Magazine

The precarious path of talent show fame

  • 12 December 2011
  • From the section Magazine
  • comments

Newly crowned X Factor winners Little Mix may have a Christmas number one single ahead of them. But the road to long-term fame and fortune is often a lot more difficult, as shown by the finalists of talent show New Faces back in 1986.

New Faces was Strictly Come Dancing, the X Factor and Britain's Got Talent all rolled into one.

Launching the careers of everyone from Lenny Henry and Michael Barrymore to The Chuckle Brothers and Victoria Wood, millions of people tuned in each week to see emerging talent judged by a panel filled with well known faces, often being less than complimentary about the acts.

Some things never change.

Almost exactly 25 years ago, on 13 December 1986, the finalists of the newly revived programme were ready to have their life changed forever.

"Winning the lottery couldn't top it, sitting at the side of the Queen would not top winning a show like that, meeting any idol... shaking hands with God could not top winning New Faces, no way," says finalist Vinny Cadman.

As part of comedy double act Walker and Cadman, he was the light relief and the troublemaker, disrupting his partner's act as much as possible - the Ball to his partner's Cannon.

"You come from nothing and then the next minute you are literally thrown into the lights of stardom," says Cadman.

Talent show graduates like Cadman suddenly found themselves with "respect", greeted in the street and asked for their autographs.

"It makes you believe that you are important, it really does," recalls Cadman

And this fame experienced by the finalists certainly has its perks.

X Factor winners Little Mix
Are Little Mix set for life-long fame and fortune or just a fleeting moment in the spotlight?

There were numerous television appearances, says comedian and actor Billy Pearce, a fellow 1986 finalist.

"Suddenly I'm earning £3,000 or £4,000 a night turning over half a million pounds a year plus."

Pearce had a driver for two years and somebody to press all his shirts, but success in showbusiness can be transient.

After working almost non-stop for a couple of years, there was no interest in Cadman's act or any bookings for the summer of 1989.

After the work dried up, he became an alcoholic, spent some time in jail and finally ended up sleeping rough in an industrial rubbish bin.

"Welcome to show business," he says.

This conversation about the temporary nature of fame - especially those launched by talent shows - is a regular one.

For every Will Young or Girls Aloud, there is a Journey South or One True Voice. Each year, judges shout out that "we'll be hearing a lot more from you" as each act leaves the show.

So often, they are never heard from again.

Billy Pearce now and a TV screen depicting him in 1986
Billy Pearce borrowed money from friends after a failed business venture lost him all his savings

Singer Steve Brookstein won the first X Factor in 2004. And he is not a whole-hearted believer in the modern talent show format.

"It's not about finding talent," he says.

"It's a machine just to find marketable people. Because they've realised that pop acts work, they don't look for people who are particularly talented."

After his win, and his £1 million contract, problems with Simon Cowell left him out in the cold.

Seven years on, Brookstein has come to accept that the instant fame he found may never return again.

"I'm realistic," he says.

"I'm 43, I'm unlikely to have commercial success ever again but I'll keep doing the music that I want to do.

"There's a lot of great music that goes undiscovered, it doesn't make it bad. There's a difference between what is good and what is popular. People need to remember that it's not always about the level of success on a commercial level."

For the public there is a mix of attitudes towards talent shows past and present. Many accept them for what they claim to be - a harmless bit of entertainment that genuinely fosters talent.

There are also plenty of people who worry about the "sausage factory" effect harming the participants and, at the other extreme, those who relish the eventual failure of the winners.

But it's not always the case that success has to be fleeting, even if the dizzying lights of celebrity may have dulled a little.

Violinist Gary Lovini was only 17 when he appeared in the 1986 New Faces final. A quarter of a century on, he is still performing on cruise ships, earning enough to drive home in his Porsche to his large house, his wife and children.

"You get to your ship, you're in the jacuzzi, having a nice relaxing day in the sunshine, you think this is not bad, it's great."

And he is one one of the few from the show who is still with his first wife.

On the other hand, Cadman has had three wives and eight children. "My [first] wife said to me, show business, it'll crack you up," says Cadman.

"You know what? It's done a good job."

Victoria Wood
Some careers launched on talent shows have lasted much longer than others

For the stars of New Faces - as for many in the public eye - the effects of celebrity and happy relationships were not easily compatible.

"A number of them [former girlfriends] have been with me because I've been in show business," says Pearce.

Pearce lost of all of his money on a failed business venture, remortgaging his house a number of times and investing all his savings into a club in Portugal before finding out all the money had been invested with a bankrupt man.

Now he's appearing in panto in Bradford. He says he's happy.