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West End star Cedric Neal on auditioning for ITV’s The Voice: ‘I can’t get over Jennifer Hudson throwing her shoes at me’

Cedric Neal's 'blind' audition on ITV's The Voice prompted all the coaches to turn and Jennifer Hudson to throw her shoes at him

Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Cedric Neal has starred in the West End’s Motown the Musical, played alongside Audra McDonald in the 2012 Tony award-winning Broadway production of Porgy and Bess, and, most recently, performed as the Arbiter in Chess at the London Coliseum. Now, the musical theatre star has decided to battle it out for a slot on ITV’s The Voice. Ahead of the first live ‘battle rounds’ this weekend, Ollie Cole caught up with Neal to talk about his journey so far…

How did you get involved with The Voice, and what’s the process been like so far?

The journey came about, like most things do in my life, as a result of musical theatre. One of the vocal coaches for the programme saw me in Motown the Musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre and called me up to ask if I’d be interested in auditioning.

Before that, I was very much one of those people who said I would never do a reality competition show. But when I got the call from The Voice team, it just came at the right time in my life where I felt like I had nothing to prove and everything to share. It’s been intense, scary, exciting and validating. But most of all it’s been worth it.

Motown the Musical review at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London – ‘the ultimate jukebox musical’

You’re used to auditions and casting calls, but is that type of audition still rather surreal?

That process on The Voice was auditioning on another level. It caught me off guard and was completely foreign territory for me. As a theatre performer, I’m used to going into a room and with a few people sat behind the table, and going into that room I usually know at least a little bit what they want character and style-wise.

Going into the ‘blind audition’, though, I was uncertain, because for the first time in a long time I was presenting the voice of Cedric. I had anxiety attacks behind that curtain, the show forced me for the first time in a long time to ask the question: ‘Is Cedric enough?’.

Every time I went in front of the judges, The Voice’s team, or even just rehearsals for the audition, that would be on my mind. ‘Is Cedric Neal enough as just Cedric?’. Thankfully, it’s proving that he is enough, at least at this point in the show.

You’ve played some big roles in the West End and Broadway. Was there not a sense that you’d already ‘made it’?

There was some apprehension on my part, and still a little of that remains, because I was uncertain as to what my peers in the Broadway and West End community would think about me doing this. It’s no secret that a lot of people do these kind of reality shows just so they can get access to the rooms that can put them on Broadway or into the West End.

I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to perform on Broadway twice, opposite Audra McDonald in Porgy and Bess, and with Patti LaBelle in After Midnight. I’ve been able to star in Motown the Musical for two years in London and then go on to Chess with Michael Ball and Alexandra Burke. I have been blessed, but when people ask “why are you doing this?”, I simply say: “Why not?”

It’s another opportunity, I have nothing to prove – except to myself – and my intention with this is just to share the gift of song on an international level, and it looks like that’s happening so far. I’m grateful for this next turn in my career path, and yeah, why not?

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The judges and audience seemed to love your audition. How did that feel?

The reaction to my blind audition, from those legendary judges, was amazing. I still can’t quite get over the fact that Jennifer Hudson threw both of her shoes at me, and ultimately that the legend that is Tom Jones welcomed me to his team. I’m loving and savouring everything he’s telling me about how to make myself better, and how to make it work, all while staying true to Cedric Neal. The man’s a freaking legend – it’s mindblowing.

And what has the reaction been from your fellow stage performers?

The response from my Broadway and West End community has been nothing but positive and supportive. I’ve had to issue a couple of apologies, because I misjudged how much my peers actually care about me and how they would react. They’ve shared my ‘blind audition’ everywhere, to the point where it’s almost at a million views.

I’ve had texts, emails and messages from Broadway and West End royalty saying congratulations, and telling me that “this is your time”. They’ve urged me to show the world that ‘sounding like a theatre singer’ is not a bad thing, and that the training and the work that goes into eight shows a week can be implemented into the music world. I now understand what the word ‘overwhelmed’ means. Yeah, as I say, I did have to apologise to a couple of them because I thought they were gonna take the piss out of me, but it’s actually been amazing.

A shoeless Jennifer Hudson after Neal’s performance

Is this the start of you moving solely to a music career and dropping the world of theatre?

I’ve done a lot of things in my professional life, but the one thing I haven’t done is go into a recording studio and work on my project, that’s my voice, and is my contribution to the music world. In doing The Voice, hopefully it will open that door in my professional life. I will always be a song-and-dance man, though. It’s the only thing I’m good at that’s legal, and the first thing that I realised would get me attention without getting me into trouble.

I will always be a song-and-dance man, but I believe that the universe has a way of working things out, and hopefully it will allow me to get that recording contract through The Voice – and of course I’ll still pursue my ambitions in the musical theatre world. That’s my world, it saved my life and I am what I am because of musical theatre. There will always be a big place in my heart for the stage. Right now, though, I think it’s time to take the slice of this ‘life pie’ that is the music world.

The Voice UK continues tomorrow at 8pm on ITV

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