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09 décembre 2006

BBC shows best teen beats

Fans of TV talent shows would have been familiar with the format - an act performs, the judges debate the merits of that performance, the presenter asks them how they feel - and ultimately, one of them is awarded the winner.

But the final of The Next Big Thing - the BBC's global search for the best young musical talent - was different in a couple of ways. Firstly, all the acts were aged under 18. Secondly, they were all really rather good.

In this case, selecting the eventual winner would be legendary producer William Orbit, Rough Trade founder Jeff Travis, African star Angelique Kidjo and Dirty Pretty Things drummer Gary Powell, with former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel also giving his input.

And so to the acts. Brazilian six-piece combo Sweet Cherry Fury began the night with their jaunty, raucous take on boredom in exams, Cold Blonde Body. Having flown 20 hours from Sao Paulo - and lost their luggage en route - they were determined not to let a minor technical hitch that had delayed the start of the gig put them off.

Lyrical flow

Impressively, performing live at the BBC's famous Maida Vale studios in front of industry icons seemed to inspire them rather than make them nervous - something, on the most part, in common with all the performers on the night. They threw themselves into their songs with both intensity and passion. As Vardy, the lead singer of British three-piece rock group Skagz put it, "we're having the time our lives."

There was an intense performance from Malawian rap act NiC, a duo who volleyed words back and forth like Sampras and Ivanisevic in their prime, deciding not to bother with those fancy passing shots and just belting the ball at each other. Their angry - if interestingly anti-materialistic - rap stems from their frustration at attempting to break into the music industry in Africa. Judge Gary Powell was particularly impressed by what he described as their "lyrical flow", saying they could be understood better "than acts in the charts earning millions".

NiC would eventually finish second, a place shared with British duo Stefan and Mya - whose much more light-hearted song, My Dunks, is about a fashion victim and his girlfriend, who feels she is always second-best to her man's trainers.Their bickering couple style drew high praise from the judges. "I'd say you're like Lily Allen, but you're much better than that," said Powell.

But everyone brought something different to the final, despite - or perhaps because of - their widely diverse backgrounds, sounds, and themes. Refugee Malikinke delivered a multi-language plea to African men to think before they sleep around; US multi-member group MLK performed an eight-word, two-minute celebration of Martin Luther King; while the Skagz thrashed out their up-tempo rock song about singer Vardy "getting attacked in the mining village of Whitwell".


As soon as she stepped behind the microphone, however, the star quality of the act who go on to win shone through. Armenian performer Silva not only sang, she also really performed, coupling her smooth vocal with some well-honed dance moves. The 17-year-old's tango-based song I Like - written by her sister and produced by her brother - would not have sounded out of place on any hit-centred radio station. But, with a little polish, the same could have been said for most of the other acts too. None were noticeably weak - a benefit, perhaps, of having a panel of music industry experts give their input into choosing the final seven.

The four judges admitted they had expected the standard to be "much lower", and were visibly impressed. As they deliberated and the groups awaited the result, the genuine camaraderie that had grown between the acts - they had stayed together in the same hotel since arriving in London earlier in the week, and cheered each others' performances - was clear to see. They all stood huddled together, nervously chatting to each other, offering congratulatory handshakes and hugs whenever one of them was mentioned by name by the judges.

When the result was announced, the cheers and applause were such that any one of them could have been cheering their own win as much as Silva's. Silva herself was utterly overwhelmed by the experience, and accepted the trophy with tears in her eyes. Asked if she was happy to have won, she could manage only one word: "Yes."

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