Dearman, agent Gemma Lowy Hamilton and internationally acclaimed theatre producer David King. AlEd Jones hosted the evening with a natural charm that took The Edge off the “cruel but honest” approach of some of the judging panel. Having only ever seen these kinds of things on telly, I was surprised by how much of a thrill I got being there in person, and luckily there were no painfully long pauses before each contestant was voted off. Aled's too nice for all that.
So the deal was this: after hundreds of entries to the talent search via YouTube and Twitter, the five men and five women, as voted for by the people, brought all their friends and family along to the Lyric Theatre in the heart of London's West End. After a slightly awkward opening ensemble piece (after all this means a lot to them and there could only be two winners) they each performed a musical theatre number. We had West Side Story's “Something's Coming” from the 17-year-old baby of the group, Elliot Clay; a cutesy “Taylor the Latte Boy” from semi-finalist Alexandra Da Silva; and a sassy rendition of “Don't Rain on my Parade” from Emily Barker that culminated in true diva style with a Streisand-inspired plea to the box, “West End producer, here I am!”
They put on a good show. But now it was time to vote, and the bizarre effect of a competition held over Twitter is that everyone is glued to their phones while the show is going on. To keep us entertained while we typed were some stand-out performances by singers from Associated Studios and a very funny act from Patch of Blue Theatre. There was a great atmosphere – someone's Asda colleagues had made t-shirts and there was a banner made out of a paper Primark bag – as the contestants gathered once more on stage to be ceremonially axed from the list of winners. From a shortlist of six the judges voted off two and then, after a final (tense) “sing-off” between the four finalists, it was time for the audience to cast its votes – the last word in who got to go home bearing the title, plus a music recording session, a year's Spotlight membership and some theatre vouchers.
This was going to be life-changing.
The winners were Columbia-born Filipe – certainly the audience's favourite – and Kara Bayer who was a bit of a surprise and clearly wouldn't have been all of the judges' choice if it had been left up to them. As part of the winners' package they each got to sing a glitzy duet there and then – Felipe with West End star Kerry Ellis and a wide-eyed Kara with S Club 7's Jon Lee. Before they were re-joined by the other contestants for one last song, Kara and Felipe were told that as part of the prize they will also be appearing in a charity gala performance of Our House at London's Savoy Theatre. So if you fancy checking out the new juvenile leads on the block for yourself, get down there.
And as judge Mike Dixon pointed out, if this competition has raised the profile of musical theatre at all then it has achieved something.