The reality music TV show competition dominance over the Christmas number one slot has been much talked about over the last decade or so. The statistics are striking. Since Girls Aloud reached the top spot in 2002 with Sound Of The Underground, no fewer than five other music show winners have reached the top spot, with a further three number two placings in the Christmas charts.
For the people out there who despise the likes of X-Factor, the tide has turned in recent years, with the last two Christmas number ones going to the Military Wives, and the Justice Collective, although this year’s festive chart topper looks set to be whomever wins the X Factor. Although in a way, does anybody really win these competitions after all?
Although Hear’Say were formed in 2000 winning the first ever Popstars, and Will Young followed up in 2001 winning Pop Idol, it wasn’t until 2002 that the Christmas number one slot became almost a part of the prize of winning one of the talent contest.
Popstars: The Rivals was the show that year, hosted by Davina McCall with the judges being Pete Waterman, Louis Walsh and Geri Halliwell. Even back in 2002 ITV2 had a spin-off show, which was hosted by Dane Bowers, which must be sobering news for current pop sensation and recent X Factor spin-off host Olly Murs.
The theme of Popstars: The Rivals was simple. Unlike the 2000 edition of Popstars which spawned one mixed group, the aim here was to create two different groups, rivals if you will. Another unique aspect was that the groups were not to be mixed, with an all male, and all female group to be made.
My own memory of the actual show is fairly hazy as it was on eleven years ago, however I do recall a controversy involving a certain Javine Hylton, who was down to the final six of the girl group, only to be eliminated in a votes counting controversy. Honestly, skewing the facts of votes on a show like this? Who would have thought it?
In the end, the two groups were formed. The girls formed Girls Aloud, who went on to become one of the biggest pop bands in the history of UK music. This is a remarkable fact when you look back at some of the songs the members of the group sang on the show.
Here’s Cheryl Tweedy massacring a wonderful Shania Twain song:
And Nicola Roberts savaging the iconic Wind Beneath My Wings
Or Sarah Harding offering the flattest version of I’ll Be There I’ve ever heard
And need I remind you of one of the worst live performances ever in Kimberley Walsh’s rendition of One Day I’ll Fly Away?
Just like Father Christmas carrying a sack full of festive loot, Girls Aloud were dragged kicking and literally screaming into a workable band thanks to the sheer brilliance of Nadine Coyle who according to perception is the least popular member of Girls Aloud. One can only assume fans of the band judge nightclub toilet assaults over genuine singing talent when garnering their favourites of the group.
Their release in the Christmas race was Sound Of The Underground, which for a debut single from a pop band coming from a reality show, was absolutely brilliant. It was current, and not rooted to sticking to the same formula of other girl bands who were popular at the time.
Compared to the likes of music bands like Atomic Kitten were putting out out at the time, Sound Of The Underground sounded as experimental as Aphex Twin compared to Whole Again.
Even the promo was cool, it looked like a So Solid Crew video only with more leather. Louis Walsh was their manager and mentor at the time, and against all the odds turned a bunch of poor singers with dodgy fashion sense into a proper band with their own identities.
Sound Of The Underground was the perfect song at the right time. The same cannot be said for the rivals of Girls Aloud, the male winners of the competition who were named One True Voice by their mentor Pete Waterman.
Unlike Girls Aloud, One True Voice were all strong vocally, but they never had time to fit as a group. Perhaps it was the disparity in ages in the group, but more likely is the fact that throwing a bunch of people together in a group and expecting magic to happen just doesn’t happen often. For every Girls Aloud and One Direction there are dozens of other groups who never lasted the distance.
Waterman had been the manager to have in the 1980’s, as well as a songwriter and producer in the Stock Aitken Waterman trio, who were responsible for 13 number one singles between 1985 and 1990.
By the noughties though, Waterman was dated, and his song choices for One True Voice’s Christmas release showed that. Whereas Girls Aloud had a modern original recording, One True Voice had a double a-side consisting of a slow ballad called After You’re Gone, and the single that got the most attention, a cover of Sacred Trust originally by The Bee Gees.
Speaking personally, I loved the cover and still do, the vocals were top notch and I even liked the music, but was this really a worthy rival to Sound Of The Underground? It was hardly a fair fight, it was like Lennox Lewis being in the ring with Hugh Grant’s character from Love Actually.
I spoke to two members of the group, Matt Johnson and Anton Gordon about their time in the group. The other three members never got back to me. Here’s a round-up of their answers…
MH – How do you feel about Sacred Trust and being given that song, were you jealous of Girls Aloud getting Sound Of The Underground which was quite a cool song at the time?
AG (Anton Gordon) – “I never really took to Sacred Trust. I did feel the Girls Aloud song was better but at the time we was told our single could change so I was still kinda hoping for that. At the same time I was open to it as Pete (Waterman) is a very successful man and I was coming from more of an RnB background and minimal experience withing releasing music.”
MJ (Matt Johnson) – “I was overwhelmed by recording a single and watching a video with me in it, being in a record deal etc that I didn’t really take it all in. Jealousy was the last thing in my mind, six months earlier I was singing in a pub for £80! If I didn’t get in OTV I would have been jealous of the guys that did, I viewed Girls Aloud as fellow winners not competition.”
MH – At what point did you realise you weren’t going to win the race to Christmas number one, and how did that feel within the band?
MJ – “Two days in. It didn’t bother me as I could not believe I would be number two. I was still focused on the bigger picture”
MH – Do you think you guys were given the right image and guidance under Pete Waterman? Some people said the band were not presented as being cool whereas Girls Aloud were given a new edgy image immediately…
AG – “I feel image was ok.. I wouldn’t say great but that’s in hindsight. I think if the songs had been a little edgier then the image would of come across better.”
MJ – “So many factors in why it didn’t work. Image is secondary to music as a rule in my head, Pete didn’t get the music right or the label behind us. This was proven in our second single. We didn’t have a manager and that’s one of the biggest problems the group faced. Girls Aloud definitely had a better team behind them but credit to the girls as they stuck together. I don’t think Daniel was ever right for OTV and in hindsight maybe Popstars the rivals was the wrong audition for him, but like everyone else he was just looking for an opportunity in music. I’m sure if the label got better songs Daniel would have stuck it out longer.”
MH – The band only released one more single after Sacred Trust – why did you break up? I remember at the time The Sun did a campaign to get people to buy the second single (Shakespeare’s Way With Words) which worked as it reached the top ten – what caused the end for the band?
AG – “I think partly to do with Daniel parting, and a bit of uncertainty with what we was putting out. The mood began to change slightly. I do feel we should have done more though.”
MJ – “Daniel left the group, he didn’t like the music or being in a band and his relationship with Pete Waterman and the label was finished. we decided not to carry on at a 4 piece…..The END! The sun didn’t get us to number 10. They just enjoyed making silly press to fill the column for the week. It was 26,654 dedicated fans that brought the single that got us to number 10.”
Finally I asked if there was any chance of a One True Voice reunion:
AG – “I doubt we ever will.. Unless it was to good to refuse. I know some of us ARE definitely open to it.. But who knows.”
MJ – “Never.”
Despite Matt’s answer, I genuinely hope one day One True Voice will reunite, even if just for one show. Let’s be honest, they aren’t suddenly going to turn into Take That, but a band like that deserve the chance to reunite, even if just to share stories with each other about the crazy days of 2002 and 2003.
Daniel Pierce was the golden boy of the group and has since gone on to sing with Dizzee Rascal, while almost making it to the X Factor live shows a couple of years ago. Keith Semple nearly made it to the live stages of American Idol, while Jamie Shaw went on to support The Backstreet Boys.
What struck me with Anton and Matt’s answers was the understanding of how the music business works, but also their sense of pride of achieving what they did in the group. They both beat out thousands of other men to be in the group, they had two top ten singles and that is definitely something to be proud of.
Who knows, in a different world, One True Voice would have gotten the cool song, and gone on to the arena tours, the greatest hits albums, and the X Factor judging stints, although hopefully they would have avoided the toilet incidents and the whole St Trinians thing.
2014 could be a defining year for all of us. I might make it even more defining by putting on a One True Voice one night reunion, which in a superb twist, would genuinely be the sound of the underground.
Funny how it all works out in the end.
Listen to Sound Of The Underground and the rest of my countdown in this playlist here:
And read the rest of the countdown – just CLICK HERE