Fame Academy

Saturday, August 16, 2003 by

If you adhere to the philosophy that the universe is infinite and, ergo, full of infinite possibilities then you must, by default, be of the opinion that somewhere out there is a world in which Patrick Kielty is actually entertaining, humorous and a good presenter. Or, at least, one of those. That’s that concept destroyed then.

Quite what the BBC see in Kielty is utterly beyond me. Not content with foisting his god-awful chat show on us, we are now brutally subjected to his limited vocabulary (“Good work fella” ad nauseam) and hosting-by-numbers shtick once more as Fame Academy returns to our screens. Personally, I’m of the opinion that Cat Deeley could manage this one on her own and that, subsequently, the show would be much the better for it, but until someone comes to their senses (or nicks back the incriminating evidence) we will have to make do with – and the Irish have such an apposite word for people like him – the gobshite a while longer.

In comparison to Pop Idol (and comparisons are inevitable) Fame Academy comes across as the sonorous, self-pitying, anal-retentive older brother seeking critical affirmation whereas the Idol is still the charmingly, cheeky younger sibling that all the family cherish considerably more. Straight from Kielty’s jaded intro – you got the immediate impression that he had just been introduced to the script – we were introduced to the first karaoke exponent of the evening. Richard Park’s description of him as a pub singer was surely on the money. This was like being in the Horseshoe Bar minus the smoke haze and clink of glasses but with the familiar tunes being belted out with much gusto in the background. There’s something dark about giving kids a mere 90 seconds in which to showcase their vocal talents and then subjecting them to a critical mauling.

At one point one of the judges described the spindly but not entirely unattractive Louise as “a white Diana Ross”. I assume that this was in comparison to Diana Ross their next door neighbour and not the Motown diva. Such sweeping verbals were, sadly, the norm. We were treated to “the Alex of Alexness” and “the Barry of Barryness” too – whatever they meant. Giving Kielty a close run as the most boring, repetitive thing on the show was Robin “you’ve got a good voice” Gibb. Steering the good ship Gibb in the well charted waters of anodyne praise, Robin meted out bland, conformist corporate praise to each contestant in turn. Lacking the viewer pleasing instinct of a Cowell or, God help him, even a Foxy, Robin sits alongside the panel yet somehow alone in terms of critical outpourings. Then again, only Richard Park can truly be said to be scathingly honest. And for those of us who listened to Dr Dick’s Midnight Surgery in the early to mid ’70s, this man’s performance is a revelation.

The brief spat twixt Dr Dick and Kielty provided a rare moment of candour for the viewing public. The former’s comment that the latter was sycophantic to the contestants was as revealing as it was accurate. With perhaps only two or three of the students showing any real aptitude and appetite for the task in hand, Fame Academy suffers from a lack of vitality. Thus as a viewer, I find it difficult to get aroused by the show. Indeed, my daughter continually refers to the participants by way of comparison to last year’s entrants – Peter is “the new Ainslie”, Carolynne is the “new Sinead” et cetera.

As a watered down, demographically loaded version of New Faces, Fame Academy suffers from trying to be all things to all people. There’s little or no opportunity for the kids’ personalities to shine through other than short, sharp sound bites after their performances. The hosting is, thanks to the ill at ease Kielty, uneven, ragged and verging on the shambolic. The show is lacking wit, originality or any sparkle and has, too fast, became a pastiche of itself with effortless ease. It may be a long way from Dr Dick’s Midnight Surgery for some but for others the graveyard shift is soon to be their new home.


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