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Friday, 13 December, 2002, 10:14 GMT
Conversion on the road to Fame Academy
Sinead and Lemar
Sinead and Lemar have survived to the final show

When the first programme of the BBC's reality TV talent show Fame Academy was aired I suspect I was not the only person to squirm in embarrassment in front of the television.

While ITV had produced the highly-polished Pop Stars and Pop Idol, the BBC, in trying to jump on the bandwagon, seemed to forget the basics of good television.

David will fight it out for the 1m record contract
The first show was sloppy, felt ill conceived and ill-thought out and most crucially of all, lacking in that magical ingredient - pop.

The 12 singers picked to fight it out for the 1m record contract were like an end of pier karaoke line-up - tuneless and talentless.

Why then will I be glued to my TV set on Friday when the winner of the competition is finally decided, shouting my support for the wonderful Lemar and hoping the insipid David does not walk away with the prize?

Certainly, it has been quite a conversion - from ardent critic bemoaning the waste of licence fee payers' money to a strident supporter of must-see television.

Of course, the programme makers were always confident the show would grow in popularity as the format bedded in and the contestants became better known.


But in many ways, my change of heart has come in spite of the programme and not because of it.

The Friday night live showdown remains a sloppily-produced affair.

Cat Deeley still looks embarrassed to be there, the camera still continues to cut away at inappropriate moments and stage hands and production crew are still caught on camera when they should remain unseen to the TV audience.

Katie was a favourite with the TV audience
The format of the programme still feels like a poor mix of Big Brother and Pop Idol - one of the main reasons, I suspect, so many people failed to tune in.

Although the contestants lived together in one house, monitored 24 hours a day, the two update programmes each week on BBC One failed to give a sense of the "reality" of their experience - a big mistake for a reality TV programme.


And the Friday night live showdown always seemed more of a let-down - once the nominated singers had done their bit the rest of the programme felt more like a summer show in Blackpool than a Las Vegas stage extravaganza.

But the real reason the show became addictive was because the quality of the performers started to get better and better.

Winning, and losing, was a big deal
Once the pub singers and in-front-of-a-mirror singers had been "expelled" - i.e. Nigel, Ashley and Chris - the real talent began to emerge.

Sometimes, in rare moments, the programme made us feel as though we were witnessing the birth of a real talent - Lemar's unique voice singing a Stevie Wonder classic, David's song-writing skills at the piano or Ainslie's skill at, well, jumping about all over the stage.

As the numbers dwindled and the chaff was separated from the wheat, the cream did indeed rise to the top.


And the expulsion of students became more compelling - it was a master stroke to give the remaining students the final decision of who leaves and who stays despite the votes of the viewing public.

Who would have imagined that Marli, one of the more talented performers, would be voted out so early or that the public would have warmed to Katie's warbles?

So on to Friday and the final - win or lose the final three are almost certainly guaranteed a pop career of sorts.

The most interesting thing about Fame Academy has not been the show itself but what happens to the contestants in the coming weeks and months.

As a TV show it has not lived up to expectations but as a talent search it has been a resounding success - probably not quite what the BBC intended.

The Fame Academy final is on BBC One on Friday from 2030 GMT.

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