Britain's talent grows up: As BGT returns, how the young runners-up became winners
00:54 GMT, 23 March 2012
Britain’s Got Talent returns tomorrow with Simon Cowell and his new judging line-up of Alesha Dixon, David Walliams and Amanda Holden.
Many of the contestants who make it through to the finals dream of a life in the spotlight and making millions.
But while the ITV show opens doors for superstars like Susan Boyle and Diversity, many of the also-rans have also found surprising success after their 15 minutes of fame.
Here, Dan Wootton tracks down some of the former favourites from the show and discovers how their lives have changed…
THE CHILD STAR
Connie Talbot on the first series of Britain's Got Talent in 2007
WHO Connie Talbot was six when she sang Over The Rainbow, but was beaten into second place in the final by opera singer Paul Potts.
WHEN Series one, 2007.
NOW: Aged just 11, Connie has endured more professional disappointment and rejection than many performers experience in a lifetime.
After winning the hearts of the nation on the first series of Britain’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell promised her a record contract. But the deal ended up being withdrawn because of Connie’s tender age, leading her family to sign her with a smaller music company.
In 2007 and 2008, she released two albums in the UK and the U.S., achieving gold sales here.
Even so, Connie’s mum Sharon says the show isn’t a goldmine for former finalists. They were left out of pocket after agreeing to numerous charity performances without getting any expenses.
‘It’s hard because all the charity events have ended up costing us a lot of money, even though they are lovely to do,’ she says.
But looking back, Sharon admits it was the right decision for Cowell not to sign Connie, from Streetly, West Midlands, to his label.
‘I fully agree she was too young,’ she says. ‘She was too young to go on the show really. But it was her own little thing — she wanted to put a smile on all our faces after the death of my mum.
‘She saw the advert and wasn’t pushed into it. For me, it comes down to the parent knowing that their child can handle it.’
Connie is determined to achieve her dream of becoming a pop star
However, Connie, who sings throughout our interview, is determined to push ahead with her dream of becoming a pop singer.
The family plans to travel to Los Angeles soon to start the process of looking for a new manager and backers to record another album.
That shouldn’t be too difficult bearing in mind that Connie has her own YouTube channel and her version of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep has had more than 19 million hits.
Connie says: ‘I want to go on The X Factor. Nothing has put me off wanting to be a singer.’
THE CHOIR BOY
WHO Andrew Johnston stole the show (coming third singing Pie Jesu) as a slightly chubby 13-year-old who had been bullied for his love of classical music.
WHEN Series two, 2008.
NOW: Four years on, Andrew is a dashing 17-year-old karate black belt, who is 6ft 3in.
After two years out of the spotlight after his voice broke, Andrew has joined the National Youth Choir.
‘I’m just another lad in there — no one focuses on Britain’s Got Talent and I’m happy about that,’ he says.
Then and now: Andrew Johnston performing on Britain's Got Talent in 2008, left, and now, pictured right
Andrew, from Dumfries, struggled during the time his voice changed. Initially, his singing teacher thought he was going to be a countertenor. Then it dropped to tenor and, after a few months, a high baritone.
‘It’s very difficult not to push it, I have to let it mature at its own rate,’ he says. ‘Even now I don’t know what my voice is going to do.’
Andrew is a choral scholar and hopes to begin a four-year degree at the Royal Northern College of Music if he is accepted. Ultimately he wants to become a opera singer.
‘I’m going to be patient and work for it. That is what I want and I’ll put everything into it,’ he says.
THE DANCING DOG TRAINER
WHO Kate Nicholas was 16 when she and her six-year-old dancing dog Gin came seventh in the final. She touched the nation with her confession that Gin was her best friend, which led to her being bullied at school.
WHEN Series two, 2008.
NOW: Gaining international attention and the interest of Hollywood producers taught Kate one thing — a life in showbusiness was not what she wanted.
Reflecting on her time seeking animal fame in America for star dog Gin, a border collie, the 20-year-old from Norbury, Cheshire, admits: ‘I didn’t go on the show to become famous. I just enjoyed working with my dogs rather than being in the limelight.
Kate Nicholas, 16, pictured with her dog Gin practicing a routine
‘Dancing with dogs was always my hobby. But I found that it became less fun when it became my job as well. There was no definition between my job and my hobby.’
It was that feeling that resulted in her making the difficult decision to stop Gin, then ten, performing publicly a year ago, a few months before she decided to quit herself.
‘Having Gin kept me grounded — she was always the most important thing,’ says Kate.
‘I felt because of what she did for me and the opportunities she gave me, it was not fair to keep her working.
‘I decided I would rather give her a happy retirement and let her enjoy her last years having fun, rather than put-ting up with loud audiences and being under pressure to do routines.’
Kate did continue to perform professionally with her younger dogs Ice and Chris, but things didn’t feel the same and she returned to her dream of serving the country in the Army.
‘I was going to join when I was 16,’ she says. ‘But I wasn’t quite old enough so I delayed it for a year.
‘During that time I happened to find myself on Britain’s Got Talent, which sidetracked me. But this was always my actual dream.’
That’s not to say Kate is ungrateful. She has made a six-figure sum from appearances on U.S. talk shows, hundreds of lucrative corporate performances and a dog training book called Kate And Gin.
‘I’ve invested the money I earned, so it’s there for my future,’ she says, on a break from her tough military training.
‘But it was never a case of what I can earn. I’ve taken an income cut. But being young this is what I want to do.
‘I still live on a farm with my parents. I’m a country bumpkin and my dog hadn’t been in a city before we turned up at the Manchester auditions. But I don’t regret it because of the incredible experiences it gave me.’
WHO Shaheen Jafargholi was 12 when he came seventh singing Michael Jackson’s Who’s Lovin’ You.
WHEN Series three, 2009.
NOW: Shaheen had no idea one of the most famous (and controversial) pop stars of all time was avidly watching his performances on Britain’s Got Talent.
In fact, it was only after Shaheen was asked to perform at Michael Jackson’s memorial — which was watched by millions around the world — following his death in 2009 that he learned what the King of Pop had planned for him musically.
Singer Shaheen Jafargholi performing on Britain's Got Talent in 2009, left, and at the Michael Jackson public memorial service held at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles later that same year, right
‘After the funeral, Michael’s choreographer came up to me and said it was Michael’s plan for him and me to sing Heal The World every night during his tour at the O2 in London,’ says Shaheen, now 15, from Swansea. ‘That would have been incredible.’
But the Jackson family’s request for him to sing at the public memorial changed Shaheen’s life anyway. It resulted in him signing a record deal with Island Records and launching an online reality show called The Real Shaheen.
However, he still hasn’t released any material, leading to suggestions there has been a difference of opinion over which creative direction to take.
Shaheen explains his education takes priority. ‘I definitely still see myself being a full-time singer. That was my dream before Britain’s Got Talent and that’s not going to change,’ he says.
‘But I am focusing on getting my exams and then I can get back to singing. It’s an important year for me.’
His mum Karen sends me a message later to say Shaheen will be releasing his single soon and that when he is not in school he is spending time in London writing new songs.
‘We are taking our time. There is no need to rush,’ she says.
THE VOICE OF AN ANGEL
WHO Aged 12, classical singer Faryl Smith became an international sensation following her fifth place performance of Ave Maria.
WHEN Series two, 2008.
NOW: Faryl (pictured) is one of the only aspiring singers to reject the offer of a record contract from Simon Cowell. The impressive mezzo-soprano instead signed a 2.3 million deal with Decca Records here and in the U.S., because of their expertise in classical music.
She was also following the advice of her heroine Katherine Jenkins, who invited Faryl to perform with her twice.
Singer Faryl Smith has performed with her idol Katherine Jenkins – twice
But after her second Decca album reached only number 56 in the British album charts, Faryl, from Kettering, Northamptonshire, asked to take some time out.
‘I am studying for my A-levels this year, so I have asked not to release an album. It’s about balance and I wouldn’t have time to focus enough on my education,’ says Faryl, who is 16 and managed by her father Tony.
‘When I released my last albums I was a little girl in frilly dresses. When I come back I will be able to sing as a young woman. My voice will have changed, too.’
Such is Faryl’s determination, she insists she is not into boys. ‘No time, no interest,’ she says. She enjoys listening to Beyonce, having sleepovers with her girl friends from her school and watching TV soaps such as Hollyoaks.
‘When I get home, I slot straight back into school and normal life,’ she says. ‘But I sometimes have to pinch myself to remember that I am still just a teenager.’
THE BODY POPPERS
Twist and Pulse dance duo Glen and Ashley on Britain's Got Talent in 2010
WHO Twist And Pulse dance duo Ashley Glazebrook and Glen Murphy were 19 when they came second on the show.
WHEN Series four, 2010.
NOW: The friends have loved the attention they’ve received. ‘We still can’t leave the house without getting mobbed,’ says Glen. ‘I couldn’t even take my mum out on Mother’s Day because I always get recognised. It’s amazing.’
While the pair, now 21, make a healthy income from commercial dance performances, they have used their exposure to broaden their showbiz experience including singing on a hip-hop record called Jump.
‘The show made us want to try other things. We got to release a single, which is something I had always wanted to do,’ says Glen, from Forest Hill, South London. ‘We’re also working on a street dance movie.’
THE GREEK RIVER DANCERS
WHO Stavros Flatley stars Demetrios Demetriou, 40, and his son Lagi, 12, only auditioned as a joke but came fourth.
WHEN Series three, 2009.
NOW: Demetrios shut his Greek restaurant to concentrate on showbiz and the pair have performed their routine worldwide, dancing at Amanda Holden’s birthday party last week.
They earn around 3,000 a time but raked in 80,000 for one corporate performance in the U.S. shortly after BGT.
Stavros Flatley on series three of Britain's Got Talent in 2009
And in 2012: Michalakis and Demetrios – aka Stavros Flatley – in more casual attire
‘You can’t imagine how our lives have changed,’ says Demetrios, now 43, from Winchmore Hill, North London.
The duo also performed at runner-up Susan Boyle’s birthday. The only problem is that 15-year-old Lagi is losing the puppy fat that made him famous.
‘I joke I’m going to feed him when he’s asleep,’ says his dad.
Britain’s Got Talent returns to ITV1 at 8pm tomorrow.