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Superstar Live!

July 25, 2012

As promised, a “live” report, no-holds-barred, on my trip to the studio last Wednesday to see the show recorded…

So, to begin at the beginning. As a TV show fan, I signed up for tickets as soon as I got the email. Only to find a week or two later that they were offering “priority” tickets (which guarantee entry if you arrive before a certain time – the alternative is to wait until after the ‘priority’ lot are seated, hoping some seats were left). A polite email asking for an upgrade was met by a “sorry, offer closed, but don’t worry, you’ll get in as we have 800 seats” email. A lie, as the offer was repeated in several places hours after the message. What is it about TV that turns some who ‘think they work in it’ into &*@£* because they have an internship in the ticket office?! Anyway, a friend of a relative did manage to get us upgraded – and was surprised at the initial response too.

So, day arrives – as does an email from the friend. Studio reduced to 500, 200 a night turned away, arrive EARLY! Confirmed by a more helpful person at the ticket company, we rolled up at 7pm (despite guarantee of entry until 7.45pm and the show not starting until 9pm). Lucky we did.

It’s a “class based” system (as I described on another website). The VIP / Guests of Company entrance was guarded by fierce offspring of ALW and Shrek. Directed round the corner, Shrek’s Princess (pre-green) accosts those with lesser tickets and issues coloured wristbands after checking her list. She then filters those with “Priority Tickets” to a queue area inside the studio gates. Those without, against the railings on the pavement outside.

7.10pm, we’re in, after a bag-check for the ladies and no check at all for those with bulging coats (me). Hoards of pleasant red-sweatshirted ushers and black T-shirted security fill the seats so that no gaps are left (they get shouted at if they leave one). They also (so the tell me) try to avoid big groups of one gender / age to produce  a “mixed” audience look on screen.
Avoiding the seats marked for VIPs and Security, I heave a sigh of relief at getting an aisle. Legroom OK – toes can go under seat in front, seats fairly comfy plastic with a bit of padding.

Watch amused as further batches of “red wrist band” customers are seated, turning to relief as we realise less than 150 seats are left for those in the “ordinary ticket” line. We’d have been in the 200 turned away for sure. A few arrivals around the 7.45pm mark are delighted to get front and second row centre seats that have been kept back. The front row particularly is carefully chosen for best effect – they appear most on camera, of course, right behind the judges. Makes up for not being able to see a much through the judges row desk of course.

Anyway, we’re happy, and now confident enough to be directed (by the studio nurse, no less) to the very clean portable loo block set up just outside the studio, in an area to the left of our seats. Good call, as at 8.45pm we are informed that we are now in the studio for the duration, no loo break allowed. This is why the seats are plastic…

Nothing much to watch before then, a few light and video screen checks, plenty of young “look mum, I’m working in telly” kids running about doing not a lot and a few more professional people running video, lighting and camera rehearsals etc. Nice cool studio, proving that LED light bulb development has cured the old “roasting” problem.

About 8.30ish we’re called to order by a talented “warm up” man – later helpfully identified as Ian Royce by somebody on a message board – who borrows a copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” to set up a running gag for the rest of the evening. Told to make plenty of noise, standing ovation at the end of the songs, say “oo” not “boo” if you dislike a judge’s comment. A few gags, then on comes Amanda to shoot a quick advert for the show. This cute blonde goes “potty mouthed” fluffing the first take (repeated with another advert after the show). Then on come 3 of the judges (absent Andrew’s chair – the only one with arm rests – is taken away) for a recording of the Kaiser Chiefs. I suddenly become a fan of the song “Ruby, Ruby.” A team clear the stage, let one of the contestants rehearse late changes to a routine; and the warm up leads (accompanied by the band, who’ve just treated us to a sound check of “Superstar”) “The Wheels on The Bus Go Round and Round” cheering us all up no end.

The final lot of VIPs arrive, as do the judges, and Andrew Lloyd Webber proves he has a sense of humour by jokingly critiquing unfavourably a visiting theatre school’s rendition of “Happy Birthday” orchestrated by the warm-up.

Final instructions to be noisy and happy, and suddenly the titles roll on the screen behind the stage, and Amanda begins the introduction. We’re live!

Amazingly, everybody (including myself, who never gives an ovation) finds themselves standing and clapping / cheering on cue. The first ad-break arrives and makeup fixers decent on the panel. We’re told not to stamp our feet, as we are shaking the grandstand and making the camera there wobble.

Cameras slide into position and we’re off again. At the next break, audience questions are happily fielded by Mel C and Jason (who both also sign the Fifty Shades book) and Mel C tells the warm up where to go when he enquires about how much she’d want to pose for Hefner’s infamous magazine.

The pattern repeats for the rest of the evening, with every second the show isn’t on screen being used by a massive crew to change the scenery (a piano goes off on a large skateboard contraption) and move the dancers etc into position.

The stage itself is far smaller than it looks on TV – perhaps 25 metres wide and 5 deep, and pretty tatty; there’s scratches and chips that don’t show on TV. The judges desk doesn’t tower over it. It’s a low plinth (badly chipped on one side) and we’re almost in touching distance. Dawn gets the most cheers, Jason interacts most with the audience, and Mel C is simply VERY pretty in real life – “girl next door with something special.” Even her tattoos are less harsh off screen. Andrew is benign, relaxed and friendly throughout.

The show nears its end, the Kaiser Chiefs do their thing – we watch on the screen – and everybody relaxes before the final push. It’s over and we have to wait while Amanda does another link advert. Kicking off her shoes with a sigh “wish I’d brought my slippers,” her tiredness vanishes as she starts to read off a card, fluffs it, swears like a sailor again and sparkles as she makes her second (successful this time) attempt. Failing to put her shoe back on, “warm up” man helps – and is rewarded by Amanda’s “It fits” Cinderella squeak. The lady is a real star, a pro who gets a laugh even when she’s clearly exhausted.

We’re thanked and then let out, row by row, in the same orderly way we were seated. Worth knowing that sitting in a front row near the door gets you out all the quicker.

Tired, but having had a really fun (and free) evening out, the audience disperses into the wilds of Wembley.

The whole thing was a mile more fun than it appears on TV, the sound about as muddy live as broadcast, the performers all better live than they appear recorded, and the dancers miles better – above West End standard – as you can see the whole routine and not just clips. It’s a shame they can’t invite everybody to see it live just once – it’d do wonders for the ratings. Glad I went, of course.

Oh, and just to finish, yes, that’s me, several times on screen. Sometimes in shadow, two “face on” in the top right and – weirdly – several views of my hands clapping in my lap. Lucky I wore a clean T-shirt…


I’m taking a couple of weeks break, and will blog again when the weather cools. Have a good summer.

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