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Alan Carr: Mamma Mia!: I Have a Dream is welcoming ‘a new era of talent shows’

Rachael Davis is in Greece to meet the Dancing Queens behind talent show Mamma Mia!: I Have a Dream, searching for the West End’s new Sophie and Sky.

Mamma Mia!: I Have A Dream/Samantha Barks, Alan Carr, Amber Riley and Jessie Ware/PA

The only thing missing from the gorgeous Mamma Mia!-inspired villa, high in the mountains of Corfu, is the blazing Greek sunshine. Instead, as we anxiously await performances from seven young men and women hoping they could be the next Sophie or Sky in the ABBA West End musical, I’m wishing I’d brought a warmer jumper – and a raincoat.

But when the musical theatre hopefuls burst onto the stage, in front of an audience of locals, their radiating energy makes me forget all about the darkening skies and stiff breeze. Even the judging panel – made up of comedian Alan Carr, singer Jessie Ware, Glee star Amber Riley, and West End star Samantha Barks, who currently plays Elsa in Frozen – appear to get goosebumps not from the chilly air, but from the sheer talent on display.

Encouraged by electric host Zoe Ball, the performers are giving it their all; after all, the prize at stake is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be cast in the feel-good London musical, in the roles played by Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper in the blockbuster films.

ITV’s new talent competition Mamma Mia!: I Have a Dream follows in the footsteps of the likes of the BBC’s I’d Do Anything and How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?, the former of which led to a successful acting career for runner-up Jessie Buckley, and for Samantha Barks, who’s now a judge on this new ITV series.

Contestants Maisie and Stevie/PA

It sees seven boys and seven girls take on a gruelling schedule of workshopping, rehearsing and performing, honing their musical theatre skills in the hopes that by the end of it, they’ll secure their own place on the West End stage after battling it out in a live final.

“What I like about the show – I like the ambition,” says comedian and judge Alan Carr, 47, as we sit down for a chat on the rooftop of the judges’ Corfu hotel, down the road from the show’s set. “And I know we’ve had a bit of rain and stuff, but do you know what, those performers…”

“They’re like a little family, aren’t they, boys and girls, they all really want this role for different reasons,” says presenter Zoe Ball, 52, who hosts the show.

“It’s been quite incredible seeing, in certain ways, whether it’s singing, or performance, sometimes who you think is going to shine has a bit of a wobble, and then other people, who aren’t as experienced, you’re thinking: ‘I did not know they had that in them’.

“We’ve only been here a few days, and already we’re seeing… it’s very difficult to tell at the moment.”

The young hopefuls might come from all kinds of backgrounds – some with formal theatre education, others with no prior experience – but on the Greek island, they’re all under the same watchful eyes of the discerning judges who promise to be “firm but fair”.

“I think with talent shows, there is a bit of a cynicism, but I just think we wanted this to be very organic, very nice,” says Carr. “I mean, we’ve got to send someone home, we’re not going to sugar-coat it, but you know, I think we’re being firm but fair…

Contestant Stephanie/PA

“It’s a new era, I think, of talent shows, isn’t it? A bit kinder, a bit nicer, and they’re young, and they’ve come to Greece, and okay, they’re in torrential rain, but they’re here, following their dreams!”

One of the judges knows the experience of this kind of talent show first hand. “I’ve been through it on the other side,” says Samantha Barks, who came third on I’d Do Anything in 2008 and has since had starring roles in Pretty Woman: The Musical on Broadway and Mamma Mia! in the West End.

“I think that constructive criticism is always good, ‘cause you don’t want just all nice comments because you don’t know where you need to improve. “It’s good that, if you are giving a critique in any way, that it’s constructive, and it’s something that someone can work on, because that’s the only way you learn and move forward.”

“Look at the example of you and Jessie Buckley,” adds singer Jessie Ware, 38, who released her fifth album That! Feels Good! earlier this year. “Outstanding, incredible, successful actresses and singers. So I think that it’s going to be an amazing place for them to showcase their talent to so many people.”

Of course, as Carr mentions, while the judges do have the opportunity to coach and inspire the contestants, they also have the unenviable job of sending people home.

“Not really looking forward to it!” says Amber Riley, 37, of having to say goodbye to contestants.“But I mean, it’s a competition show. And honestly, it’s a training ground for them,” adds the American actress, who’s best known for playing Mercedes Jones in Glee.

“Because the competition doesn’t end when they leave this competition: acting, singing, auditioning, it’s competitive. And you can’t really be precious about it.

“They’re going to learn a lot of resilience from leaving this show… Some of them, this is their first time ever doing anything like this, so they’re getting an amplified taste of what it’s like to have people that you’re in competition with for a role. “But hopefully, this will help them kind of get used to it when they go out there in real life.”

There’s a lot to learn for the contestants, and emotions will be running high – but where better to go through this tough process than the gorgeous island of Corfu.

The villa, Ball says, is “phenomenal”.

Zoe Ball/PA

“It’s really cinematic, when you’re up there, and there’s this lovely area where I wait nervously, anxiously, with our seven Sophies and Skys,” she teases.

With its stone walls adorned with flowers, its blue shutters, and huge stone patio littered with café tables, the villa really does feel like it’s been plucked right out of a movie – a dream for the ABBA fans among us, which naturally include the show’s judges.

“I got married on the Mamma Mia! island, and for our ‘save the date’, I made my husband sing Mamma Mia to everyone with our own spin on it. I mean, now that I think back it was quite awful!” laughs Jessie Ware.

“It was proper, outside where Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan climb those steps to the monastery… Yeah, I like ABBA! “I like Mamma Mia, so much I got married and made everyone do Voulez-Vous on the night before.”

Mamma Mia! I Have a Dream will launch on Sunday, October 22 at 6pm on ITV1, STV and ITVX.


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