Last Choir Standing

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BBC One

The series is now over

Sharon D. Clarke

Sharon D. ClarkeBest known for her role of Dr Lola Griffin in the popular BBC One drama Holby City, Sharon is also an acclaimed singer. She originated the role of the Killer Queen in the stage show We Will Rock You for which she won the What’s On Stage Best Supporting Performance Award, alongside an Olivier nomination. She has appeared in many West End shows, including Guys and Dolls (General Cartwright), Fame (Miss Sherman), The Lion King (Rafiki), Chicago (Mama Morton), Rent (Joanne) and Little Shop of Horrors (Voice of Audrey II).

Working regularly with Haringey Shed Theatre and The Hackney Empire Artist Development Project, Sharon runs workshops and teaches singing master-classes.

She achieved chart success with the FPI Project’s remake of Going Back to My Roots which reached number eight in the charts and again in 1990 as lead singer of Nomad with the single (I Wanna Give You) Devotion, which sold two million copies worldwide, reaching number two in the UK.

She has worked with gospel choirs, including singing, writing arrangements and directing and has sung with Ken Burton’s celebrated London Adventist Chorale.

How did you get involved in the show?

“I was asked if it was something which I would be interested in. I met the producers and they showed me some of the tapes of the choirs and I’m someone who loves choral singing and that big wall of sound. And just from the taster tape that they showed me I knew it would be something that I would be interested in. And having done Holby City for three and a half years, being away from music, it was just a way of getting back to music again for me. So it completely works, it’s something that I’m actually thrilled to be doing.”

What can viewers expect from Last Choir Standing?

“Well I think one of the things is we haven’t really had much choral singing on the TV. There’s lots of individual singing and finding musical theatre stars but choirs have been overlooked and what we’ve kind of seen throughout the audition process is that actually choirs are going on and have been doing their thing for a long time quite unnoticed. I think it will drag out of the wood work the amount of choirs that are actually out there that people really don’t know about. And I think that’s one of the most fantastic things about it - drawing choral singing to the public eye.

“We have a vast range of choirs. We’ve got some kids from Coventry who are under 19, we’ve got a police choir who’ve been together for 51 years, there’s a ladies choirs - a choir from Dundee who are all ladies who got together after all their partners were made redundant. Singing together was a way of them healing and getting some kind of community together and supporting each other. So sometimes it’s not just about the singing it’s about the community - about a team of people, a team of people coming together, committing to each other, supporting each other and helping to get the best out of each other and enjoying singing as well.”

What are you looking for from the choirs taking part?

“Apart from obviously sounding good, the choirs have got to get all their dynamics together. They’ve got to be able to listen to each other. For me one of the joys of choral singing is to have that wall of sound, so being able to get a wall of sound - blending, listening, sounding good. And then I’ll be looking for performance because I come from a musical theatre background, so I’ll be looking at how do they communicate the words, do the words come across, does the emotion come across, do I really feel what they’re singing, are they moving, are they making me laugh, are they making me cry?

“I don’t want the choirs that sound fantastic to be completely boring to look at because they don’t move, because they don’t have any personality on their faces - I want to see personality coming through.”

From what you’ve seen so far what’s impressed you about the choirs which have auditioned?

“There are five choirs where immediately I think, you’re phenomenal - you already have the sound, the blend, the performance, you know how to get the lyrics across, you know how to show me that you’re enjoying yourself, you know how to show me the emotions and if you continue to grow in this way you’re going to be one of the five leaders who actually shows the other choirs how the standard is raised and what they should be looking for.”

Have you got any advice for the choirs taking part?

“Singing in front of a studio audience; there are going to be people who react immediately, it won’t be just the three judges. Having done something like Holby City, which is very studio led, I’ve found that as a theatre actor I tend to play to the crew that are around me because they are my immediate audience and I judge stuff from how they react and adjust my performance accordingly because they are my viewers. I’m not someone who’s used to working in a TV studio in that way, so I’ve learned all of that over my last three and a half years on Holby.

“I’m an audience based performer so I will be totally looking at it to see how they deal with audiences because it’s my great love. I love to see the whites of people eyes, I love to feel that they are enjoying themselves, I love to feel when actually you’ve lost an audience and you have to get them back and you have to pull all the stops out and challenge yourself in order to gain that audience back if you’ve had a bit of a lull in the show. “

Have you ever sung in a choir?

“I’ve sung in choirs, I’ve guest-ed in choirs. I did choir of the year with Ken Burton’s choir at the Albert Hall which was an absolutely joy because, as I said before, one of the things that I really love about a choir is that wall of sound and as an individual singer there is something completely different to singing with a chorus where you have a wall of music backing you up, inspiring you and lifting you higher in a way which doesn’t happen when you sing solo.”

What kind of judge are will you be on the show?

“I’m already the crying judge. For anyone who knows me that’s who I am. If something moves me it comes out of my eyes or I’ll laugh - if it’s that fantastic I’ll just laugh because there’s such joy there. But I think I’ll be quite honest if someone doesn’t sound good, especially if you’ve been through rounds with people and you’ve thought god they’re fantastic and they have a not so great day I will be saying ‘what happened’ - I will be honest.

“I’m there for the joy of music, the absolute joy and I just want to be moved. I want someone to move me to tears either because what they’ve sung is so beautiful or because they’ve grown so far and I think last week you sounded absolutely terrible and now I see where you’ve put in the commitment and the joy - and I’m feeling it, and you’ve made me feel it and I’m crying. That’s fantastic, that’s what I’m looking for. Move me - I just want to be moved!

Viewers will know you best or your role in Holby City but what do you enjoy most acting or singing?

“I’m a performer and the kind of performer I am, I’m someone who enjoys both of those mediums. But I suppose if I was completely honest and said what my biggest joy is it would be singing. It’s so universal, you can put across any emotion with a song and you don’t have to understand the language. You look at something like the film Pretty Woman when Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts to the opera. She’s never been to the opera before; she doesn’t understand a word that’s being said but the emotion of the music moves her to absolute tears. I suppose that’s what it is about me - you don’t have to understand what someone’s singing or saying if the emotion comes across and it moves you.

“It’s also something that everybody wants to do regardless of what they do. It’s always one of the biggest things that I’ve had said to me, ‘god I wish I could sing’. People don’t often say, ‘god I wish I could act’. For someone who does sing I think that’s a great gift and it’s not something that I’ve ever, ever taken for granted. It’s one of the greatest joys of life, it’s one of the great ways to express yourself, it’s one of the great ways to release any pent up feelings you may have, it’s a great way to just celebrate and enjoy life!”

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