So, the BBC has recently
launched the latest in its line of three musical talent contests, and
I admit that I’m watching. First there was the 2006 show How Do
You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, which searched for an unknown girl
to play Maria in a new West End production of The Sound of Music.
Then there was the 2007 show Any Dream Will Do, which searched
for an unknown boy to play Joseph in a new West End production of
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Now there’s I’d Do Anything, which searches for both a girl to
play Nancy and a boy to play Oliver Twist in a new stage production
of Lionel Bart’s Dickens-based musical Oliver! Thankfully,
the producers have decided that it’s just too cruel to put the small
boys auditioning for Oliver through the usual American Idol–style
humiliation of panel criticism and a public vote — so that decision
will be made privately, although the audience will be let in on footage
of the boys preparing and performing.
But the girls — who have
now been narrowed down to twelve finalists aged between 17 and 28 —
are judged to be old enough to cope. Consequently, there’s been all
the usual gratuitous upping of their angst, as the panel (which includes
Andrew Lloyd Webber) make them stand and wait for the initial decisions,
and hint that they’ve been dropped just to see them squirm.
Why do I keep on watching,
given how obnoxious that behavior is? Well, for one thing, I love musical
theater. And for another, there are worse ways to spend your Saturday
evenings than in watching 12 talented women singing their hearts
Back in the days of the first
contest, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, the show was
considerably enlivened by the gorgeousness, as well as the talent, of
one of the competitors, Siobhan Dillon:
Siobhan reached the final three,
but eventually lost out on the role of Maria to Connie Fisher,
who has gone on to have a big success in the West End.
Now that the final 12 competitors
for Nancy have been chosen, the field is looking as if it could be more
diverse than it was for Maria. Although I don’t think it was ever
stated in How Do You Solve a Problem? that the contestants had
to be Caucasian to play the Austrian Maria, all of the final ten were
white. I’d Do Anything, in contrast, has two black British
What I really want to know,
though, is whether any of the finalists will turn out to be openly lesbian
or bisexual. While these BBC shows might seem gay-friendly on the surface
— the presenter, Graham Norton, is openly gay, as is panel
member John Barrowman — it’s been notable in the previous
two contests that not one of the finalists has been openly queer. Sexuality
might seem to be irrelevant in a talent contest, if it was not for the
fact that the heterosexual contestants frequently mention their boyfriends
or girlfriends, who are then shown sitting in the audience.
When it came to auditioning
for the nun Maria Von Trapp, I have to admit that I can see why any
lesbian or bisexual contestant might have wanted to keep her sexuality
under wraps. Being dependent on the public vote means being dependent
on public perceptions — and, unfortunate though it might be, I think
too much of the British public still conflates lesbianism with an “extreme”
form of sexuality that wouldn’t fit their image of a pure, rosy-cheeked
Julie Andrews character.
Nancy in Oliver!, however,
isn’t saddled with that sexless image — and so I do wonder whether
any of the contestants will come out during the course of the program.
Though it may not mean anything, Irish 18-year-old Jessie (pictured
above) does sing a love song about a girl in her audition, which you
can see here.
And 17-year-old Samantha states
in her biography that she is “obsessed with Catherine Zeta Jones”
(though given Samantha’s looks, that could just be because she feels
she resembles her):
Anyway, gay or not gay, I know
that I’ll be watching. What about you? Do you like the show? Have
you picked your favorite Nancy yet? Let me know in the comments.