The four Nancy finalists became three on Saturday night, in a shocking elimination that saw 26-year-old Rachel Tucker sent home from I’d Do Anything, the BBC’s search to find a girl to play Nancy in a new West End production of Oliver!
The fact that Rachel would wind up in the “bottom two” based on public votes wasn’t a surprise to me, as she has been there twice before. What was a surprise, given that Rachel has the most professional experience of all the remaining finalists, was that Andrew Lloyd Webber would choose to save inexperienced 17-year-old contestant Samantha Barks instead of her.
Although I haven’t always found Rachel a hugely charismatic performer, she is someone I would trust to carry a West End show. And, ironically, her elimination came after what the judges agreed was her best performance in weeks: a rendition of Liza Minnelli’s “Cabaret” that started off a bit stagy for me, but became unexpectedly spine-tingling towards the end, given the sheer force and power that she was putting into the lyrics. I don’t know if it’s just one of those songs that it’s impossible not to be moved by, but by the time she declared, “When I go, I’m going like Rachel” it had pretty much become the performance of the evening for me. You can watch the clip below:
The remaining three contestants are now Samantha Barks, 18-year-old Jessie Buckley, and 28-year-old Jodie Prenger.
Jessie was the next to give a solo performance on Saturday night, singing “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line. Although she is pretty and sang well, making an emotional connection with the song, I admit that Jessie has seemed to me for a while like the most amateur of the remaining contestants, and I was actually expecting her to be eliminated in this round, not Rachel. The fact that she wasn’t even in the bottom two makes it clear that she has a strong fan base – and she herself was keen to talk up her suitability for the role, saying endearingly that “I’m built like an ox – I could do nine shows a week!”
The judges were definitely less keen, though, with John Barrowman saying she still had too many awkward mannerisms that should have been eliminated in week three of the competition (though in fact, he and all the other judges had still been giving Jessie nothing but praise at that point, so he has no-one but himself to blame). Both John Barrowman and judge Denise Van Outen named Jessie as the contestant who “wasn’t Nancy” after they had seen all the solo performances.
After Jessie was Samantha, singing the Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston duet, “When You Believe” from the Disney film, Prince of Egypt. In my opinion, Samantha is someone who really has made the journey from amateur to near-professional over the course of the series, as her singing performances have become astonishingly confident and polished, particularly given her age. I also love her voice, but she has yet to prove she has much in the way of acting talent, or any ability to convey emotions other than pride, anger and defiance.
The judges stated that they had given her this particular song in order to see if she could show “vulnerability” – which, in my opinion, she utterly failed to do. Perhaps the public agreed with me, as for the first time she landed in the bottom two, and was in fact the contestant with the least number of votes. Nevertheless, Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to save her and put her through to the final – meaning that perhaps he thinks she has the emotional range and the life experience for Nancy, even if I don’t.
Jodie was the last to give a solo performance, singing “Out Here on My Own” from Fame. The judges said they wanted to see “grit, not glitter” from her, as they felt she still had a tendency to be “too cabaret” – and in my opinion she delivered, with an emotional, heartfelt performance that led Denise Van Outen to say she wanted to hug her.
Judge Barry Humphries and guest judge Cameron Mackintosh (who will be producing Oliver!) were less keen, though. Barry Humphries told Jodie that although she had been criticized in the past for overacting, he actually felt she was now giving too restrained a performance. Cameron Mackintosh, surprisingly, complained of a lack of “grit,” and also said that she was too “matronly” – which it was hard to see any other way than as yet another jibe over her weight. Both of them named Jodie as the contestant who “wasn’t Nancy” – which I can’t help feeling is going to be awkward if Jodie does end up winning the part, and then has to work with Mackintosh as her producer. She and Jessie are now the only contestants never to have been in the bottom two.
In terms of group performances, this was a bit of a lackluster week for me. The four girls’ rendition of “A Hard Day’s Night” was both uninspiring and a bizarre calling card for the role of Nancy. Jodie and Sam’s duet from Jesus Christ Superstar seemed, frankly, tacky and inappropriate, given all the pelvis-grinding while wearing “angel-style” white dresses – I’m not normally hugely sympathetic to Christians who call up to complain about what’s on their TVs, but in this case, I almost wouldn’t have blamed them. Jessie and Rachel’s duet of “Buenos Aires” from Evita was better, though I didn’t love the musical arrangement of the song.
Next week’s final will see the casting of the role handed over entirely to the public vote, as first one and then another of the three remaining contestants are eliminated. Any predictions as to who’s going to come out on top? My money’s on Jodie … but you never know.