The six acts competing to represent the United Kingdom at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest are now confirmed. They will be Charlotte, Damien, Emperors of Soul, Francine & Nicola, Jade and Mark. Next Saturday 10th January, they will compete in the first live show for the audience votes. Each week, one act will be eliminated until the final three acts take their place in the Your Country Needs You final on Saturday 31st January.
The six acts are:
This 17-year-old has displayed a flair for performance from early childhood. By age 11 she and her family moved lock, stock and barrel back from Nottingham to Essex in order for her to attend Sylvia Young's much-admired stage school. She earned her place with a combination of sheer talent and determination, plus over 500 letters to obtain both the grants and scholarship the family needed to see her through.
"I'm really excited about being in the show and just amazed at how quickly everything has happened," says Charlotte. "I can't begin to imagine what it will be like to appear on Saturday night BBC television. I just know I'll be nervous but I'm determined not to let it get the better of me."
Charlotte's favourite Eurovision hit is Gina G's Just A Little Bit from 1996.
Damien has a track record that started in musical theatre at the age of 12, and has more recently seen him branching out to forge a career playing at some of the top piano bars in London. Damien has also performed backing vocals for Tom Jones and has in the past few months appeared on television shows including Later With Jools, Strictly Come Dancing and Here Come The Boys.
In between gigs Damien can be found on the footy pitch and was even tempted to follow in his father's footsteps (his father was professional footballer for Brighton and Hove Albion and played for Ireland under-21s). He was also GQ Magazine's Face of 95 and has acted alongside Caprice in the West End stage production of Rent.
He says: "I'd never even thought about Eurovision until now but I'm really excited about Andrew Lloyd Webber's involvement. I reckon that the competition will be more credible now that he's writing the song."
Damien cites Love City Groove singing Love City Groove in 1995 as his favourite Eurovision performance.
Emperors of Soul
This five-piece group of friends originally got together in 2008 to perform as a Temptations tribute band. The guys are Julian, Gerod, Leon, Leroy and Fraser.
Julian: from West Yorkshire has been performing since the age of ten. A graduate from the Audrey Spencer Theatre School of Dancing, Julian went through the range of jazz, ballet, tap and contemporary dance during his training. His career has taken him from musical theatre roles as diverse as Bugsy Malone to Dancing In The Streets. He's also performed on cruise ships around Europe, as well as spending five months in Oz in Miss Saigon.
Gerod: another from a large family (youngest of six), Gerod's roots are from across the pond, hailing from Los Angeles, California – where he first trained at the Hollywood Performing Arts School. He's since relocated to the UK, moving to the capital when he enrolled at London's Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, aged 26. Gerod has a mixture of TV, film and theatre credits to his name, including the long-running American daytime soap Days Of Our Lives, and West End productions of Soul Train and Whistle Down The Wind.
Leon: as well being a backing dancer for the cream of the pop world – Destiny's Child, Bjork and the Pet Shop Boys amongst them – South Londoner Leon's numerous theatrical stage performances include Fame, Five Guys Named Moe and Tonight's The Night.
Leroy: originally from Barbados, Leroy and his family moved to South London when he was a young boy. He's enjoyed a successful career in dance, choreography and performance. His West End appearances range from Whistle Down The Wind to Singing In The Rain.
Fraser: recently married, Luton-boy Fraser has his family roots in Jamaica which he plans to visit with his wife for the first time on their belated honeymoon. The second youngest of six, Fraser has had a varied career in performance. His theatre work includes Five Guys Named Moe, The Lion King and Soul Train. He's also been a member of The Flying Pickets and travelled with them around the world, as well as performing on two albums. Fraser is a graduate of Performing Arts and Contemporary Dance from Middlesex University where he met fellow finalist Damien Flood.
"As West End performers we're all really nervous about performing in front of Andrew Lloyd Webber," says Gerod, whose idea it was to get the band together. "We're excited about the possibility of being the UK entry for Eurovision. Moscow here we come!"
The Emperors' favourite Eurovision hits are –
Julian: Save All Your Kisses For Me by Brotherhood Of Man (1976) and Bucks Fizz' Making Your Mind Up (1981).
Leon: Love Shine A Light, by Katrina and The Waves, the UK song and contest winner in 1997. ~Leroy: Even If, sung by Andy Abraham for the UK in Serbia last year.
Fraser: Cliff Richard's Congratulations (1968) and Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz.
Gerod: the German entry for 2000, Stefan Raab's Wadde Hadde Dudde Da.
Francine & Nicola
These 20-year-old identical twin sisters, born and bred in Sheffield, are both trained singers who live at home with their parents. They have always lived in Sheffield, gone to the same school, work in the same pub and supermarket, go to the same university, study the same degree course and both started going out with their current boyfriends on the same day. In fact, the only way most people can tell them apart is that Fran has a fringe!
They were first referred to the local amateur operatic society when a neighbour heard them singing whilst riding their bikes outside their house. They believe their musical ability comes from their grandad Eric who played piano and sang on the pubs/clubs circuit with his brother.
Both are currently studying English at university back in South Yorkshire.
"It's totally amazing to be part of the final six, and it's great for us to be following our dreams," says Nicola.
Francine, the elder by 35 minutes, adds: "We think that all the acts are very different and think they will all bring something fresh and fun to the competition."
Despite being identical in nearly every way, the sisters do have different Eurovision favourites: Francine's is Puppet On A String (Sandie Shaw, 1967) while Nicola prefers ABBA's Waterloo.
Jade from East London is another of Sylvia Young's graduates and no stranger to performing, singing and acting. Her first successful audition was for the role of Nyla in The Lion King and she's since appeared in Whistle Down The Wind, as well as TV programmes including The Bill and Casualty.
For two-and-a-half years she was part of a fledgling girl band called Trinity Stone whose ambitions were to make it as a UK version of Destiny's Child. Unfortunately the band didn't make it big but since breaking up Jade has been even more determined to make it as a solo artist.
Jade grew up with her parents – dad Trevor, who is Sicilian and was born without sight in either eye, and mum Carol, who is blind in one eye and whose roots are in Jamaica. She is incredibly close to both of them and her younger brother and sister.
"I'm a true believer of fate. I'd been longing to work with a great writer and then suddenly I was auditioning for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Who knows where I'll end up next!"
Jade's all-time favourite Eurovision hit is Gina G's Just A Little Bit.
Twenty-three-year-old Mark has been playing Prince Charming in Bromley this season but luckily managed to fit in auditions for Your County Needs You. Originally from North Wales he comes from two generations of farmers – his father has won national sheep breeding awards.In recent years Mark's parents have encouraged their children (he is the youngest of four) to find other trades.
Proud of his roots, Mark is totally bi-lingual – he was educated in Wales, sat his GCSEs in Welsh and spent family holidays in Wales. His first ever plane ride was when he was 17 and he went to Edinburgh.
At an early age his music teacher spotted his talent and his mother enrolled him in the local drama society when he was 11. The turning point for Mark came when he went to Preston to study dance full-time, and the following year won a full scholarship to Laine's performance school. Since graduating he has appeared in the West End productions of Spamalot and Wicked. He has also played Troy in High School Musical at the Hammersmith Apollo.
Mark is a qualified tap/jazz teacher as well as being the founder of West End in Wales – a summer school programme designed to promote youth theatre. "One minute I was painting my flat and the next I'm up to my neck in rehearsals" says Mark.
"The whole experience has been a total whirlwind! Now I just can't wait for the live shows!"
His vote for the best Eurovision song goes to Waterloo by ABBA, whilst his favourite ever act is Bucks Fizz with Making Your Mind Up.