Saturday night telly. The most difficult to get right, yet in many ways the most important. BBC One think their new format Let It Shine has all the right ingredients to make it a ratings hit.
People question why The X Factor continues year after year, despite ratings continuing to fall. Perhaps it's because five or six million for ITV is still better than an alternative might get and could they really afford to lose that audience?
When ITV bought The Voice UK from BBC One, I thought that might be the final nail in the coffin for The X Factor, but of course it wasn't. So ITV now have The Voice UK, Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor, all vying for that top Saturday night slot.
The Voice UK moving to ITV left BBC One with just one Saturday night show, Strictly Come Dancing. Granted, it's the most successful and the most-watched, and gets better and better each year but it can only fill the schedule for three months a year.
It was well-known that the BBC were on the hunt to find the next big Saturday night format and in June 2016 it was announced what that would be. The press release read "A brand new Saturday night entertainment show Let It Shine in conjunction with Gary Barlow and presented by Graham Norton and Mel Giedroyc.
Let It Shine will be seeking out talent to create a band who will join the cast of a brand new stage show featuring the music of Take That, created in association with Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald.
Over eight weeks of competition, BBC One and Gary Barlow will be looking for talented individuals to form a new group that exudes the charisma, showmanship and stage presence that the hit group has become so famous for.
Gary will be joined by three mentors each week on Let It Shine to find the very best talent the country has to offer. The winning group will perform the hits of the band in a nationwide musical stage show called The Band."
Immediately I thought of the string of Andrew Lloyd Webber series which ran from 2006 to 2010; How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, Any Dream Will Do, Over The Rainbow, I'd Do Anything. These were also hosted by Graham Norton and set out to find the lead in a new West End musical.
So when I got invited along to the series launch just before Christmas, I was intrigued as to whether or not the format will be able to distance itself from those shows and ultimately beat The Voice UK in the ratings.
On paper, the format could sound stale, 4 judges and an audition process. After all, we’ve seen it a thousand and one times before, but actually the first episode of Let It Shine proved that this series is anything but stale. It manages to keep what can be a tired format feeling new and exciting and it’s done so in a number of ways.
First of all, this is a talent show on BBC One, so much like The Voice UK, we only ever get to see people who are average to really good. None of the terrible singers you get on shows like Britain’s Got Talent or The X Factor are given the time of day.
There’s none of the pointing and laughing you get on those other shows making Let It Shine an utter joy to watch and just feel-good family television. Exactly what you want on a Saturday night.
The judges are great too as they all seem to get on - a rarity. Dannii Minogue was a popular judge on The X Factor and has a wealth of experience in this field so it’s no surprise really that she does a great job.
Martin Kemp is perhaps more of a left-field choice but actually he adds a lot to the panel and it’s refreshing to see different faces as judges on these shows.
Speaking of which, then there’s Amber Riley, one of the West End’s current leading ladies in Dreamgirls. Amber really shines (excuse the pun) in the opening episode and is probably my favourite judge (so far), thanks to her infectious personality. So it’s a real shame that she won’t take part in the second stage of the competition, instead Lulu will be taking her page. So I’m sure we’ve got nothing to worry about.
And finally, the mastermind behind Let It Shine, Mr Gary Barlow. A man whose ego could so easily have been out of control, after all this is his format and it’s his music the winners will end up singing in a musical that he’s written.
Whilst he does feature heavily, Gary in no way comes across as egotistical. He's also not afraid to share the limelight with his Take That bandmates, Mark Owen and Howard Donald, who feature heavily throughout the process, giving some last minute advice to the lads backstage before they venture on to the Let It Shine stage.
Speaking of which, the Let It Shine stage is no ordinary stage. Between the judges and the performers is the Let It Shine starway, a catwalk of sorts containing 15 stars and each performer stands inside the fifteenth star. Why? Because that’s the minimum number of points they’ll need to get through to the next stage.
The judges individually vote for each performer and give them a score out of five. But this is all done in secret and rather than reading out the scores like they do on Strictly, the scores are revealed through the stars on the starway.
One by one, the stars light up revealing how the judges have scored. If the fifteenth star lights up, then the performer is safe and through. If it doesn’t, they’re out of the competition. That’s showbiz!
Of course, fifteen isn’t the perfect score a performer can get. It doesn’t take a maths genius to work out that to score 15 you only need all four judges to score someone a four.
But on occasion, and *SPOILER ALERT*, it happens in the first episode, each judge can score five giving the performer a total score of twenty.
What happens when a score greater than 15, is that the remaining five stars, this time surrounding the performer on stage, light up, and if all five stars are lit and a score of twenty is achieved, the studio go absolutely wild.
What’s nice about the scoring system is that you genuinely don’t know how they’ve done, but you’re bound to have a score in your mind, which is why Let It Shine is best watched with people.
After years of being fortunate enough to attend various press events, it’s not the done thing to talk during a screening but the Let It Shine screening was different. The majority of us were all turning to the person next to us, guessing what the score would be and ultimately whether or not they’d be going through.
Then there are the hosts, Graham Norton and Mel Giedroyc who absolutely excel in their roles. Mel brings a slice of her Bake Off humour to Let It Shine with her unwanted harassment of the judges, in particular Martin Kemp who she’s affectionally nicknamed “Kempo” and the performers rather love her as she hangs out backstage with them before and after their auditions.
And Graham Norton... well what can you say. The man is one of the finest presenters on television. Entertaining throughout, Graham oozes professionalism and I could not think of a better person for the job. Or should that be people? Him and Mel have a brilliant rapport which a certain Sue Perkins may begin to grow jealous of.
And finally, if all of that doesn’t convince you that Let It Shine is worth watching, I’m sure the opening four minutes will. Kicking the series off in spectacular fashion is a performance by Gary Barlow of an original song which begins “off stage” and ends on stage. Along the way he’s helped on vocals by the aformentioned perfect duo, Graham Norton and Mel Giedroyc. So if you only watch four minutes of Let It Shine, even though you really should watch more, make sure it’s the opening four.
I thought the BBC would struggle to find another format which worked up against The Voice UK, but I think they might just have found it. My only concern, is that once they find the five winners who will make up the band in Gary Barlow’s new musical, what could a second series involve? What would be the prize?
The inevitable would be a girlband. But surely Gary hasn’t got another new musical up his sleeve has he? Perhaps the next series could have something to do with an often-rumoured Spandau Ballet musical which Martin Kemp revealed at the launch is “something we’ve spoken about a few times”. So watch this space... either way, I’d be keen for a second series.