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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 February 2008, 08:33 GMT
The Brit School's lessons in cool
By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Amy Winehouse, Adele, Kate Nash
Amy Winehouse, Adele and Kate Nash all went to the Brit School

Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis, Kate Nash and Adele are among its former students, and it gets funding from the Brit Awards to train the next generation of stars.

So how does the Brit School for performing arts nurture its young artists, and who will be next to emerge?

With 10 million albums sold in the UK, 16 Brit Award nominations and 14 Grammy nominations between them, graduates of the Brit School in Selhurst, south London have become some of the biggest names in pop.

In recent years, a bumper crop of old boys and girls have used their training there as a springboard to success.

As well as Amy, Adele, Leona and Kate, its alumni include fellow female singers Katie Melua and Imogen Heap and Grammy-nominated R&B duo Floetry.

Students at the Brit School
The Brit School has taught 8,000 students since it opened in 1991
In the indie fraternity, members of The Kooks, The Feeling and Athlete all passed through its state-of-the-art studios, classrooms and theatre.

"The secret is in the nature of the school - it's a very creative institution," says principal Nick Williams.

The students, aged 14-19, are encouraged to be themselves rather than shrink-wrapped stars, he says.

"We're not trying to mould them or work to some kind of pre-ordained model of what is a successful singer."

On walking through the front doors, there is someone strumming a guitar in reception, concert posters are alongside timetables on the walls and giant photos from Brit Award ceremonies hang from the balcony.

'So happy'

There seems to be an air of creative competition, that the pupils want to be here and push themselves to develop.

Leona Lewis
It was a great school and I think it's one of the only ones like that in Britain that's free
Leona Lewis
Graham, 16, says: "I'm just so happy I've come here because if I think about staying at my old school, it makes me feel ill.

"People aren't here to be famous - yes they're here to be successful, yes they want to make a living out of it, but it's because they're passionate about music and want to make a career in that."

The successful former students provide some inspiration for the current crop - but fame is not the goal for most, according to Rudie, 17.

"Maybe you had that to begin with, wanting to become famous," she says.

"But when you get here you learn so much - it's more about the music and enjoying the music than getting famous and making loads of money."

As well as honing talents for singing and playing instruments, the school gives a grounding in production, music theory, music history and the music business.

Hi-tech facilities

And music is just one of seven equal strands being taught - the others being dance, media, theatre, musical theatre, stage production and visual arts.

The school receives funding from both the government and the music industry - including proceeds from the Brit Awards ceremony, which takes place on Wednesday.

Past Brit Awards have paid for a range of hi-tech kit, including a recording studio designed by Sir George Martin and lighting and sound equipment for the school theatre.

Duran Duran at Brit School
Duran Duran are among the acts that have visited the school
The funding also means there are no fees.

"It was a great school and I think it's one of the only ones like that in Britain that's free," says Leona Lewis, who is up for four Brit Awards.

"I went to theatre school and my parents couldn't afford for me to go, so it's somewhere that's willing to give a chance to people that really want to do the performing arts and media."

Kate Nash and Adele, who has already won the inaugural Brit Award for critics' choice, have shown their appreciation by thanking their teachers in the notes of their debut albums.

"I saw Adele last summer, we had a nice chat and then all of a sudden everyone knows who Adele is," says head of music Liz Penney. "It's gratifying."

Ms Penney stresses the school is "not a springboard to fame in any way, shape or form".

"They're coming here to equip themselves with skills and knowledge, to enable themselves to then work in some capacity as professional musicians," she says.

Spellbinding voices

So what does the class of 2008 sound like?

The music on offer at a recent Year 13 concert ranged from catchy pop and intelligent indie to avant-garde jazz and political thrash metal.

It was often rough around the edges, but the performers were highly confident and the standards of musicianship were impressive.
Brit School music room
The school will get 325,000 from the music industry Brit Trust in 2008

Some songs would not sound out of place on the radio - and, in fact, many of the more mainstream compositions were more creative and ambitious than a lot of commercial fare.

Britain - and the Brit School in particular - has cultivated a string of solo female stars of late, and several girls with spellbinding, soulful voices suggest there may be more to come.

There are a few names that you could imagine tripping off the tongue in a couple of years - such as Rudie, Indie, Demi, Bianca.

The gaggle of record label scouts and managers in the audience, drawn by the lure of discovering the next Amy or Adele, might be sending large gifts to their parents in the near future.

The Brit School may be much more than a pop production line - but the Brit Awards ceremony could double as a glamorous school reunion for a few years to come.

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