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Why reality TV is a viable way to recruit West End stars

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The BBC has pioneered musical theatre talent based shows for years; with a long string of Andrew Lloyd Webber series dominating Saturday night TV from 2006, and Gary Barlow’s latest series Let It Shine currently filling the void The Voice left when it moved networks to ITV last month. 

But why is reality TV used to decide who treads the boards of the West End? Why do so many talent show hopefuls land parts in coveted roles when their traditionally trained counterparts are overlooked?

It’s hard not to mention a reality star when discussing West End roles. X Factor winner Alexandra Burke treaded the boards as Rachel in The Bodyguard; her fellow 2008 contestant Diana Vickers held the lead in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. Practically every contestant on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s BBC shows I’d Do Anything, Over The Rainbow and How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? ended up on a West End stage in one show or another.

In fact, some of the West End’s most loved performers began on reality TV, including Les Miserables star Danielle Hope, whose win on 2010’s Over The Rainbow landed her the lead role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and paved the way to future success. She subsequently featured in both Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and The Sound of Music to resounding success, proving she could capture roles long after her television win.

Funnily enough, many reality TV stars mention that featuring on such a show can be perfect preparation for the West End. It’s frequently mentioned that the X Factor contestants’ schedules are non-stop and often demanding, with series 12 contestant Mason Noise telling the Birmingham Mail that “on Tuesday you start vocal rehearsals, while Wednesday is dance rehearsals. More vocals on Thursday, then you spent Friday at the TV studio doing run-throughs. You’re at the studios at 7am and don’t leave till late.”

Mason is even quoted saying that X Factor contestants work harder than those on the stage: “Normally if you’ve got a show, you would warm up and then rest your voice and not talk. But on the X Factor you have to talk all day to the camera and sing in rehearsals.” 

Having an experience such as this is perfect for any wannabe performer, whether they were thrown in at the deep end with no prior knowledge of the showbiz world or trained for it their whole lives through local productions and schools. 

Although it seems that the casting of celebrities and individuals via talent shows is becoming more and more popular, it is clear that the majority of roles are given to those who have trained their whole lives to perfect their craft. Dedicated theatre schools exist for a reason, and many shows recruit directly through these places of learning so that the up and coming get a taste of the spotlight.

These trained actors from traditional performing arts schools have skills that can only be taught through years of practice, but moulding a talented undiscovered individual from scratch can provide an alternative to recruiters of the West End, and this is where shows such as Let It Shine can flourish.

Reality TV is used for West End casting because it provides something different, something exciting - and facing intensive rehersals before performing in front of millions of viewers is one way for contestants to become accustomed to the bright lights and large theatres of the stage. Performing in front of judges such as Gary Barlow and Simon Cowell is yet another way contestants can understand the critiques they will inevitably face throughout their career. 

It’s unconventional to say that every West End star should be recruited via TV, but for the select few, it is a way for those at home to see a performer grow before watching them blossom on a West End stage that was seen as unreachable before appearing on reality TV show.

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