Off to a warbly start

Jeremy Pound reflects on the first instalment of ITV’s Popstar to Operastar series… and dares to pick a winner

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I’m not exactly reality TV’s biggest fan. I’ve never felt the urge to come dancing, strictly or otherwise; I’ve no inclination to get celebrities out of the jungle; and I don’t really need scathing critiques from Simon Cowell to make it clear to me that Britain’s got very little talent. Given the choice, I’d much rather settle for the company of my reality wife and a glass of reality red any day.

However, having last year attended the filming of the BBC’s Maestro! competition for celeb wannabe conductors and rather brilliantly (OK, fortuitously) tipped Sue Perkins to win, I felt myself inevitably drawn to ITV’s Popstar to Operastar (PtOS) on Friday evening. Time to see if I can repeat the trick.

The PtOS format couldn’t be much simpler: take eight figures who have made their name as pop musicians, and see if they can learn to sing opera convincingly. One gets voted off each week, until just a single winner remains.

Two mentors are there to help our courageous eight through the ordeal. One is Rolando Villazón (pictured right), the world-class Mexican tenor who has recently taken time away from the stage to repair damage done to his vocal cords… and, by the looks of it, to culture a new hairstyle best described as part-poodle, part-chrysanthemum. The other is Welsh mezzo Katherine Jenkins, who has thus far remained mysteriously coy when it comes to sharing her reminiscences of the world’s great opera stages.

So, who’s going to win? First up on Friday was Jimmy Osmond, whose performance of ‘O Sole Mio’ was prefaced by footage of him being trained for the task by Villazón. Hmmm. As the Long-Haired Lover from Liverpool was urged with increasing desperation to reach for the top notes by the mop-haired mentor from Mexico, the sheer enormity of said task dawned.

At least Osmond had the bottle to have a stab at those top notes. Unlike Darius Thingummy who, frankly, should have been booted off at the outset – partly for being someone a lot of us have never heard of, but mainly for cheating. Did he really think he could get away with singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ at a pitch considerably below that intended by Puccini and that no-one would notice? Think again, old boy.

Far more game was Kym Marsh, once of Hear’Say, who despite struggling with a sore throat and cold pressed ahead nonetheless with her rendition of some Offenbach. Very naïve, that. Had Marsh had aspirations to be a true opera star, she would have immediately cancelled the whole run, leaving the role to an understudy. But I’m sure she’ll learn.

Sadly for Alex James the learning curve is already over. Much as though we all enjoyed the former Blur bassist’s robust performance of Rossini’s ‘Largo al Factotum’, it didn’t take long for both TV audience and the studio jury to twig that he really, really can’t sing. Rightly, if regretfully, he was the person to be voted off. Still, at least he made it onto stage in the first place, which wasn’t always the case at the hedonistic peak of his Blur career.

Which brings us down to just seven contestants from whom to predict a winner. Though I suspect that – on grounds of charisma if nothing else – Osmond and McFly’s Danny Jones may push her close, I’m going to plump for former Shakespeare’s Sister singer Marcella Detroit. Slightly scary she may be, but she clearly has the most agile voice. Watch this space.

Whether I myself survive the series to the end remains to be seen. Now where’s that corkscrew…?

Jeremy Pound is the deputy editor of BBC Music Magazine.

 

Main image: Felix Broede