Superstar: The men vying to pay Jesus are as self-obsessed as any showbiz diva


They ALL think they're Superstars – and no one's won yet!: Spray tans, hair extensions, catfights galore – the men vying to pay Jesus are as self-obsessed as any showbiz diva

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UPDATED:

07:20 GMT, 20 July 2012

Amidst a haze of industrial strength hairspray and a cloud of cosmetics, an aspiring Jesus is throwing a not-so-holy hissy fit. ‘Five minutes to get changed’

24-year-old Dirk Johnston complains to an exasperated production assistant while flouncing out of a packed make-up room. ‘Are you kidding me I won’t have time to do my hair.’

I push through five hair stylists and seven make-up artists to catch another would-be Messiah, so-called ‘rocker’ Nathan James, having fake blond hair extensions clipped under his real locks.

Jesuses all around us: The hopefuls of ITV's Superstar are having their hair and makeup done in preparation for the show

Jesuses all around us: The hopefuls of ITV's Superstar are having their hair and makeup done in preparation for the show

‘Whoah!’ he says angrily to the photographer. ‘You can’t show me having hair extensions put in — people have got to think this is all real.’

The ‘little bit of help’, as he puts it, seems to have done the trick.

‘Is it wrong that I’m jealous of his hair’ presenter Amanda Holden asks after taking a peek.

Earlier in the day, all 11 hopefuls had stripped down to matching black briefs to receive their third spray tan in a week.

Yes, I could only be backstage at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ITV search to find a new leading man for an arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar.

The only things of Biblical proportions on display here seem to be the vanity and egos of the contestants.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the
show’s ratings, which have trailed behind ‘the Lord’s’ previous BBC
searches to find leading stars in musicals The Sound Of Music, Joseph
And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Oliver! and The Wizard Of Oz.
Some episodes of Superstar trailed lower-profile rival Beeb shows
including Countryfile and even the National Lottery.

However, despite the criticism, Andrew is convinced the talent in his ITV debut is better than he has ever seen.

To
prove the point, he has given me an access-all-areas pass to the
Fountain Studios in North-West London to find out just what it involves
to become Jesus.

Amanda Holden has her sleek bob styled to perfection as she goes through her script for the show

Amanda Holden has her sleek bob styled to perfection as she goes through her script for the show

But it quickly becomes clear to me that his Jesus in 2012 is going to care as much about the volume of his hair as the quality of his vocals.

For the past six weeks, the 11 hopefuls have been living, three to a bedroom, in a mansion in Northwood, Middlesex, provided by Lloyd Webber.

While it is equipped with a steam room, gym and private cinema, girlfriends are banned from visiting, and the group — who vary in age from 21 to 42 — all have a curfew of 11pm.

Intensive ‘Jesus training’ has been taking place most days from 6am to midnight. There are early morning workouts to improve their muscles, while all alcohol and junk food has been banned. After all, the eventual winner will end up performing in a loincloth in front of 20,000 people at London’s 02 Arena in just two months.

‘One of the things we’ve all been dreading is the loincloth,’ 24-year-old Rory Taylor, from the Wirral, explains as I chat to some of the contestants during a brief dinner break in the studio’s modest canteen.

‘We’ve been training hard and working on our abs. We are on a Jesus diet, too! But the lack of alcohol in the house has been a real struggle for some of us.’

Nathan, who was rejected from the BBC talent show The Voice, has lost nearly 3st. ‘After I was on The Voice, I wanted to show people how dedicated I am to this show by proving that I could change to become Jesus,’ he explains.

One might expect a group of male
singers to be less bitchy and image-obsessed than their female
counterparts. But this is musical theatre after all, and the pressure of
the tough regime has inevitably led to tensions among the lads, who all
say playing Jesus is their dream role.

‘We’re
not allowed to take anyone back to the house — Andrew’s strict about
that,’ explains former boy band member David Hunter, 27, whose
girlfriend already works in a West End show. ‘Some people have been
tempted to sneak off, but the producers have been really strict at
clamping down on us.’

Does all the time together cause arguments

‘Different groups have formed,’ Rory admits. ‘It’s not natural for 11 men to share a house together.’

‘But we have become like brothers,’ adds Roger Wright who, as the oldest contestant, appears to have a little more perspective.

Following his diva strop, I go to find Berlin-based actor Dirk, who concedes he has found the experience ‘very testing’.

‘You
don’t get your own space and I’ve never been around people this long,
so I’ve been in almost every fight,’ he admits. ‘But everyone’s had a
diva moment because this programme is make or break for us. Either you
go under or you make it through and it will make you stronger.’

(Sadly for Dirk, he went under, being voted off on the second live show earlier this week.)

And what of those regular spray tans

‘We
strip off one by one,’ David is happy to explain. ‘Then we dance around
in little black thongs while we’re waiting. After the first, it was
amazing to see how people came out of themselves.’ Enough said!

Bad hair day: Nathan James was not happy about being snapped getting his hair extensions put in - understandable as the illusion even has Amanda Holden jealous of his locks

Bad hair day: Nathan James was not happy about being snapped getting his hair extensions put in – understandable as the illusion even has Amanda Holden jealous of his locks

The
show’s judges — former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm, pop star Jason
Donovan and comedienne and actress Dawn French — are remarkably
down-to-earth compared to the wannabes.

Mel
wanders the studio corridors barefoot and without a scrap of make-up
while offering advice. ‘This is all from my personal experience,’ she
says to eliminated contestant Afnan Iftikhar at the end of one such pep
talk.

I stop her to ask if she is concerned by the Jesuses’ obsession with appearance.

‘Well,
I don’t think the real Jesus was this vain,’ she answers with a knowing
smile that also hints at disapproval. ‘But it’s the world that we live
in. This is the metrosexual age after all — they want to sing their best
but also look their best.’

Mel invites me into the modest
dressing room she shares with Jason, who is in the middle of brushing
his teeth half an hour before the show goes live.

Despite the headlines about the drop in ratings, the Australian is defensive about Superstar.

‘We
have a lot more talent than The Voice,’ he argues. ‘And Andrew’s energy
is incredible. Just look at the guy. He doesn’t really have to do this,
but he’s out there trying to find new ways to reinvent his shows.’

The
Lord remains unseen throughout the preparations, sitting in his quiet
dressing room avidly watching the dress rehearsal on a large TV.
Interestingly, he has not been given access to Simon Cowell’s
purpose-built luxury suite at the studio, which sits empty on the floor
above.

Earlier, Lloyd Webber
spent one-on-one time with each contestant, hearing a run-through of
their performance. His focus is intense. Says Mel: ‘I really respect the
way he actually cares about the guys in the competition. He is always
very constructive with them and thinking of other roles that they could
realistically play.’

Keen: All contestants take to the stage on the 'Superstar' show last week showing off their range as they compete to become the next Jesus

Keen: All contestants take to the stage on the 'Superstar' show last week showing off their range as they compete to become the next Jesus

Someone
who is relishing being freed of her judging duties is the show’s
presenter Amanda, who is more used to being at the studio to judge on
Britain’s Got Talent.

In her
typically bonkers-but-endearing fashion, she has turned her dressing
room into a religious-themed shrine to . . . well, herself.

Covering
the door is a giant poster featuring her head superimposed on Jesus’s
body and the words ‘Mandy, I trust in you’. Inside, there is another
large poster of Amanda as a nun on a stained glassed window and a framed
painting of her other boss, Simon Cowell, predictably as God.

There
is even a version of the Lord’s prayer which Amanda has re-written with
her own unique twist. It includes the lines: ‘Give us our daily rice
cracker and forgive us for our foul mouth rants as we endeavour to
forgive those who p*** us off.’

‘We’re
trying to get into the theme here,’ she giggles. ‘I might get slammed
for this, but it’s a joke. I don’t want to be considered blasphemous. In
fact, I think this show is introducing the whole concept of Jesus to a
younger generation and that can only be a good and positive thing.’

Amanda
rehearses for most of the day in a white dressing gown with large
rollers in her hair. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ she jokes. ‘I’m
totally out of my comfort zone, but I love it because I feel in charge.’

She is assisted by the five-strong
‘Team Amanda’, which includes Victoria Beckham’s former hairdresser Ben
Cooke. On stage during dress rehearsal, they help her in and out of
three different gowns and countless pairs of designer shoes.

Amanda’s
mum is staying with her to help look after six-month old baby Hollie
Rose while she is at the studio. ‘I miss her so much during the day,’
she says. ‘When I’ve finished this show, that’s me done. I’m not
planning to work again until December.’

I
venture upstairs to the large dressing room which the Jesuses share.
There is no room for modesty here and they all seem happy to show off
the results of their exercise and fake tan sessions by prancing around
the room in various states of undress.

With
just ten minutes before the show begins, there is a clamour for two
full-length mirrors. It seems more than an hour in hair and make-up just
hasn’t been enough.

While
Jesus will be largely limited to robes and a loincloth, the contestants
all have strong views about fashion. Head stylist Stevie B (she refuses
to reveal her real last name) has spent the past eight weeks preparing
99 outfits, all while dealing with the whims of each Jesus.

David Grindrod, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mel C and Jason Donovan. Andrew Lloyd Webber search for the next musical superstar to play the leading role in a new arena tour of the legendary rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar

David Grindrod, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mel C and Jason Donovan search for the next musical superstar to play the leading role in a new arena tour of the legendary rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar

‘Each of them have their own individual touch, so we prepared mood boards for each contestant,’ she sighs, clearly exhausted. Hours of planning have gone into the Jesus makeovers. One of the favourites, 31-year-old Irishman Niall Sheehy, lopped off his trademark curls after being told they made him look too much like Lee Mead, who triumphed in Any Dream Will Do, Lloyd Webber’s BBC search to find a Joseph.

‘I’m a guy, I have curly hair and I work in musical theatre. It was obvious people were going to compare us,’ he tells me with some frustration. ‘But a decision was made that I had too many curls. Jesus had long hair, but that’s life.’

No tactics are off-limits to get the judges on-side. Not even flirting. Niall has shamelessly targeted Dawn French, who joked about using the programme to boost her love life. ‘I’ve always thought she was a really attractive woman and I had a crush when I was younger,’ he claims.

Have you told her ‘No! I haven’t spoken to her because I don’t want to sway her decision. Obviously, once she finds out she’ll be gunning for me.’

But Niall was also prepared to openly flirt with happily married judge Jason. ‘It was only tongue in cheek,’ he blushes.

Niall is one of the few Jesuses who is unmarried. Has he been tempted by the attractive female dancers who hang around backstage ‘Unfortunately they’re all too good-looking,’ he replies bashfully.

His pal David chips in, ‘Niall’s a single man — we want to live out our fantasies through him.’

While comparisons to The X Factor are inevitable with all new talent shows, they are particularly relevant with Superstar given it is filmed in the same studio with some of the same staff.

Critics have suggested the disappointing ratings are a result of the similarity, but Mel disagrees.

‘There are a lot of shows that could be deemed as being similar. But it’s nice to see real talent on this one, including professionals. I think it’s a really promising thing for British theatre.’

But Jason, who starred as Joseph in the West End, knows if things don’t pick up, it could be their heads on the chopping block. ‘Let’s hope Andrew doesn’t give us the backhand,’ he smiles.

The most difficult moment comes during the daily dashing of a wannabe’s dream when the result of the public vote is announced and one Jesus leaves the show, dramatically walking through a tunnel of white light.

That’s when renowned casting director David Grindrod enters to provide moral and professional support. ‘It’s tough. But there haven’t been as many tears as there were with the Josephs a few years ago — yet,’ he says. ‘So at least that’s one thing.’

Superstar is on ITV1 at 9pm. The winner will be revealed on Wednesday.