As another group of hopefuls gathers in the presence of Andrew Lloyd Webber hoping to be sprinkled with stardust, dissenting voices from within the theatre industry will no doubt register their concerns. For one lucky soul, of course, this very public audition process will be a massive career boost and the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of previous series winners such as Connie Fisher and Lee Mead. But what of the “rejects”? It would be easy to think that elimination doomed them to a life of shelf-stacking obscurity — or, worse still, the reality TV circuit. But a catch up with four stars of ALW’s contests confirms this is clearly not the case…
SAMANTHA BARKS – 21 (I’d Do Anything)
*Came third in I’d Do Anything, the search for a Nancy to star in a revival of the musical Oliver!
*Later that year she won the lead as Sally Bowles in a touring production of Cabaret, opposite Wayne Sleep.
*Recently won the plum role of Eponine in the film version of Les Miserables, due out December.
When you didn’t win the role of Nancy, were you devastated or did you view the whole thing as a valuable experience?
I saw the whole thing as a valuable experience. I think the main reason for it being 100% positive in my eyes was because I was 17 and at the beginning of my career so I had nothing to lose! I went on the show to gain fantastic experiences, to learn and to push myself, and each of those I was able to fulfill. So I was very grateful for the opportunity to do that!
Despite you being eliminated from the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh were clearly impressed by your potential…
I have been extremely lucky to have Andrew and Cameron in my life, on the show they were always positive towards me and encouraged me. Just after the final I was in the very first workshop for Andrew’s new show Love Never Dies and then after a few years I met Cameron again and that’s when the Les Mis chapter in my life started! I have such respect for them, and their work is utter genius!
What advice would you give to the people on Superstar?
My advice would be not to take yourself too seriously! Of course take your craft seriously but that’s it! Don’t get too hung up on criticism OR praise because it’s a constant wave of emotions and the best thing you can do is keep a level head and work hard at what you do!
Some powerful people in the industry have voiced their opposition to shows like Superstar. Have you ever encountered any ill feeling from performers who came up through professional training rather than a talent show?
I have never come across any ill feeling towards reality shows, although I know it exists. Growing up performing was just what I did. At the time I was doing my GCSEs I was also involved in rehearsals for 5 different shows, 2 ballets, a pantomime, a dance show and 2 musicals – that was just life. At 16 I moved away from my family and home in the Isle of Man to go to drama school so I have been working non-stop towards this dream and luckily people seem to recognise that hard work.
You’ve been very busy with the Les Miserables movie – how did you find the experience?
I have loved every moment of filming. To get to explore the world of film hand-in-hand with a character so close to my heart is such a great experience. Even though it’s the same show as the musical, at the same time it’s so different and the attention to detail blows my mind. You spend a year of your life on stage trying to imagine what this world looks like in your head and then you set foot on set and there it is, everything you ever imagined… and more.
AOIFE MULHOLLAND – 34 (How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?)
*Survived until week five of How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?, the 2006 search for a lead in The Sound of Music.
*Immediately went on to the West End stage as Chicago’s Roxie Hart (left).
*Got to perform part-time as Maria when winner Connie Fisher had voice problems.
*In 2009 she joined hit musical Legally Blonde as Brooke Wyndham.
When you didn’t win the role of Maria in the series, did elimination feel like the end of the world?
I let myself wallow for about 24 hours, then I picked myself up and realised what an amazing opportunity I had. I had training, contacts, Saturday night TV exposure so I got on the phone and set up a few meetings with different agents.
What advice would you give to the people on Superstar?
Just be yourself. Don’t get pressured into crying on TV! Although thinking back on it, showing your vulnerable side does help you win over the audience.
Do you think reality shows are a good thing for the industry?
At the beginning a lot of people thought that these shows were a bad thing. That less talented people were getting the roles, rather than the people who have gone to drama school and worked their way up. The truth is, a lot of the people who take part in these shows are trained. When I did Maria, 5 out of the 10 final girls had been to drama school. For television reasons they like to sensationalise it, focusing on day jobs rather than drama school. Connie Fisher did 3 years of drama school, yet they kept referring to her job in the call centre.
I think there are so many talented people out there, and so few jobs, that anyone with a bit of profile is going to get work sooner than someone without. That’s the way the industry has gone in the past few years, hence why people are now swallowing their pride and going for these shows. But even if people who are not trained audition, what’s the harm in that? You can’t beat raw talent and if one of these contests finds that, well surely that can only be a good thing.
Has Andrew Lloyd Webber helped with your career since the show?
Well he did quite a bit for my career after that. The next time I saw Andrew was to audition for the alternate Maria role in The Sound of Music. He chose me for that, thank goodness, and I played that role for over a year. I saw him again when I was doing one of his gala concerts in Dublin. He came to rehearsals and had a lot of input, which was great.
LAUREN SAMUELS – 24 (Over the Rainbow)
*Finished third in Over the Rainbow, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for a Dorothy (and a Toto).
*Within months she was playing Sandy in the West End staging of Grease (left).
*Last year she took on the role of Scaramouche in We Will Rock You in London.
Do you feel you’ve managed to turn just missing out on the part of Dorothy into something positive?
Obviously at the time losing the role felt like the end of the world, but I was excited about what the future held for me so it was easy to turn it into positivity. All of us girls became such good friends as well that it was easy to be ridiculously happy for Danielle. I started thinking straight away, “I can’t wait to see her play the role”.
What advice do you have for this year’s contestants?
Try not to take it all too seriously, enjoy the process because it will be over so quickly. It’s good to learn and absorb from other people around you and if you get knocked back it’s important to maintain your confidence and pick yourself up.
You famously finished in the bottom two three times in Over the Rainbow – do you have any special tips for handling a sing-off?
Obviously we all had to learn the different ‘sing-off’ songs each week, but part of us was in denial that we’d ever have to sing them. So my best advice would be to learn the ‘sing-off’ song as well as you would learn your solo, because should you end up in the bottom two, you’re singing for your survival. Know it like the back of your hand!
There have been voiced concerns that televised talent shows are bad for an industry with few jobs and so many trained performers…
My initial thought is that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It’s a tough one as I actually trained at drama school myself before I entered the programme, so I came up through the stage school/acting training route. I understand that it’s frustrating for performers when ‘celebrities’ are cast, but it seems to be a growing trend.
Are you allowed to tell us what’s next in your career?
Honestly? I don’t know myself yet! I’ll be doing a lot of gigging, which I love but to be honest, these past few years have been so busy for me that I’m going to enjoy a well earned break before I start weighing up my options.
DANIEL BOYS – 33 (Any Dream Will Do)
*Just missed out on the final five in Any Dream Will Do, the 2007 search for the lead in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
*Won the Theatregoers’ Choice Award for best takeover for playing Princeton in Avenue Q (left).
*Released his album So Close in 2009 and has toured worldwide.
How disappointed were you when you lost the sing-off?
A bit of both, really. I was there to win and I wanted very much to be Joseph so it wasn’t very nice being in a sing-off and facing eviction. That said, I had to turn it into a positive. I’d been watched by eight million people for seven weeks so that can only be a good thing. The next day I almost felt a sense of relief on being out because the whole process had been so intense. I was called the shock eviction at the time and although I can’t comment on whether that’s true or not, the Monday after the show the phone calls from my agent and producers went mad so that was a good thing.
Did Andrew Lloyd Webber stay in touch?
I don’t talk to him regularly — just occasionally let him know what I’m up to. About a year after the show he invited all the Josephs and all the Marias who were working in the West End out to dinner which was very nice. And I did receive a Christmas card from him, which was exciting.
What tips do you have for this year’s Superstar hopefuls?
Be yourself, be confident, but most of all fight your corner. The song choices are very important so if you think the song you’ve been given isn’t right for you, then say so. It was all very new to me and I was a bit naïve and probably didn’t do that as much as I could have. So, stand up for yourself and don’t take any s**t.
Any advice for handling a sing-off?
The sing-off is very emotional because you think this could be the last time you’re going to sing. I kind of knew I was going because I was against Lewis, who I knew the panel loved and who looked like a Joseph with his long blonde hair, and it made it extra difficult because we’d become such good friends. I was sort of lucky because my sing-off was Bring Him Home, which is a song I’m very fond of and I was determined to show that the panel were probably going to make a mistake by getting rid of me. It was probably the best I’d sung in the whole competition. So be strong, be focused.
Are reality shows good for the industry?
I’d always wanted to play the part of Joseph so the only way to do that was to audition — it just happens that this audition was a television show. These days it’s all about having a profile and lots of shows want to use names to get bums on seats. What’s unique about these shows as well is that it’s getting a new, young audience, a TV audience, interested in theatre.
What’s up next for you?
I’m keeping busy, mainly doing concert work to promote my album, So Close, which is still selling well around the world even though it’s been out for two years. I’m going to the Far East to do more concerts, doing a short film, a second album and still out there auditioning for other bits.