This year The Voice of Ireland hit our screens for the first time and now, with only days to go to the big finale, I think it’s safe to say it’s been a roaring success. With the combined talent of coaches Niall Breslin (Bressie), Brian Kennedy, Kian Egan and Sharon Corr, the show has found, nurtured and showcased some of the best talent our country has to offer.
Last Sunday, I took my daughter along to the live semi-final as a birthday treat but felt I couldn’t let the day pass without having a little snoop around and catching up with some people behind the scenes.
Thanks to the lovely Deirdre Crookes who looks after PR for The Voice, I got to wander the corridors and meet the contestants. But before I chatted to them, I decided to have a word with the unsung heroes of the show – the wonderful people who work tirelessly to make sure everyone looks their very best on the night.
My first port of call was the wardrobe room where Ingrid Hoey works her magic to style the coaches, as well as presenters, Catherine and Eoghan.
“I choose most of the clothes well in advance,” said Ingrid, who runs the very successful Butterfly Style. “I try to use Irish designers as much as possible to showcase the brilliant talent we have in this country. During the course of the show I’ve picked outfits from Joanne Hynes, Emma Manley and Natalie B Coleman.”
Ingrid had nothing but good things to say about the show and in particular, the coaches, who are lovely to work with. “Bressie is so funny,” she said. “We have such a laugh when he comes in here. He also loves his fashion so that makes my job a whole lot easier. They’ve all worked with stylists before so they’re usually happy to trust in my judgement.”
Having sneaked a peek at the soon to be worn outfits, I headed off to find the make-up and hair room, where Carol-Ann Mc Guirke was curling, crimping, straightening and transforming the hair of some of the contestants.
I asked her what it was like to work on a show like The Voice. “It’s the most amazing show to work on,” she said. “It’s been challenging too, because there’s so much to do, but I’ve loved every minute of it. I get to see everyone’s outfits in advance so we can discuss what hairstyles will suit best.”
Carol-Ann, who works in Reds in Dawson Street is no stranger to pressurised jobs as she’s worked on hair in London Fashion Week and on ITV’s This Morning. She said that The Voice is by far the best thing she’s done to date and loves being a part of the show.
I asked Lisa O’Connor, who does make-up, who she likes working with best. “I think I’d have to say Kim,” she said. “She has such a beautiful face and with her fabulous red hair, I can experiment with colours on her lips and eyes and the results are often stunning.”
As well as working on the show, Lisa is a huge fan and records it to watch when she goes home on Sunday night. “It’s so well made,” she said. “The contestants are all happy and that’s a credit to their coaches who work very hard to make sure everything comes together for them on the night.”
With only a couple of hours to go before the live show, I managed to catch up with all eight contestants. Richie Hayes and Alan Fitzsimons from Team Brian were both looking relaxed although both admitted to feeling a little anxious.
“I suffer badly with nerves, to be honest,” said Alan. “Tonight’s song is very emotional for me but I’m just going to sing my heart out and hope for the best. I’m very lucky to have Brian in my corner. He’s been such a brilliant support and I’m really grateful to him for that.”
Richie said that the show has gotten rid of a lot of ghosts for him. “It’s been a brilliant experience,” he said. “I really felt that the blind auditions gave me that chance I’d been looking for. Instead of being put off by my height, or lack of it, the coaches just heard my big voice and I was lucky enough to have been chosen.”
Classically trained Vanessa Whelan and stunning red-head, Kim Hayden, were about to go head to head but there was no sign of any tension between them. “We’re so lucky to get this far,” said Vanessa, a mother of three. “I feel really blessed that I’ve had this experience and to have Sharon as a coach has been a dream come true.”
Kim, who was looking relaxed and happy, agreed with Vanessa. “Sharon is fantastic. I just love the life I’m living at the moment. It’s wonderful to wake up in the morning and know you’re going to be doing what you love all day.”
I found proud, new dad Jim Devine sitting on his own having a quiet moment. After looking at photos of his beautiful four-week old daughter, Ella, I asked him about his time on The Voice. “It’s certainly been very full,” he laughed. “It’s been hard at times, wrenching myself away from my family, especially having a new baby, but it’s also inspired me. Kian has been fantastic to work with. He knows everything about the business and is happy to share his experience.”
Sharon Gaynor, the other member of Team Kian, has loved her experience on the show too. “I feel privileged to have gotten to the semi-finals no matter what happens after that. I’ll walk away with great memories, great friends and, with a bit of luck, a successful career in music.”
I couldn’t wait to have a chat with the duo from Team Bressie who’ve been dubbed Ernie and Bert. Pat Byrne and Conor Quinn have become the best of friends and as they sat back, joking and laughing, I knew it was going to be a difficult night, no matter which of them went through.
“In a funny sort of way, I feel a lot of pressure is off us now,” said Pat. “We’ve all done so well to get this far and I honestly feel honoured to be amongst such fabulous talent, even if tonight is the end of the line for me.”
Conor agreed. “This experience has been unreal and I’ve learned so much along the way. If I’m knocked out tonight, I’ll be there at the final, cheering all the way for Pat.”
The boys said Bressie was a legend and felt thankful to be part of his team. “He knows a lot about the business,” said Pat. “And he really ‘gets’ us both and knows what direction we should be going in.”
So it was time for the show to begin and having met all the contestants, I felt anxious about the outcome. No matter what happened, there were going to be four very disappointed contestants at the end of the night. I gladly accepted my title of ‘coolest mammy ever’ as I managed to nab us some of the best seats in the house and we settled in for the evenings entertainment.
The following hour and a half was packed full of emotion, drama and some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard. Every single one of the contestants sang their hearts out and it was clearly difficult for the coaches to have to choose between their two acts. But the viewers also had a say because it was the combined score of the coaches’ and public vote that determined who stayed and who went.
We were then treated to two fantastic performances from Professor Green and Maverick Sabre, before that nail-biting moment when Catherine announced that the lines were closed and the results were in.
Tensions were high with so much at stake and it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to Sharon, Alan, Kim but the biggest shock of the night was Conor’s exit. When I’d asked the contestants earlier, they’d all said that Conor was their biggest competition and that he’d be a deserved winner. But having said that, let’s not take away from Pat, who had a stunning performance and truly deserves his place.
As most people queued for the exits, I slipped backstage again to have a word with the coaches and get their reaction to the night’s events. First up was Bressie (I do love my job!), who’d just left a very emotional Pat and Conor.
“I’m so proud of the boys,” he said. “Both of them have what it takes to make it in this industry and I’m going to make sure I work with both of them no matter what. Pat had a brilliant performance tonight and I really think he could win it. But Conor is, without a shadow of a doubt, a recording artist and I’m going to make sure he records an album.”
Personally I love the Foo Fighter’s Everlong, and was delighted to hear Conor singing it but I asked Bressie if he thought that it might have been a factor in losing votes for Conor tonight. “I stand by my decision,” he said. “We agreed to pick songs that represented them musically rather than just pick big hit songs. These guys ooze integrity when it comes to their music and they deserve to have songs that are the perfect fit for them. They’ve both proven themselves with big performances over the weeks so tonight we just wanted to strip that all back and hear their clear, honest vocals and that’s exactly what they delivered.”
If people weren’t familiar with Bressie before the show, he’s certainly become a household name in the last few months. I asked him how he’s enjoyed the whole experience. “I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “The whole process has thought me a lot. I’m used to performing on stage and that’s what I love to do but it’s been a whole new experience to sit with these other great guys and give critique to acts. But I came on here to find someone with an edge and I’ve been very lucky to find both Pat and Conor.”
Brian Kennedy is surely one of the best voices this country has produced and is a fantastic addition as a coach on the show. I asked him how he felt The Voice of Ireland compares to other talent shows. “The Voice is a very nurturing show,” he said. “I think that’s what makes it unique. We want to encourage and develop talent – not knock it down, and it’s fantastic to see such fabulous Irish talent being showcased.
So has he enjoyed his experience? “It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working with the other coaches and we’ve all become good friends. In fact everyone, from the contestants to the people working behind the scenes, all get on great and there’s a wonderful atmosphere here. I’ve also been heartened to see how Ireland has such an insatiable appetite for music.”
Being a big tweeter, I’ve regularly tweeted Brian with my song suggestions for Alan because I’ve always believed he has a fantastic voice. How hard was it to say goodbye to him tonight? “It’s really hard at this stage,” said Brian, “but that’s the name of the game. We can all only bring one person through to the final and although I’ve loved working with Alan, I think Richie is amazing and has the potential to win the show.”
I didn’t mange to catch up with Sharon but I know she found it very hard to say goodbye to Kim tonight. Kim had a fantastic performance but ultimately, it was the amazing, flawless voice of Vanessa that won out in the end. Sitting close to the stage myself, every hair stood up on the back of my neck when she sang. I think she’s a force to be reckoned with and from chatting to the other coaches, I think they may think so too!
Lastly I managed to nab Kian, who’s earned a name for himself as the most direct coach, saying it as he sees it. “I know I’m sometimes criticized for it,” he said, “but I don’t like to beat around the bush. I believe in direct, honest opinions but I don’t think I deliver them in a nasty way. I watch these shows all the time and it bugs me when judges aren’t honest to contestants. It’s so important to give them constructive criticism because most of them are probably going to chase music for the rest of their lives.”
And he certainly didn’t beat around the bush tonight, awarding Jim with 70% and Sharon with just 30%. “I’ll stand by that decision,” he said. “Sharon was amazing tonight and is a technically fantastic singer. But Jim was something else. He not only delivered a technically fantastic performance, but the emotion he put into it was stunning. I’m delighted to be taking him through to the final.”
So has it been a good experience overall? “It’s been a great experience,” said Kian. “It took us all a while to settle in but now we’re all really good pals. Myself and Brian came into the show not really knowing each other well and having certain opinions but now we’re great buddies and probably chat the most out of all of us. I know it’s a cliché, but everyone is really cheerful and happy – chummy. Yes, chummy, that’s what we all are!”
I asked Kian, Bressie and Brian if they’d hope to come back to do the show again next year and they all answered with a resounding yes, adding that they hadn’t yet been asked! So come on Voice of Ireland people, let us know the show is in safe hands again for next year!
So Sunday next, 29th April will see someone crowned as the first winner of The Voice of Ireland. Each of the remaining four contestants have their single available now on iTunes and each download until midnight on Saturday night will count as one vote. Here are the four links – it’s not a popularity contest so please vote for your favourite voice and ensure the best man or woman wins!
Pat Byrne – What a Wonderful World
Vanessa Whelan – Who Wants to Live Forever
Jim Devine – The Dance
Richie Hayes – One Voice