Talent bootcamp

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Blackpool was a bootcamp for talent even before a £3m grant arrived from the Arts Council.

The single highest grant of its kind, handed out by the funding giant this year, represents a huge vote of confidence in the community, cultural and creative talents of Blackpool.

And cash to splash on investing in the town’s talent could make Blackpool birthplace of the next big thing.

Or as Polly Hamilton, assistant director of cultural services for Blackpool Council, says: “It will put Blackpool back on the map as the go-to place outside of London.”

The grant has been won by a consortium of councils, commercial, community, public and private interests in Blackpool and Wyre.

It represents a long term commitment – £3m in the bank over three years.

The next six months will shape the strategy of who gets what, when and why.

The Fylde coast already has a thriving infrastructure of theatre, dance and community arts projects, one of the biggest networks of its kind outside the major cities.

It also boasts some of the biggest entertainment attractions in the business.

But just as would-be Olympians won’t emerge unless funding is found to train those who show promise – and then the all-important sponsors to squire them through to the starting line – much the same goes for singers, musicians, comedians, artists, entertainers, dancers and more.

Only the luckiest get the quick fix of the telly reality show talent route.

And for every youngster we see on 
X Factor – which starts again on ITV on Saturday – or Britain’s Got Talent, the path is strewn with the broken dreams of more.

But some look for the next big thing – through the inhouse talent circuit.

At Pleasure Beach Blackpool the annual Big One Talent competition, presented by Maxwell Slater, can be heaven or hell for wannabe stars in the Paradise Room.

Take the 11 kids, from five to 16, assembled before judges in the latest heat, with another to come tomorrow afternoon and next Thursday ahead of the final on August 30.

The least nervous are the youngest, but the older teenagers know they stand or fall by their performance.

Judges know they can easily crush children’s aspirations too.

Does that mean they pick their words carefully accordingly?

Depends who’s calling the shots.

Ask John Luke Bacon, 15, over from Matlock, Derbyshire, for the second week running.

John Luke made it to the final 100 of Britain’s Got Talent, so has nerves of steel.

He’s back in Blackpool for the second week running because managing director Amanda Thompson called him “too “aggressive” and asked him to return and tone it down.

Antony Johns, creative director of the Pleasure Beach, agrees. “He was a bit scary.”

John Luke comes on with just the right touch of swagger, attitude and eye contact to make an impression, including on the teenage table thumpers alongside the judges.

His transformation from diffident teenager to post-hardcore metallic rocker and rapper is impressive – as is the song he’s picked from his favourite band Enter Shikari.

“I just want to be like them,” he tells me. He’s off to college next year for his music diploma.

“I don’t think I’m aggressive. It’s more about feeling the music.”

He doesn’t win the heat but is invited to perform at the park’s Halloween party. As consolation prizes go, it beats the high five from SpongeBob SquarePants later.

All but three of the 11 are singers.

Dancer Alfie Ashall, 10, of Chorley, gets through to the final with a freestyle routine.

Teenage sisters Scarlet and Katie Henson of Blackpool are urged to “smile more” –although Ed Sheeran’s A Team song about addiction isn’t a bag of laughs at the best of times.

Sophie Melville, 11, of Blackpool, goes through to finals with a stage presence to equal her strong voice. Rachel Fallows, 16, of Stoke, triumphs too, vocally outstanding with Kelly Clarkson’s Because of You.

But for me the most poignant performance comes from pianist Jessica Williams, 15, of Blackpool, a Jessie J lookalike who gets caught up in the emotion of her untitled composition for keyboards. She returns to the show tomorrow.

Jess has her own support squad, Wiktoria Sypnicka, Lucy Darlington, Olivia Egan, Marie Tobin, Chelsea Traynor, Georgina Taylor and Emma Csonge, cheering her on. They reckon Jess is the next big thing for Blackpool.

Georgina, 15, explains: “There aren’t enough shows for local talent, not in Blackpool.

“If I was judging I’d look for original talent. Jess is just that.

“She plays like a dream and writes her own stuff. That’s something really special, I think.”

Amanda Thompson concludes: “The rise of popular TV shows helps, but we want to show what talent is on offer here. We’re excited about the Big One Talent this season. There are lots of youngsters with bags of talent. We want to show them to the world!”

* www.blackpool

* jacqui.morley@blackpool
gazette.co.uk, or tweet her @jacqui