Long Live ‘Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes’, the Only Good Music-Based Talent Show
Honestly, why did X Factor even happen after we'd all seen the women of Corrie performing as Spice Girls?
We're done here. With your nan "just resting her eyes", teacup and biscuit still in hand, during this year's season of Spinning Arseholes – or The Voice, as it's more commonly known – and X Factor refusing to give up the ghost after 13 agonising years, it has become evident that music-based talent contests are over. They have been over for a really long time and must be stopped.
Even I – person who revisits Cher Lloyd's first audition at least once a week in the year 2017 – concede that we, as a nation, have gone embarrassingly beyond the expiration date of watching Simon Cowell in his one V-neck say horrible things to someone who dropped out of your secondary school. "Ha ha," you haven't said in six years, "He went to my secondary school. I am enjoying this degree of proximity to nationwide entertainment and will surely joke with my friend about it on BBM." We are keeping the format on life support for no reason; someone who failed to keep their own career alive after a stint in Liberty X literally won The Voice last year. Just give Welsh Justin Bieber a record deal and kill it with fire.
Arguably, there was only ever one good music-based talent show in the first place – and it was only good by virtue of plucking national treasures out of their natural habitats, shoving them in front of a studio audience and making them sing "My Heart Will Go On". Yes, friends, I am talking about Stars In Their Eyes. More specifically: Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes, which usually involved people off Coronation Street stiffly moving through theatre school choreography with tangible self-awareness. For non-Brits and the under-20s, the closest I can get to describing it is, basically, you know the end of a really weird night out where you sober up very suddenly and painfully only to realise you're in a karaoke bar in a bingo hall and someone famous who you've never heard of is on the mic, for some reason, belting out a Dusty Springfield song in a synthetic wig? Yeah. It's that – a horrible fever dream that is somehow a reality – but on prime time Saturday night TV.
Needless to say, the hit and miss ratio was dramatic, but it did occasionally feature some iconic moments that we as a people would do well to not let slip out of collective consciousness. Sadly, many already have; the Wikipedia page is thin on information – shockingly, there aren't many armchair scholars for Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes? – and YouTube provides a limited amount of footage. But the least we can do in honour of the show that brought Eamonn Holmes as Johnny Cash to the masses is treasure some of the moments that have endured via hard evidence thus far. With that in mind, let's take a trip down memory lane while mentally coughing over the bits where Matthew Kelly isn't hosting because he was arrested over later-dropped allegations of child sex abuse shall we, OK great!
CAROL VORDERMAN AS CHER
First up is Britain's Cool Aunt and supplier of a thousand "racy swimsuit" Daily Mail articles in 2016, Carol Vorderman! Here she is, our Carol, emerging through the infamous door of smoke wearing a pleather corset and the justifiably smug expression of a recent divorcee who's decided they're ready for the club again. She may not have the most stable vocal in the world – some of her ohhh no's croak out like a soundbite of me trying to grab back a drink that's been taken out of my hands at 5AM – but as far as attitude goes, Carol Vorderman bodies "The Shoop Shoop Song" harder than a particularly devilish sudoku.
BRIAN BLESSED AS PAVAROTTI
Before we even get to the music, here are some things to know about Brian Blessed: Brian Blessed has a model ship in his "inspiration room". Brian Blessed has a giant stretch of land he modestly refers to as a "garden" containing 2,000 (TWO THOUSAND) rescue animals. A Shetland pony once came into Brian Blessed's kitchen and ate all the dog food and then Brian Blessed had to physically shove the pony back outside. I know all of this because his performance is preceded by a short video autobiography in which he, Brian Blessed, with his booming Santa voice and gregarious body language, gives us, the filthy public, a glimpse into his idyllic Countryfile life. I once saw Brian Blessed scurrying down Oxford Street in central London as someone shouted, "HEY YOU'RE BRIAN BLESSED" after him, and he kept looking back to wave and say "Ha ha! Thank you! Yes! Ha!" while also very much trying not to attract more attention but being so extremely Brian Blessed that everyone within earshot immediately realised, "Hey, that's Brian Blessed". Anyway. At some point in his life he did Pavarotti's "O Sole Mio" on Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes and it is outstanding because Brian Blessed is a man of boundless talents, one of which is making a handkerchief seem like a graceful accessory.
ROY CROPPER AS ROY ORBISON
Someone please give a Pride Of Britain award to the gentle soul who took the time to upload Stars In Their Eyes: Soap Stars Special 2003 to YouTube in its entirety. Among many other highlights of this episode, including Emily Symons from Emmerdale doing "Mambo Italiano" in the manner of an incongruous scene from a David Lynch production, we have David Neilson aka Roy Cropper aka "the Jamie Oliver of Coronation Street" as Roy Orbison. Roy prefaces his performance by saying "it'll be him on a bad day because Roy was a genius, and I ain't," followed by a story about "lurid sweaters" and something called a "wooing cardigan". He then bows on stage in a pair of shades, making a purring sound that will haunt my nightmares until I have a stroke. This is a very apt song choice though. If Corrie ever did a musical episode Roy would definitely sing this while mopping someone's blood off the floor of his cafe.
DEBRA STEPHENSON AS KATE BUSH
Debra Stephenson has appeared on Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes multiple times. She was Kylie Minogue once and recreated the entire video for "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" replete with all the bits where she steps uncomfortably over men's faces while wearing a onesie that's been through a paper shredder. (Side note: If you want a lesson in respect for our pop stars, take a moment to watch a person with no formal dance training attempt to pull off their official choreography).
However, I would argue that her "Babooshka"-era Kate Bush is the superior performance. Firstly – as any of your mates doing karaoke and that time Noel Fielding went on Comic Relief looking like Florence Welch on Halloween will attest – it is not easy to imitate Kate Bush. From the childlike-yet-terrifying timbre of her vocals to dancing confidently with a sword in a medieval bikini, Debra smashes it in as much as it is possible to smash a Kate Bush cover without sounding like a pig in trouble. The fact that the performance is one of the few to be uploaded to YouTube in isolation and that someone called Graham commented on it just five months ago claiming Debra was "bloody robbed" would suggest that I am not alone in my feelings on this matter.
BRIAN HARVEY DOING UB40
People are content to pigeonhole Brian Harvey as "the guy who ran over himself after eating too many jacket potatoes" and while, certainly, nobody could show you the lie, it makes me sad that those few minutes of his life have been entered into the cultural zeitgeist and yet his voice has not. Brian Harvey can fucking sing, man. He's better than anyone that's come out of a 00s talent show and shot directly to your mum's glove compartment with a sad sack cover of a pop banger. He's better than Robbie actual Williams. Brian Harvey, former East 17 member who suffered through a shit time with mental illness when the industry had barely even come to understand what the words meant, is brilliant. He has arguably never been better or purer than in this moment where he is on stage, alone, singing his passionate little heart out to UB40's "Kingston Town" dressed as Ali Campbell before Ali Campbell turned into that joke about looking like Stewart Lee but in reverse. I demand the British public recognise and apologise to Brian Harvey. Thank you.
FRANK SKINNER AS ELVIS COSTELLO
There is a general observation that people subconsciously choose pets that look like them, and I'm beginning to think the same logic applies to people and their favourite musicians. If you think about it, who, really, is Frank Skinner – whose back-up career option was "cowboy" by the way – if not Elvis Costello in a football scarf? Arguably anybody could do a half decent Costello impression with the right pair of novelty glasses and a Jazzmaster (not present in this performance, mind you), but the transformative magic Frank Skinner is working here is mesmerizing. He's even blacked out a tooth. If you saw this taking place in your local you would not say "Sorry, but, what the fuck is Frank Skinner doing", you would say, "Whom is this beautiful Elvis Costello impersonator and does he do weddings."
ALLSTARS AS STEPS
I don't know if you remember Allstars (or allSTARS*, as they will insist it is written), the pop group who, in their brief 12 months of fame, released an OK single called "Things That Go Bump in The Night" (essentially "Everybody" by the Backstreet Boys via an episode of Goosebumps) and a kids TV series called Starstreet that I remember absolutely nothing about other than the fact that they all lived together in a house with several fireman poles. Here they are cosplaying Steps who, as we have all been reminded, are The Greatest British Pop Group Ever. It is bad. Really bad. But fucking hell, if there is one reminder of how batshit telly was in 2001, it is five alright singers made famous by SMTV Live going on a peak Saturday night slot impersonating a band made famous for popularising a techno line dance song. I wouldn't be surprised if the moment was commemorated by a fold-out poster in Smash Hits.
WOMEN OF CORRIE AS THE SPICE GIRLS
This is an absolute shitshow and I love it. Tracy Shaw, Gaynor Faye, Jane Danson, Holly Newman and Angela Griffin as Sporty, Ginger, Posh, Baby and Scary Spices respectively, honking and heaving their way through "Wannabe" like five Taylor Swifts on a gal's holiday in Malaga competing for a bottle of Prosecco. There is a lot of sloppy high-kicking going on here. A lot of dramatic pointing just slightly out of time. You also have to wonder if someone, at some point, told them that all dancing is really "all in the face". They would probably win the Prosecco.
HARRY HILL AS MORRISSEY
I have a confession to make. I've saved the best for last here, lads. If you've made it this far into the article then this is your prize, your gold medal, your slice of white toast after your slice of brown toast. This is Harry Hill as Stephen Morrissey by way of "This Charming Man" and it is at once horrible and fascinating. The facial expression he pulls when he walks out is extremely "Good evening sir I've come to take your daughter to the prom," only for the door to open a little further and reveal her stood with another boy putting their jackets on to leave. Then he does this head tilt thing to indicate feigned pretension but looks like your dad when he's fallen asleep on the couch. Then there's the flower swinging. The voice breaks, the relentless gyrating. It's like he's been plucked off the street by a greasy man in a leopard print shirt promising fame and fortune and now has to dance at working men's clubs while the greasy man shouts: "More flower swinging! Bigger circles! PUT SOME EFFORT IN YOU TART." Desperation, in a word, is what I'm picking up. He shot for effortlessly cool, missed spectacularly and landed on circus nightmare.
At one time, this was prime time British television; C-list celebrities imitating A- to C-list celebrities in the format of a glorified Butlins event. How amazing is that? I can see now why people wanted to Brexit the country back to the past, with all its everyman glory, drab clothing and buried scandals. It's not going to happen though is it. Life repeats but according to the laws of space-time, among other reasons, things can never be the same. Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes is gone forever. Wetherspoons are putting their prices up. Scotland are fucking off, probably. The rest of us will be trapped in bitter, godforsaken England and poor old Wales watching Sharon Osbourne cackle at a white woman in a tin foil tracksuit shouting her own name over a Tupac instrumental. Like I said: we're about done here.
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