Posts Tagged: Kian Egan

Apr 12

The Voice of Ireland – a behind the scenes look

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


Feb 11

Wonderland – Here come the girls!

Two and a half years ago, Louis Walsh and Westlife‘s Kian Egan held auditions in Dublin for a new girl band.  Three thousand girls and many rounds later saw Jodi Albert, Sharon Condon, Corrina Durran, Leigh Learmont and Kasey Smith emerge as Wonderland.  These girls are not only beautiful but have amazing vocal ability, creating wonderful harmonies with their melodic tones.


Wonderland2.jpgI had the pleasure of catching up with Wonderland last week and I can honestly say I have never met a nicer group of girls.  They’re each embracing their new-found life with gusto and their energy and joie de vivre shines through.  I asked them to take me back to the beginning and tell me about the auditioning process.  “It was a really exciting but scary time,” said Jodi, who’s married to Kian Egan from Westlife.  “About three thousand girls turned up to the auditions and in the beginning, you wonder if you really have a chance.  But over the following three months, there were about eight rounds where the numbers kept getting smaller and smaller.  It’s funny, but the five of us had just gravitated towards each other and had already become friends.  Eventually the numbers were whittled down until just the five of us were left.”


So the girls must have been doubly excited – not just to be picked for the band, but also to be picked with the girls who they’d become so close to.  “Oh it was amazing,” said Jodi.  Out of the small group that was left at the end of the process, the ones that hadn’t made it were contacted first.  Then the five of us were told by Louis, Kian and a guy from the record label.  We all just burst into tears.  We’re so passionate about music and we felt so excited about the journey we were about to take.”


Jodi has been in the public eye herself over the last number of years, with a role in Hollyoaks and being part of another girl band.  So how does being in Wonderland compare to her other experiences?  She had no hesitation in answering.  “This is by far the best thing I’ve ever done,” she said.  “It’s really my dream come true.  I’m excited to get up every day and go to work.  It doesn’t even feel like work – I’m just hanging with my best friends, doing the things I’ve always wanted to do.  Sometimes I feel a little bit too lucky!”


Perhaps I’ve been watching too much X Factor and similar reality shows, but I assumed the girls were immediately locked away together in a house where they could begin to make their music.  “We didn’t move in together straight away,” laughed Leigh. “In the beginning, we’d go to Kian and Jodi’s house and spend a weekend or week with them; just chilling out and getting to know each other. When we got a record deal, we began to spend more and more time together and practically lived in a hotel room in London.  It’s certainly one way to get to know each other inside out!  These days four of us live in an apartment but Jodie and Kian live in the same complex so we’re never short of a tea-bag or a bowl of sugar!  Poor Kian – I think we wreck his head a lot of the time but we’ve become like his little sisters.”


Kian Egan.jpg“Kian has been such a brilliant support to us,” agreed Sharon.  “He’s put so much time and effort into the band and is a fantastic mentor.  Actually all the boys from Westlife have been brilliant.  We supported them on their tour last year and they were so good to us.  They’re always there for us if we need advice or encouragement.”


But is it difficult for Jodi to be managed by her husband?  “Not at all,” laughed Jodi.  “Kian is fantastic.  As Sharon said, he’s always there for us and has given us so much good advice.  He obviously understands what it’s like to be in a band so his input is invaluable.  Of course we have our disagreements and get annoyed with each other, but it would be strange if we didn’t.”


Louis Walsh manages such bands as Boyzone, Westlife and Girls Aloud as well as being a judge on the X Factor.  How daunting is it for the girls to work with him?  “It was certainly a bit daunting in the beginning,” said Sharon.  “Louis is such a massive icon in the
Louis Walsh2.jpgmusic world; it was nerve wracking to be standing in front of him singing for our lives.  But he’s a real sweetheart.  He’s very warm and grounded and has really taken us under his wing.  We don’t see him as often as we do Kian but every minute he’s with us counts.  He gives us fabulous advice and not only about our music.  He tells us to look after each other and even gives us advice on how to look good.”


It’s been two and a half years since the band was formed and are only now being launched.  So why has it taken so long?  “People seem to expect a band to just happen,” said Corrina.  “I don’t think anybody realises the amount of ground work that goes on.  We’re all so passionate about music that we wanted to get it right.  We spent a lot of that time in the recording studio, working really hard on our voices.  We didn’t want any songs on the album to be just there for the sake of it or to fill a space.  We wanted every song to count and to be proud of every single thing we produced.”


I wanted to know how the girls rated their experience of being in a girl band so far.  “I know it sounds like a cliché,” said Kasey, “but our experience has been magical.  Every single thing right from the beginning has been fantastic.  The band has changed all of our lives.  It’s really unbelievable to be able to do what you love to do and furthermore, to do it with your best friends.  It’s been truly life changing.”


“Yes,” said Leigh, in agreement.  “The experience has been out of this world.  I’m really close to my family in Ireland and miss them like crazy but I’ve bonded so well with the girls that it’s like they’re part of my family now.  We all really appreciate every single thing that’s happening for us.  We don’t take anything for granted and feel really blessed – we’re just five ordinary girls following our dream.  Wonderland is a very happy place to be!”


The girls come across as a very tight unit and seem to really look out for each other.  But five girls together twenty-four seven must lead to friction at times.  “I know it sounds unbelievable,” said Leigh, “but we honestly get on so well together.  I love the girls to bits.  We’re all very much in touch with what’s going on and each one of us pulls our weight.  Sharon is really fantastic.  She looks after us all.  She’s a brilliant cook but not only that, she’s like a big sister, making sure we’ve eaten enough vegetables and are looking after ourselves.  I usually deal with the record company and Sharon deals with the accountant.  The others usually take charge of the fan-mail.  We all compliment each other so well.  At the end of a busy day, we’ll often give each other head massages.  Our lives are so hectic at the moment; it’s sometimes those little things that count the most.”


Because the girls have been working behind the scenes for so long, they must feel like they’ve been in a bubble.  But are they ready now for the hysteria of having their music in the charts and being recognised wherever they go?  “It does feel as though we’ve been in a bit of a bubble,” said Kasey.  “We weren’t really recognised much over those couple of years but now in the last few months, it’s beginning to hit home.  It’s crazy for us to hear our song being played on the radio.  It gives us such a thrill and makes it feel real.  It’s sort of like launching our little baby onto the world.  But we feel ready for anything now.  We’ve worked so hard and feel so lucky to be given this opportunity.  Bring it on!”


is such a fantastic name for a band – it conjures up images of happiness and excitement.  Was it an easy decision to find a name?  “Oh you’re joking,” laughed Sharon.  “We were two years trying to find the perfect name.  We’d thought of names such as Daisy Chains and Wildflowers but nothing seemed right.  Eventually it was Kian who came up with the name.  He was walking down the street when the Tim Burton movie, Alice in Wonderland, had just been released, and a bus passed by with an ad for it on the side.  It just clicked with him straight away and when he put it to us and to the record company, we just all knew it was right.  Now I couldn’t imagine any other name.”


In October of last year, a program appeared on our screens called Louis Walsh and Kian Egan’s next big thing.  It was a fly on the wall documentary of the girls’ journey so far.  I wondered what it was like to live with the cameras following them around all the time.  “To be honest, we were all a bit freaked out in the beginning,” said Sharon.  “We weren’t used to having cameras around and it was daunting to know that everything we were doing was being filmed.  We sort of felt we had to put on a bit of a show.  But as time went on and we got busier, we relaxed a bit more and just got used to having them around.”


So is there any particular girl band the girls admire?  Who does Wonderland aspire to be like?  “Oh we absolutely love the Dixie Chicks,” said Corrina.  As well as singing, they play a number of instruments.  They’re so talented.  But it’s their voices that we love the most.  They all blend so well together and that’s something we try to do with our music.”


The girls, who are signed to Mercury Records, are beyond excited about Wonderland‘s debut single, Not a Love Song, which is due for release soon.  “The 6th March has been confirmed as the release date,” said Kasey.  “But it’s available to pre-order right now here.  We’re so proud of this song.  We co-wrote it with Shep Solomon and Adam Argyle.  We feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to write songs with so many fantastic writers.”


“Our album is due for release later in the year too,” said Leigh.  “We’re hoping it will be in May sometime but there’ll be a second single released before then.  We’ve been recording the album for the last two years so it’s very exciting to know it will soon be available.  We don’t have a definite name for it yet but at the moment we’re thinking of simply calling it Wonderland or perhaps Welcome to Wonderland.”


So how would the girls describe their music and what can we expect from the album?  “I suppose you could describe our music as pop,” said Corrina.  “But it’s got a real country and rock vibe going on.  I think our sound is quite mature.  There’s a nice mix on the album with some ballads and up-tempo songs too.”


Over the last number of weeks, I’ve noticed the girls tweeting about visiting schools.  “We’ve been doing a tour of schools around the UK,” said Corrina.  “Honestly, it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done.  We’ve had such a brilliant reaction and have been bombarded with positive comments on facebook from the students.  It’s been brilliant fun and we’re very lucky to have had a chance to do it.  We’d love to do the same in Ireland but at the moment we don’t have any definite plans.”


As well as the official Wonderland twitter, the girls each operate their own twitter accounts.  Despite their busy schedule, they always seem to find time to respond to tweets and chat to their fans.  “After we toured with Westlife last year,” said Leigh, “we decided to set up twitter accounts as a way to thank fans for all their support.  Our fans are brilliant and we’re really flattered to have so many.  Twitter allows us to chat directly to them and build up a relationship with them.  On Wednesdays we do a question and answer session where we all come online and try to answer as many questions as we can through tweets.  We’d be nothing without our fans so it’s only right that we talk back to them.”


I could have chatted to the girls all day… well… em… I think maybe I did!  But as the interview was coming to a close, I wanted to fire a few last questions at them.  I tweeted to their fans, who call themselves The Wonderland Army, asking them what questions they’d like to put to the girls.  So I stuck my quiz show hat on and fired ahead:


Do you have a stylist or pick your own clothes?

Jodi:  We have a stylist for music videos and for photo shoots but for the most part, we chose our own close on a day to day basis. 


What’s been your favourite place to perform?

Jodi: Croke Park or O2 London

Sharon: Croke Park or Glasgow

Corrina: Croke Park

Kasey: Croke Park or O2 London

Leigh: Croke Park


What’s your favourite song to perform?

Jodi: Not a Love Song

Sharon: Nothing Moves Me and Starlight

Corrina: Not a Love Song

Kasey: Not a Love Song and Nothing Moves Me

Leigh: Starlight and Not a Love Song


Who would you most like to duet with?

Jodi: Westlife, Adele and Bruno Mars

Sharon: Bruno Mars and Adele

Corrina: Adele

Kasey: Adele and Rihanna

Leigh: Taylor Swift


What are your hobbies?

Jodi: Dancing, horse riding

Sharon: Writing songs, going to the gym

Corrina: Walking, hot baths, cinema, hanging out with friends

Kasey: Just starting to play piano, reading, walking

Leigh: Art, reading


What’s your favourite comfort food?

Jodi: Chocolate

Sharon: Chinese food, chocolate

Corrina: Bacon Sandwich, Chinese food

Kasey: Pasta

Leigh: Jellies, peanut butter on toast


Unfortunately, the interview had come to an end and it was time to say goodbye to the girls.  Wonderland are about to take the world by storm and the girls deserve every bit of success that comes their way. 

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