With “The X Factor” now run aground into a pitiful former shadow of itself (Honey G. Let’s just leave it there, shall we?) and “The Voice” now having flown the nest to ITV where it’s become a harsher, duller version of what it did before (also dispersing of Marvin Humes and Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson in the process. Bad move), it now falls to the Beeb to deliver some feel good Saturday night viewing for the still wintry evenings of the start of the year.
Step forward then, pop legend and the Captain of boyband turned manband giants Take That, Mr Gary Barlow. Promotion of new Take That music aside, Mr Barlow has been all but absent from our screens since bowing out of being a judge on “The X Factor” three years ago. Now though, he has returned with a new eight week series aiming to find superstars for a new stage show he’s developed.
“Let it Shine” is looking for five young guys to be members of a boyband who will be in a touring musical, featuring the songs of Take That. So far, so “Mamma Mia”, cynics amongst you may be hollering. On the judging panel is the Captain himself, along with Dannii Minogue, Spandau Ballet and EastEnders star Martin Kemp, and Glee star Amber Riley, whilst Graham Norton and the ever delightful Mel Giedroyc host the whole circus.
Each auditionee does their little interview with the judges, then gives their performance, after which each of the judges then score them out of 5. If they score a total of 15 or more out of 20 on the lit up walk of stars, they are through to the next round.
There is a definite undercurrent of the high camp and spectacle of musical theatre evident in this show, right from Gary’s self penned opening number in the first show that referenced power showers, tabloid kiss and tells, and even a rap (yes, RAP) from Mel and Graham. In fact, the feel good element is what makes this such a refreshing addition to Saturday nights.
It’s polished and light like its title, and has an old school entertainment feel whilst being very current. The feedback to the contestants is constructive but not destructive, mainly because it’s objective is primarily to find stage stars rather than the latest chart topper (or rather, #149 charter. Again, Honey G, hello to you).
Some of the successful auditionees on the first show had real potential – namely Gary Barlow superfan Tyler. He was admittedly a little rough around the edges with his song choice of Joe Cocker’s “You are So Beautiful to Me”, but his charisma and likeability shone through, and with a bit of work he could be a contender.
Also standing out was Welsh teenager Nicky, who gave a haunting rendition of “Say Something” by A Great Big World, and Jason, who tore the roof off – including a standing ovation mid-performance – for his version of “Run to You” by Whitney Houston. Others that were successful, however, like Jazzie, who sang slash breakdanced his way through Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”, seemed like potential band members. But more in the “standing at the back busting some moves” sense (hello to you, the members of East 17 that weren’t Brian Harvey or Tony Mortimer).
Future shows promise further audition delights, as well as masterclasses with the contestants from Olly Murs, Kaiser Chiefs, Busted and Melanie C to name but a few. You’d do well to keep an eye on “Let it Shine”. Far from imitating the show Gary was once a judge on, it’s uniquely got the uplifting factor in spades.
“Let it Shine” continues Saturday evenings at 7pm on BBC One. The first episode is available for UK viewers to watch now on BBC iPlayer. Twitter: @BBCLetitShine