Pretty Irish teenager Niamh Perry was sent home last night, meaning that there are now only four contestants left on I’d Do Anything, the BBC’s search to find a girl to play Nancy in the West End production of Oliver! Although I thought Niamh was a talented performer, she failed to convince the panel and the public that she had the toughness for Nancy, delivering a version of No Doubt ’s “Don’t Speak” that judge Denise Van Outen compared to a teenager throwing a tantrum. While I personally thought that criticism was a bit exaggerated, I did find it hard to picture Niamh in the role of Nancy – just as I find it easy to believe she’ll be picked up soon for a professional role that’s better suited to her.
The remaining four contestants are Jodie Prenger, Jessie Buckley, Rachel Tucker and Samantha Barks – and one of the things making this competition more interesting than the two BBC musical talent shows that have preceded it is that it’s extremely hard to pick a front-runner. With the most professional experience of the lot, 26-year-old Rachel might seem a safe choice – but she was in the bottom two again on Sunday, indicating that she’s not a hit with the public. While teenagers Jessie and Sam are talented, they both seem too young and inexperienced at the moment to me. If I had to hazard a guess as to who will finally take home the prize, it would be 28-year-old Jodie, but I’m not certain.
Jodie lead off the solo performances on Saturday night, with a rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” meant to prove to the judges that she could dance as well as sing. She had limited success in that area – Andrew Lloyd Webber told her that her dancing was “Meatloaf,” which seemed a bit like a cruel jab at her weight – but otherwise she performed well. Since ALW had told her last week that she overacted – and since “Hero” is possibly the campest, most bombastic song known to humankind – I’d been thinking she might overdo it and go over the top, but in fact she kept her performance fairly restrained.
Rachel then gave what I would call a fairly “meh” performance of the Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston classic, “I Will Always Love You,” leading judge Barry Humphries to tell her that she had an “emotional ceiling” that she wasn’t breaking through. For me, the problem is that her performances always seem to convey the same emotion in the same way – she looks a little in front of her feet in a wounded fashion, as if to say, “I cannot believe that I’m so hurt.” It becomes less convincing and less moving each time she does it.
Sam was next, performing her own choice of song, “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. In backstage clips, she was also shown meeting and rehearsing with Wicked and Rent star Idina Menzel (no doubt leading many fans — myself included — to envy her!)
The judges had nothing but praise for Sam’s performance – which surprised me a bit, since I thought her voice sounded ragged on some of the notes, and she also has too many stage tics (scrunching up her nose, nodding, and holding out her arms repeatedly.) There’s no denying that for a 17-year-old, though, she’s incredibly talented and confident.
Finally, Jessie performed the LeAnn Rimes song “How Do I Live.” Although I haven’t always been a huge fan of Jessie’s, I actually thought this was one of her better performances. But the judges were critical, with Denise Van Outen telling her, “The way you move is so unfeminine,” (although she added that this could be OK, as it would be interesting to have a tomboy Nancy.)
Those like me who still have their Nancy gaydar alert switched on might have been interested to hear this comment – only to have their hopes dashed later in the show when Jessie complained about being “so deprived of male company” in the Nancy house. (Although … bi, right? She could still be bi.)
Anyway, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite moments on the show ever: this week’s group performances of the five Nancys (including Niamh) singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” from South Pacific. Perhaps because this week’s acting “mission” for the Nancys was to prove that they could be funny, Niamh does a squeaky, bubbly voice, as if she was playing Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. Samantha is sparkly and graceful; Rachel is competent but still “meh”; Jessie was underwhelming to me, but I thought Jodie’s performance was very warm and confident. Overall, I thought it was one of the most well-choreographed and fun of the group numbers:
Did this week’s performances change your mind as to who you want to win? And who do you think will be the next to go?