Today on Twitter, I found myself caught in the middle of a storm resulting from X Factor contestants using musical theatre as a back up plan. When Sammi Brookes was voted off she expressed her wish to go into Blood Brothers, and this morning Amanda Holden posted the following message after last night’s elimination of Johnny Robinson.
This sparked a Twitter debate, with many of the West End’s best stepping up to voice their opinion. Should musical theatre be a “back up plan” for those booted out of shows like the X Factor? Is it ok that producers and audiences expect to see their favourite X Factor rejects on the West End stage? Or is it demeaning to those who train hard for years in order to lose out to lead roles to someone from ‘reality’ TV? Here’s a selection of what the West End had to say…
Let’s start with the good. We have a number of former X Factor people amongst our West End talent, who have no problem knocking out eight shows a week and hold their own in whatever the challenge is. Cassie Compton, for example, has played Eponine in Les Mis as well as being a lead singer in Dirty Dancing and more recently Nessarose in Wicked. She also teaches West End workshops. Someone like Cassie Compton came to attention on the X Factor, but had been working long before that and has bags of talent to boot.
On the negative, producers recently announced that X Factor contestant Mary Byrne will be appearing as Teen Angel (yes – Teen Angel!) in the tour of Grease at its Dublin stop. Now, in what world is it ok to turn a well known MALE part into a female part so that you can have someone who will put those elusive bums on seats? Especially when you consider how many out of work, trained actors there are who would do that role in a second?
What I’m not saying is that people should not be given a chance, but at the end end of the day, when you audition for a show like the X Factor, surely the aim is to become a pop star? Particularly in the case of Sammi Brookes, who very publicly declared that she wants to be in Blood Brothers. If you want to be in Blood Brothers, why not go and audition for Blood Brothers? Why declare it on National Television so that the whole world thinks that it is your second choice? Why even audition for X Factor if all you want to do is be in Blood Brothers? See my point?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not going into training vs not training here, as we have many excellent performers within the West End who never formally trained. But most of them take private lessons and work extremely hard to be able to do eight shows a week. When an X Factor contestant passes musical theatre off as a second choice, it demeans the work that every performer in the West End does. Whether that is working eight shows or more a week in a West End show or auditioning to find the right role when roles are being sapped up by those who get it because of who they are.
People asked this morning whether shows like Over The Rainbow, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do are the same in terms of churning out people who walk into West End roles, but – as much as I dislike reality television – at least musical theatre is not a second option to those on these shows. They are auditioning to be in a musical, therefore if they do not win but still end up in a musical it is not too far from what they aimed for. Also, on these shows they are more likely to have a little more experience – maybe not formal training as such but even Am Dram experience or National Youth Musical Theatre training can prove very useful.
I just think these things should be judged on talent alone. If someone from a reality TV show goes along to an audition with trained performers, none trained performers and some randomers and gets the role because they are most suited for it, then good for them! There is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t because, as I already discussed, a number of our West End’s best have dallied with X Factor or such reality TV shows at some point in their career. It just seems producers see the $$ instead of the talent sometimes.
Casting people from X Factor or such show always causes controversy in theatreland. For example, when Rachel Tucker was first cast as Meat in We Will Rock You, pretty much off the back of I’d Do Anything, many people very very quick to voice their disdain. If they would have just given her a chance they would have seen that she was as good a Meat as any of her predecessors. Shayne Ward is most recognizable from the X Factor, but yet he is doing a fantastic job as Staycee Jaxx in Rock of Ages and holds his own against an extremely talented West End cast. It’s great when a “reality TV” person holds their own in a role and is genuinely fantastic and every bit as good as those around them, but how annoying is it when they don’t?
So, give me your thoughts. Do you agree with an X Factor contestant voicing their wish to “do musicals instead” on National Television after being voted off the X Factor? Do you think producers should think about those who have worked hard for the role before they cast those who just came out of X Factor?