Televised singing contests might have brought us a fair number of also-rans over the years – we’ll mention no names – but occasionally they have also been a platform for some genuine talent.
Two of the most durable examples have joined forces for a UK tour that opened last night in York.
Why London soul singer Lemar Obika didn’t win the BBC’s Fame Academy a decade or so ago remains one of life’s mysteries, nonetheless at 37 he remains in good voice, mixing good old-fashioned grit with lover man’s falsetto. Highlights from his new album included an anguished Tainted Love, that was more akin to the Northern Soul roots of the song than the Soft Cell version, and its title track, a catchy reworking of the Box Tops’ 1967 hit The Letter.
Accompanied by just a guitarist, he seemed thoroughly at home on the stage, encouraging the audience to harmonise to the chorus of Someday We’ll Be Together.
But it was a storming version of own song, If There’s Any Justice, that was best received. With a little more luck, Lemar could yet be a headline act once more.
That honour on this occasion fell to Will Young, Pop Idol’s greatest success story, who shrugged off TV spats with Simon Cowell to go on forge to career that’s lasted six best selling albums.
His latest, 85% Proof, was heavily showcased in a 90-minute set that demonstrated not only his knack as a writer of memorable songs but also his considerable charm and good humour as a performer.
His fondness for theatricality revealed itself at the start with the use of transparent screens and a wind machine that gusted newspaper pages at him during Brave Man.
After Runaway he joked affectionately about his father getting thrown out of supermarkets for photographing the bottom of plastic water bottles – an interest that apparently stemmed from when he worked on machines that moulded them. A moment later he talked of spotting a sign for vacancies at Eddie Stobart’s trucking firm “and thinking I could do that”.
If a lounge rendition of Light My Fire was a throwback to his Pop Idol days, Thank You was considerably more feisty, thanks to its T.Rex-like groove and some impressive hollering from backing singer Michelle John.
Before a soaring You and I there was a shout-out to heavily pregnant audience member Heather who’d promised that “it’s a boy and it’s born tonight he’s going to be called William”.
As a balladeer, Young’s light tenor was ideally suited to Gold and Like A River, two of the highlights of 85% Proof that Young said he particularly liked for their positive messages.
Then it was time to roll out a conveyor belt to advertise items from Young’s merchandise stall – including a tip-and-strip pen – in tongue in cheek, 70s game show style.
If the intention was to loosen up the audience for some dancing it worked, with uptempo numbers such as Changes, Your Game and Jealousy getting the aisles gently swaying.
Cannily the 36-year-old singer saved the stomping Love Revolution and the euphoric Joy for the encore. His signature tune, Leave Right Now, was the icing on the cake.
As an entertainer, it’s easy to imagine Will Young running and running.
Gig date: October 29