“Why anyone would want to watch former stars is anyone’s guess”, an ITV insider, in their infinite wisdom, claimed last week in response to the auditioning of ‘has beens’ on BBC’s The Voice, following a row said to have broken over the familiar faces in the line-up for this series, including Kavana, Danny from Hear’Say and Cleo from Cleopatra.
It is probably the most apt definition of ‘cringe’ that has ever been offered. A former star, or ‘has been’, as the media prefers, fancies another stab at the limelight – clearly indicating, by their participation alone, that their career is in tatters. A montage of their past hits plays on the VT, and they stand by - sometimes nervous, sometimes smug.
They then walk out to the stage, where, invariably, the audience do not recognise them, and they sing their hearts out. The whole shtick about The Voice, at least in its early stages, is the ‘blind auditions’, which require Sir Tom Jones, Will.i.am, Jessie J and that guy from The Script to press a button on their swivel chair if they are interested, solely in the voice they are hearing. It therefore means that for the former stars who were once paid to be our on TVs, every passing second that a chair does not turn around is a second too long.
And then, post-performance, all four chairs turn around automatically, as the judges must then face the person they have just insulted, quite literally, behind their backs. Invariably, they, too, do not recognise the former stars, although time and time again they prove to have been specific favourites of the judging panel. That guy from The Script was clearly mortified at hearing the name “Kavana, as in, Kavana …”, and once the colour returned to his face, the two awkwardly reminisced about a time the guy from The Script was supporting the guy with the weird name on tour. My, how times have changed, the awkward subtext reads.
It was no less apparent with Sean Conlon last series, as Jessie J, failing to initially recognise the person she decided not to take a punt on, gasped audibly when he revealed he had, in fact, been in huge boyband, 5ive. “You were the first concert I ever saw”, she exclaimed. “The only reason I didn’t turn around is I was just thinking ‘what can I do for you’? Your voice is beautiful.” Not only cringe, but insulting to boot.
Which is probably why, let’s face it, deep down we love it so much.
But Sean is that bit more significant, following his recent appearance on ITV2’s (yes, you read that right) The Big Reunion.
Along with the Honeyz, Atomic Kitten, Liberty X, 911, B*Witched and late additions Blue, Sean, and three of the other four members of 5ive reunited for a nine-part documentary series, which culminated in a meant-to-be-one-off show, which proved so popular it has now become a full-blown tour. And I was not only an avid viewer of the show, I was also a proud and highly excitable owner of the golden ticket to the concert. And it was awesome.
But although I greedily gorged on the weekly build-up, giving me an all-access pass to the stories of the participating bands, something didn’t sit quite right with me on certain occasions. It was a bit like seeing the unappetizing slab of meat before it is cooked into a delicious piece of steak – some things, perhaps, are better left unseen.
Like, for example, the fact that Keavy from B*Witched suffered from depression once the band split – the result of a “ticking time bomb” not surprising following her exile to the shadow of lead singer Edele – her twin sister. Or the fact that Natasha Hamilton of Atomic Kitten was suffering from post-natal depression following the birth of her son, and nobody noticed for months. Not to mention the countless other stars who suffered mentally after their fall from grace as pop’s finest.
But perhaps most poignantly is Sean’s leaving of 5ive eleven years ago because he had a nervous breakdown.
On viewing, it is clear to see that out of all the troubled ‘has beens’ who have returned to our screens, he is by far the least recovered. And his stint on The Voice, while great TV, can’t have done wonders for his self-esteem, either. More often than not I found myself questioning how he could have been allowed to continue participating. The aforementioned ITV insider might be delighted to hear that in fact, it does, make fabulous television, but fabulous television is not always responsible television.
It baffles my mind when I think back on the furore that inevitably arises every time a vulnerable audition on the X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent is screened as a necessary by-product of ‘good television’. Why should it be different with a recognised face? Especially when that recognised face is not necessarily used to the added criteria to their job description: Being open to criticism 24/7 by any @Tom, @Dick or @Harry.
A former star has learned the hard way that they are not superhuman. Maybe it’s time we realised, too.