Richard Park (all series)
Robin Gibb (2003-5)
Lesley Garrett (2007)
Craig Revel Horwood (2007)
Personal tutor: Jeremy Milnes (also judge in 2003/5)
Endemol for BBC One, 4 October 2002 to 4 October 2003 (2 series)
as Comic Relief Does Fame Academy 7 March 2003 to 16 March 2007 (3 series)
Of all the shows we've ever watched, few have divided opinion as much as Fame Academy. The basic premise is simple - put a dozen or so aspiring youngsters in a house, expose them to top-quality musical tuition, have them perform on national television, remove one of the weakest performers each week, and whoever is the most popular person in the final week becomes the winner. After a pilot run in Belgium, the format came to prominence in Spain, where Operacion Triunfo attracted record audiences. Star Academy, as the format is known, has also become the prime televised talent show in France.
In the UK, Pop Idol had already aired one stupendously successful series, and anything Fame Academy brought to the table would be judged against Simon Cowell's show. Following an unusually large burst of hype from the cautious BBC, the first series launched on 5 October 2002, with glitz, glamour, high hopes, and a contest to vote a final person into the academy. The show fell flat on its face - the "gala opening" was full of missed cues, bad dancing, and singing out of tune. Worse was to follow, as one of the original contestants strained her voice so badly that she had to withdraw, and the runner-up in the opening show gained a late admission.
This amazingly poor start not only had many critics dead set against the show, but helped to conceal many of the weaknesses in the BBC's interpretation of the format. Patrick Kielty was the wrong choice to front the live shows, he never properly gelled with the song-and-dance format. Co-host Cat Deeley, who had worked for some time on another live music show, was criminally under-used.
The mechanic for elimination of competitors was complex. Three of the worst performers each week were nominated by nominal head-teacher and record company placeman Richard Park, with assistance from vocal coach Carrie Grant and fitness instructor Jeremy Milnes. Public voting by telephone began on the Monday, and closed towards the end of the Friday night live show. Whichever contestant had the most phone votes was safe from elimination. The remaining two had to face their fellow contestants, who would keep one and eject the other. This formula shifted the balance of power over the series; in the early weeks, Richard Park's prejudices counted strongly; as the number of contestants decreased, the public and internal vote came to be more powerful.
In spite of a weak format, and a studio set that was cold and uninviting, the first series of Fame Academy finally blossomed into a show worth watching in its final weeks. The editorial control lent a safe, unthreatening, insipid quality to proceedings. David Sneddon - who had come in as the reserve contestant - won the final public vote ahead of Sinead Quinn, who had won the opening show vote-in. They both released one album, as did fourth-placed Ainslie Henderson and fifth-placed Malachi Cush. Subsequently, 3rd-placed Lemar Obika had a very successful and R&B career, winning a BRIT award in 2006. Mr Sneddon subsequently sold his own work over the internet and wrote for other artists.
A celebrity version for Comic Relief 2003 - won by Will Mellor - ushered in some changes for the second series, in equal part a spoiler for the second run of Pop Idol and fulfilment of a contractual obligation. Out went the dark studio, replaced by the hall of Witanhurst Manor (the location of the Academy). Depending on view, this was "intimate" or "cramped." Jeremy Milnes left the judging panel, replaced by Carrie's husband David Grant and former Bee Gee Robin Gibb.
The biggest change came in the elimination mechanic. Out went the concept of Richard Park nominating three for the public vote, and in came a perpetual all-up vote. The bottom three in the public vote would then face the judgement of Mr Park and the others, and their favourite would be safe from elimination. The last two were then judged by their peers, with the lowest score leaving the show.
The second series was remarkable for the cognitive dissonance between the weekly "sing-for-survival" shows and the relaxed atmosphere of the rest of the week. Much of the tension on the Saturday show was manufactured, with participants and viewers able to predict who would leave with accuracy. Patrick Kielty was still the main host, and his running rows with Richard Park served only to counterpoint the quality of the other performances.
Perhaps because the viewers could see the struggle they had to endure just to have their art presented, the second series produced stronger characters. It was very good luck that the series produced between one and four genuine stars, while Pop Idol produced none. Alex Parks won the popular vote, and released a substantive album in 2005. Runner-up Alistair Griffin released his album, fifth-placed James Fox proceeded to represent the UK at the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest before finding a career in musical theatre, and Paris Campbell-Edwards impressed many while finishing sixth.
Neither series brought in substantial ratings, and the BBC declined to stage a third series during 2004. Fame Academy was sometimes so painful to watch as to be difficult viewing, but produced more than its fair share of worthy talents.
Based on the Spanish format, Operación Triunfo.
According to newspaper reports at the time, the studio audience for the first ever show hated it so much that they fought with security to leave early during the break for the Ten O' Clock News on BBC1.
David Sneddon and Sinead Quinn, the top two in the 2002 series, both released their albums through Fontana (a Universal Music label.) Lemar signed to Sony, Ainslie to Mercury, Malachi on another Universal imprint UMTV. Alistair Griffin also signed to UMTV, while Alex Parks' debut was released on the parent Universal label, transferring to Polydor for her second release.
Alistair Griffin unexpectedly returned to the charts in November 2010, after his track Just Drive was used in the end of season montage at the end of the BBC's coverage of the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and again in the season review a week later. The track peaked at number 38. It also received another airing, albeit in a different form, when it was played by the BBC Concert Orchestra at the 2010 BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. The track came to public attention again in March 2012, when a re-worked version, including the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, was announced as the title music for the Sky Sports F1 HD channel.
2002: David Sneddon
2003: Alex Parks
Comic Relief does Fame Academy
2003: Will Mellor
2005: Edith Bowman
2007: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson
In the Comic Relief version: