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Saturday, 5 October, 2002, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK
Fame Academy: Must try harder
Fame Academy contestants
The contestants are rough diamonds at best

Wise critics have said reality television is like watching a car crash - a mixture of morbid fascination and gladness that it isn't you.

Fame Academy certainly started at 100mph, galloping, gurning contestants soon giving way to a shaky mass rendition of the Jackson 5's Can You Feel It?.

It was awful.

Were the producers to form a group out of this motley crew, they would do worse than call it A Semitone Flat.

It's better than getting changed in pub toilets

Pippa Fulton
on Fame Academy
If this sorry collision of a song was meant to be the example of what 11 random punters could do without any schooling, it was a triumph.

But as it became clear they had had some training, it was hard to judge how good they ought to sound.

The show's other major drawback was that it started the wrong way round.

It's impossible to work up much interest in the talent show part of the experience, until we have seen some of their life in the academy, where the contestants will be shown the showbiz ropes.

Shakira complex

The quality of the characters could turn Fame Academy around, with tensions growing as the prize of a year's life as a rock star looms.

Contestant Pippa Fulton seemed to have a Shakira complex, all slashed clothes and roots showing through.

She offered the most surreal assessment of the night's festivities: "It's better than getting changed in pub toilets."

Cat Deeley and Patrick Kielty
Cat Deeley and Patrick Kielty are game hosts
And the Hull student helped make up the most convincing performance of the evening.

Joined by classical fan Katie Lewis - at 18 the youngest - promising Camilla Beeput and 24-year-old Lemar Obika, the spirited rendition of Destiny's Child's Say My Name was the only together performance of the evening.

Hailing from Tottenham in London, Lemar immediately seemed the best singer of all of the contestants.

At the other end of the spectrum was drama student Naomi Roper, who showed off the kind of voice that could save Earth from a rogue meteor shower.

Indie type

A combination of throatiness and nerves left Naomi's contribution to Toploader's Dancing in the Moonlight flatter than Holland and in danger of undermining the foundations of Shepperton Studios.

It will be interesting to see how she is licked into shape.

Sensitive bedroom indie type Ainslie has a chromosome that prevents boy band-style dancing and a persona so weird he may just win.

It was hard to tell whether he was even trying to sing or just mumble amiably.

Fame Academy's Nigel Wilson
Nigel Wilson is a heavy rock band refugee
The third contestant taking on Toploader was IT worker Chris Manning, the most starry of all the contenders but unable to stop it sliding into a muddy farce.

Kate Bush fan Marli Buck, 27, took part in a slightly surreal rendition of T Rex's Get It On.

Belfast gas fitter Malachi Cush made it sound like Leonard Cohen, and committed Christian Ashley House gurned at the camera just once too often.

Father-of-four Nigel Wilson, 31, seems to have been put in the academy to see how long it takes him to crack.

He looks like a refugee from a working men's club rock covers band, and his background video soon confirms this.

Without the oxygen of publicity, these people do not have it in them to be anything more than competent club singers.

Glassy eyes

But the show is likely to come to life with the Big Brother-style footage of life inside the academy.

The last of the contestants is Northern Irish girl Sinead Quinn.

Her gutsy but ultimately unsuccessful efforts at taking on Macy Gray's I Try were enough to see off two male competitors for the final place.

Paul McDonald from Stoke's glassy eyes revealed he had landed on Planet Fear, but he did a sterling job of bashing out Take That's Back For Good.

And David Sneddon from Glasgow suffered from a bad choice of song - Billy Joel's Uptown Girl - and overflowed with smugness as he "worked" the crowd.

As an opening show, it was too much of a mish-mash, but with characters like Marli, Sinead, Naomi, Nigel and Ainslie, Fame Academy may very well be a slow-burning success.

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