The Green Room: TV talent shows: a cynical marketing ploy or great opportunity?

Let It Shine judges Amber Riley, Gary Barlow, Dannii Minogue and Martin Kemp. Photo: Guy Levy/BBC

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…


Albert Parker is 58 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

Molly Muffet is 37. After university, she joined the cast of a major BBC sitcom. Since then she has worked extensively on stage


Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured national and internationally


Dale McKenna is 25. He trained at Laine Theatre Arts in Surrey, has performed in West End musicals and is currently touring the UK

Jenny Talbot, 39, has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV, film and plays

Victor Winstanley is 42. His career has encompassed the National, West End, touring and regional work. He writes extensively for radio and TV

JennyI have worked with a few TV winners and (much as I find the whole thing so distasteful and a bad representation) they have all been diligent, hard working and professional. Pleasure to work with.

Victor I don’t particularly have anything against the people who come from those shows – I’ve worked with a couple and they were lovely. But there’s a lot to be concerned about with the way they portray the business.

Albert Why is it a “cynical” commercial opportunity?

Molly Bit of both, I guess. There are people working now who got their start through those shows – so I suppose it worked for them.

Albert Surely it’s a commercial opportunity, and whether you believe that should be taking place on the BBC or not is up to you?

Dale [On Let It Shine] They’re auditioning for a musical that hasn’t been written yet. And no one seems to care about the show at all, it’s just about creating a band. That’s why it’s cynical.

Albert Or perhaps they’re finding the performers and creating the work around them. It has been done you know.

Dale But they aren’t creating the songs, right? It’s going to be Take That songs.

Thomas Is there a cynicism in something being purely marketing, while pretending to be prime time entertainment?

Albert It’s a commercial opportunity. They’re trying to provide entertainment, but they’re also wanting to make money out of it. After all, it is called showbusiness. Sometimes I think we

forget the business side of things.

Jenny My biggest issue is the “experience” of the judges, and also that the songs they sing aren’t musical theatre songs and acting is rarely mentioned. It continues to give strength to the belief that MT performers cannot act.

Albert I’d have to agree with Jenny. Having Dannii Minogue spout on about what it takes to be in a musical is quite laughable.

Thomas Jenny, the winners of TV shows you have worked with in the past – do they talk about the experience of doing TV talent shows in glowing terms? Did they enjoy the experience, do you think?

Jenny Not really. Most of them played it down.

Molly The people I’ve met from those shows are quite keen to put it behind them – not because they necessarily had a bad time, but because they’re a bit embarrassed.

Jenny Some people I’ve worked with have gone on to go on the programmes and it’s worked for them, too. It can really help their profile for a bit.

Dale The positive is that, in an age when it takes celebs to put bums on seats or pacify producers, then at least these guys become celebs by being decent and not through The Only Way Is Essex.

Thomas Would any of you consider going on one of those shows if they were auditioning for your dream role?

Jenny NO.

Molly No.

Albert No no no no no no no no no.

Molly Auditions are horrible enough as it is – I can’t imagine having to do that in front of a prime time TV audience. *shudder*

Dale No, but I totally see why people do.

Beryl I feel torn about all this. Could it be the only way someone working-class could get through these days?

Jenny I’m lucky to have got on the ladder before this all began so haven’t had to consider it. I can totally understand why people do it.

Albert Given the fact that drama school is so expensive, I think people can legitimately try to get into the business however they can.

Dale There are still Dance and Drama Awards, right?

Thomas There are DaDAs, Dale. They are available only at certain colleges and don’t always cover the full fees any more. At other colleges there are student loans in place (like university), and some colleges are private and offer neither DaDAs or loans.

Albert I did work with one person who had appeared on a TV reality talent show and she was an absolute nightmare.

Molly Surely reality TV must be coming to an end? Now it’s basically put one of its judges in the White House, there’s nowhere else to go.

Jenny Apparently the boys in Let It Shine all had to sign a deal to say that if they don’t get in, they still have to agree to understudy in it.

Albert Urban myth or truth, Jenny?

Jenny Truth – I know one of the lads. I think it’s if they’re in the band that came second.

Victor I particularly dislike the idea (which I saw in the Sound of Music show and in Let It Shine) that someone who has trained for, and dedicated their lives to, a career is somehow ‘cheating’. When I see a video saying: “So-and-so has always dreamed of being an actor,” I just think: “Well, why didn’t you then?”