Ireland’s Got Talent: ‘I thought feck it, I’m too old but I’m hungry for it now’
What makes stars of TV talent competition perform in front of a 350,000-strong audience?
Alice & Noel, a married couple from Wicklow, are a hit with the crowd.
In theory, Ireland’s Got Talent should be a competition where the twists are plentiful, the stakes are raised and the drama is clockwork regular. In reality, the vibe at the live auditions at Dublin’s Helix is much cosier and more collegiate than that: think a variety show, or a village fete. In a good way.
Presenter Lucy Kennedy massages the young crowd into an amiable enthusiasm, which overspills when the judges – Denise Van Outen, Jason Byrne, Michelle Visage and Louis Walsh – enter the arena to take their seats.
“They go absolutely crazy for Louis in particular,” the PR assures me.
It’s a mixed-bag afternoon. In terms of raw talent, a high point comes from a capella group The Apple Blossoms who are, they are quick to point out, fresh from performing at Conor McGregor’s baby shower. Job done on the PR front at any rate.
Tullamore singer-slash-retail-worker Olivia Burke has battled mental health problems, and offers up a well-received cover of Teenage Kicks. “I’ve never heard it done that way before,” Walsh says in wonderment (wait until he hears what Nouvelle Vague did with it).
Dance troupe Dynasty, made up of youngsters aged 9 to 12, make a energetic fist of a modern hip-hop routine, though they’re gently warned that they’ll need to sync up more seamlessly if they want to progress through the competition. It’s a legitimate piece of advice from judge Denise Van Outen, albeit one that elicits panto-style boos. Make no mistake: this is very much a home crowd.
Yet raw talent and high entertainment value aren’t mutually exclusive. Alice (33) & Noel (52), a married couple from Wicklow town, are dressed in what appear to be gussied-up bin bags. They gleefully mangle Video Killed The Radio Star. “We didn’t say we were singers,” Noel offers gaily afterwards. Yet they have an emotive back-story – a perennial staple in the TV talent competition – ready to deploy. The crowd go positively wild for them, talent or no.
All of it raises the question: what exactly makes the show’s entrants sign up to appear on the show? Why risk potential elimination and on-camera ignominy in front of an audience of thousands? Is it the chance at fame, however ephemeral and flimsy? Is it simply for sport? A curiosity about being on TV? A means of personal exposure?
Derry native Aaron Deery (25), aka drag act Robyn Diamonds, is a TV talent show veteran. He has appeared already on The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice (“I didn’t get the chairs turned round”). In other versions of the show, the atmosphere registers as much more cutthroat.
“I was on X Factor in 2011 and they took us out to the lawn and cut 50 of us there and then,” he recalls. “It was hard to watch people’s dreams literally taken away from them, but that stuff happens for shock value. At least here (in Ireland’s Got Talent), they really look after you.
“I’ve been entertaining since I was 16, and every opportunity I get where I’m given a platform, I run with it,” he explains.
“I want to enter a show that showcases my talent. I believe I have a lot of it, and it does go unnoticed. Of course I want to make this my full-time career. Fame is appealing, but it’s not something I’m chasing after. A career in the arts is more important than fame or money. It’s something I’ve dreamed of for so long, and I’ve been trying for a decade, so I’ll never give up.”
Dreams of stardom
Matt Dodd (70), who lives in Palmerstown but grew up in the Oliver Bond flats in Dublin, has sung in Dublin’s pubs for years. He’s also tried his hand at several other TV talent shows and recalls seeing young hopefuls “bawling their eyes out” as their dreams of stardom were dashed in the name of good TV.
“I thought, ‘Feck it, I’m too old’, but my grandkids sent the (audition) video of me singing in the house. I’d given up hope of getting on TV,” he recalls, noting his reasons for appearing on Ireland’s Got Talent. “I just wanted to prove to meself if I was a good singer or not.”
It was a journey of self-exploration with a nice bonus. After being eliminated at semi-final stage, he eventually made it to last year’s final after being chosen as a competition “wildcard”. That he has been able to carve out a humble singing career in his locality, as a soloist and with his band The Legends Pack, was another fringe benefit.
“I did a few little gigs over Christmas, though you’re just getting your gargle money, really,” he reveals.
“I’m getting a lot of recognition at the moment around Ballyfermot, even on the 40 bus, and it’s been a great boost for the estate where I live, with one of the neighbours being on TV,” he says. “It’s been a magical time for us all, me and my family.”
His recent success has whetted his appetite for exposure. “Ah, I’m definitely hungry for it now,” he laughs. “I’m hoping to try them all again this year: Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor. Sure why not?”
For Leixlip-based singer Julie McCabe (30), appearing on Ireland’s Got Talent this year has been an exercise in “getting back to myself”.
“For the last couple of years I’ve lacked confidence and my little boy (Max, 2) was diagnosed with autism, so it’s been like living in a haze,” she explains. “When you get to 30 you stop worrying about what others think and you do what makes you happy. I just find when I’m singing it males me forget all my personal worries. Some have mindfulness or the gym, and I do this.”
Still, not everyone takes to the gym or mindfulness in front of an average of 350,000 TV viewers.
“Well, people will have their own opinions that don’t like me, but I’m trying to stay on the positive side,” she notes. “I did worry about (negative feedback on Twitter), but I’m not too worried about it now, to be honest.”
Dancer Zacc Milne (20), from Finglas, was a finalist from last year’s series. In his pursuit of a professional career, his experience on the show “helped me get closer to where I want to go”. “I’m travelling a lot now, working in some great dance studios, meeting some cool people and getting to see the world,” he explains, “(Being on the show) definitely helped with exposure.”
As with Dodd, his was a journey with highs and lows, as Milne was eliminated early on before being reinstated by a “wildcard” vote for the final. “I enjoyed myself overall,” he reflects. “I learned about myself that I should put myself out more and not be afraid to show the world a certain side of myself.”
There were loftier ambitions involved, too: “I wanted to lead by example. It’s important for the younger generation to know that they can succeed in something that’s not mainstream, or not considered a regular job. I felt a responsibility to inspire younger people. If I inspire one or even 10 people, that’s an accomplishment for me. I just wish I’d seen someone like me do this when I was younger.”
Ireland’s Got Talent returns on Virgin Media One on Saturday, February 2nd, at 7.30pm. See virginmediatelevision.ie for more information