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The Warsaw Voice » Society » February 25, 2011
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Searching for New Stars
February 25, 2011   
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Polish private television broadcaster TVN began auditioning for the Polish version of FremantleMedia’s The X-Factor, a hugely successful British vocal talent program, in January. The program has propelled such singers as Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke to stardom in the U.K. The producers of the Polish version are now busy scouring the country for the nation’s best undiscovered voices.

Those who came out best at the auditions before a panel of selectors, which held court in four Polish cities, were given a chance to strut their stuff before the program’s jury, which comprises journalist Kuba Wojewódzki, musician Czesław Mozil, and celebrity manager Maja Sablewska.

The X Factor is open to almost anyone aged 16 and over to show what they can do with a mike. Duos and larger vocal groups can compete on the program as well as soloists.

But it is not easy. Contestants are only given two minutes to win the jury over. “I wouldn’t come to this sort of audition myself,” says Mozil. “How can you judge someone in two minutes? But those are the rules of the program and anyone coming here has to remember that this is not a half-hour performance or an entrance exam to a music academy, but that they have to make the most of their short time in front of the cameras.”

But not even the best vocal ability will avail anyone who lacks stage presence. Mozil says that the best shot to sway the jury is to cut an expressive and colorful figure.

“This is exactly what The X Factor is all about—that certain something that just blows us away, that makes us listen and say ‘that’s it,’” Mozil says. “I’m not after a perfect singer—we’ve got enough of them on the Polish music scene. Beautiful vocals are great to listen to in the car or while munching pork chops but they don’t cut the mustard here—these vocals are not in your face enough and a vocal has to be in your face sometimes if it’s going to be remembered.”

The contestants are separated into three groups during the next stage. Each of the judges takes one of the groups in hand so they can be coached at his or her home. The judges take artistic care of the musicians, select their repertoire, and advise them on style and stage presentation. In a sense, they assume responsibility for the performance of their charges. This turns the program into a trial between the judges as well as the contestants.

Mozil says this is the most challenging role for a judge. “It really takes a good music teacher to show young people how to bring out their strong points and play down their weak ones.” There is a cash prize and a record deal waiting for the winners of the Polish version. But the winners won’t achieve real success until they start to make their own way on the Polish music scene.

“That’s the real test,” says Mozil. “We get complete unknowns coming on to the program and these people have a wonderful opportunity of reaching a mass audience. But then comes the hard work and it’s up to them what they make of that opportunity.”

Seven people have so far won the British version of The X Factor, but only two of them have gone on to build an international career. Twenty-five-year-old Leona Lewis, who won five years ago, now has two albums under her belt. The first, Spirit (2007), has sold over 6 million copies worldwide and the hit taken from it, “Bleeding Love,” has garnered airplay on every continent. Twenty-two-year old Alexandra Burke, who won The X Factor three years ago, has been ruling the airwaves with her single “Bad Boys,” taken from her debut album Overcome (2009). She’s presently touring Britain and Ireland. The most recent winner was Joe McElderry whose song is used in the soundtrack of the latest Chronicles of Narnia film.

In March, The X Factor will be going head to head with rival private television broadcaster Polsat’s planned Must Be The Music. Tylko muzyka. And Polsat is going into this contest with a fair bit of experience in picking talented artists behind it.

Polsat revolutionized the Polish music industry when it started broadcasting Idol back in 2002. Over the ensuing four seasons, it has introduced stars like Monika Brodka, Ewelina Flinta, Szymon Wydra and Ania D±browska. The winners of the Sopot TOPtrendy Festival over the next eight years—including Bracia and Volver—likewise made it big in the music business thanks to Polsat.

The new program is based on the British format of Must be the Music and anyone who can sing or play an instrument is qualified to appear. Polsat has so far run eight audition sessions during which some 10,000 people have rocked up to give it their best shot, among them instrumentalists, pop groups, choirs, and orchestras spanning genres like soul, blues, folk, metal and beatbox. Contestants ranged in age from five to 80.

Between 120 and 150 of the submissions judged best by the panel are being recorded for television. The panel comprised rock singer Kora, voice coach Elżbieta Zapendowska, composer Adam Sztaba, and Wojciech “Łozo” Łozowski from the group Afromental.

Must be the Music. Tylko muzyka is more innovative than other talent shows in that the winners can make a name for themselves on the internet as well as on TV. This is the first talent show to hook up with Facebook, the world’s most popular social network service. Auditions were held via Facebook until Feb. 6. Anyone who has placed a video of their work on Facebook qualifies as a contestant. The wannabe contestants could then use their profile and links to encourage internet—and especially Facebook—users to vote for them appearing on the program. The two with the greatest number of votes were then given the opportunity to appear before an audition panel in Warsaw.

The winner of Must Be the Music. Tylko muzyka walks away with zl.100,000 and is given the chance to appear at the Top concert during the TOPtrendy Festival 2011.

Contestants in the British version of the program have recorded a total of 21 singles, which have received airplay on various radio and internet channels. Most of them have entered the UK Top 40 Charts. The best results so far have been “Focus” by Emma’s Imagination and “You Took My Heart” by the band Pepper & Piano. Contestants have sold more than 200,000 singles and 10,000 fans turned up at Wembley Stadium to watch them perform live.

Marzena Robinson
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