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Introducing the NTE Judging Panel

byJade Zienkiewicz2019-06-26 09:19:16

Jade Zienkiewicz
Last month we interviewed the lovely James Alton, Founder and Executive Producer of Now Thats Entertainment. But NTE has a smashing line up of talent, both presenting and judging the show.

Jamie Lowe – NTE presenter


In Jamie’s most recent show reel he’s in action man mode, working with the likes of BBC’s Fiona Bruce, and Gok Wan. Based in Bristol, he’s been working in local television for four years and has recently been involved in a travel documentary series. A highlight? He once got his clothes off when interviewing the cast of Benidorm.

On breaking into presenting, Jamie talks through the hard facts: “It’s often about who you know, a necessary evil that everyone needs to accept. To get seen, you have to do things that get attention – celebrity interviews for instance. And getting to get to grips with youtube.” Jamie’s youtube channel is full of interesting and well-produced content, showing just how media savvy he is – a professional who understands very well how to do his own marketing.

“I don’t think I need an agent right now. It might be necessary at some point, and I hope I get there. But getting started, you don’t need an agent with the social tools available. What agents have is lots of contacts, so eventually, you want to have one. But those first opportunities means knocking on the right doors – you have to put yourself in the right places, it’s not completely luck.”

“A lot of presenters now come up through reality TV now – I don’t want that to be my big break. There’s nothing wrong with that route, but it’s a fast trajectory. There’s so much to learn working in TV, and slow and steady is the right route for me. I think you learn so much about the business that way.”

“If I could change one thing about the industry, I’d like it to be more open, it’s a bit of a club still. I’d like it to be less serious, and more of a level playing field, so everyone who wants to give it a go can.”

Jamie is excited about being part of NTE, particularly the live shows. “It’s a special time to be involved with NTE, as it’s at the very start. There are still concerns over how genuine some of the other talent shows are, whether every contestant has the same experience in terms of how they audition. NTE’s newness gives it a more level playing field.”

On what the big shows do well: “I do think they’ve influenced the wider public in a positive way by giving people hope that creativity is a viable option – a vision to a creatively fulfilling life. They have inspired people to take their hobbies and talents seriously.”

Apart from being a great presenter, does he have any other hidden talents that might make you a good NTE contestant? “I used to do trampolining, so I can do some pretty cool flips. And I was also born with a missing toenail, so if I could get that into a 15-minute act ... though I think five seconds might just be enough of that...”

Don Nuefville – Magic Judge


Don is a Magician and Entertainer, a member of The British Ring of The International Brotherhood of Magicians, and a regular at The Blackpool Magic Convention.

For 25 years Don was a salesman, but kept one foot in the creative world as a music journalist, DJ, working for record companies as well as BBC Radio. “I didn’t dream I was ever going to be a magician!”

Don was interested in magic as a child, but he kept his childhood hobby under wraps, until 2016 when he attended a Britain’s Got Talent audition as an audience member. “It was a more private one, they’d invited a small group of people to audition. I heard there were going to be some magicians, so I went to watch. I got talking to one of the talent scouts next to me and mentioned I did a bit of magic, so they told me to try out.”

“This was a big deal. They were only going to call back one person. And I got the call late one night that week. It was the producer calling me back for the following Sunday. There was no queueing, they took me straight up to the green room. It was unbelievable. Then I auditioned again – they couldn’t get over how I’d done my tricks. I filled out some forms and they told me they’d call me for the show.”

“The penny didn’t drop that I hadn’t made it through until the dates drew near and I realised it was soon to be televised and I hadn’t been called back. It sounds silly now but I was devastated because they had built me up.”

“Funny thing is, I went back the next year with a massive smile on my face. This was a completely different process. I queued, did all that long-winded bit, and I got through to the producer. Then they said I wasn’t good enough – and you know what? I just took it! Totally fine. The year before I was given so many compliments.”

It’s not all bad though. Don has used the auditions as both networking and a way of improving his act. “I auditioned again in 2018 too... The work I have had out of it! Would I do it again this year? Probably! I can laugh about it now. There’s a little community of us and it’s got me some great contacts. I even have a mentor now who has taught me loads.”

Don has had success in some local competitions, including getting through to the Luton Mela Grand Final. He’s had his share of harsh feedback, but he says it’s put him in good stead for NTE.

He’s adapted his own style of magic, which includes both conditional magic (the more traditional type, card tricks etc) and mentalism – the mind reading type. The latter freaks some audiences out, he admits, but it’s the one he’s best at.

“When I did BGT, it was as a Mentalist. Most Magicians are either Magicians or Mentalists - I’m doing both. But Mentalism will always be my expertise and I like to think I do it in a totally different way to the traditional way.”

Magic is hard to get into but thankfully he’s now made many friends in the industry.

Anyone entering the NTE, he says the world will be their oyster. “And it’s fairer. There’s a little auditioning community in the big shows, and I’ve seen little ones come out in tears and it’s awful, they want to get on telly, they’ve been queuing for hours, it’s sad to see. But that’s why NTE excites me – it’s online and it’s not as stressful as that.”

“I’m going to be an honest judge and I’m there to be entertained, but there’s a kind way – I’m not going up there to be nasty and I want to have a good time, everyone should have a good time. Whoever it is – even the ones who don’t make it through – have the opportunity to make it a starting platform like it was for me.”

Viva La Diva - Variety Judge


Viva La Diva, aka John Desmond Hamilton is a drag queen and cabaret performer who has worked in showbiz around the world for over 30 years. Viva is a well-known and respected residential performer and club owner on Manchester’s Canal Street.

Viva has had a long career working in TV alongside stars of both stage and screen and loves to see new talent on the scene. She is so keen to take part in finding new artists that she has offered for the winner to come and perform in her club. “I’m always proud to have new entertainers come to work for Bar Pop and to help them to develop their acts. There are so few spaces these days where people can just work out what they’re good at and experiment.”

Viva’s bar is situated on Manchester’s world-famous Canal Street, locally known as the Gay Village. The bar started life as legendary club night ‘PopTastic’, growing to such epic proportions over the 18 years that it ran, the night needed its own venue. The club now boasts the largest entertainment team on the club scene in the North of England.

Like many cities around the UK, Canal Street has been subject to gentrification, and some locals feel this has eroded the village vibe. John/Viva, who runs Bar Pop alongside business partner Antonio Negron, opened the venue to inject a sense a community back in the area, amid a departure of LBGTQ+ safe spaces, and waning crowds.

"I’ve been there 25 years, and the soul just felt like it had declined. We needed to reclaim it – Bar Pop was meant to put the community back into Canal Street, offering a space where all can feel comfortable and safe, with the same fun and friendly atmosphere of Poptastic.”

And what led Viva to get involved with NTE? “I saw a lot of information through Facebook and eventually came across James Alton (NTE founder) online – and he asked me if I could be a judge! It’s a wonderful opportunity for newbies to get a platform. The way it’s taken off is amazing - we thought it would be a little thing and the way it’s grown has even surprised us – it’s absolutely brilliant.”

“I wanted to get involved because of the opportunity to help new talent grow. To develop the acts, help to guide them down a new road – it’s a wonderful thing to do. I’ve been in the variety entertainment for over thirty years. Witnessing new entertainers come through at all different levels feels exciting, but particularly when they are at the start and you know they could be great.”

On judging the competition, Viva – in the sweetest way – says that she did not come to play. “I am honest, and I haven’t got time to waste. I also don’t think anyone should be put through who is not up to standard – it’s wasting their time too. NTE is so much more straight-forward that way.”

“I think this competition gives people a chance to learn and try out new stuff, I definitely think it’s a place for entertainers to experiment and find out what works – and they have the opportunity to get instant feedback with it being online! There’s not much of a variety of platforms for people to just try things out. Of course, there are loads of talent shows on mainstream TV but that only works if you fit their remit, and NTE is open to everyone.”

Steven Yallop - Singing Judge


Steven was a Judge on Series 1 of BBC’s All Together Now with Rob Beckett and Geri Horner. He also runs his own theatre company, directing and producing major productions, as well as being a musical theatre performer himself.

He says he got into theatre through the simple route, starting off in school, which eventually led him to do his degree in Theatre Studies. “And then I woke up one morning after I got my degree and thought ‘what do I really want to do with my life?’ And I knew I wanted to be a singer.”

Steven had already opened up a theatre school to get other people expressing their talent, another thing that put him in great stead to be an NTE judge and mentor. “But I hadn’t forgotten about myself. Singing vocals is my life.”

How are things in the music industry according to Steven? What has motivated him to get involved in a talent show like NTE? “I’d really love for the whole of the music industry to not just be for people with money to do well.”

“The music industry can be unfair, because [your success] can merely be based on where you’re from. If you’re not from a big city it can be very difficult to get further and get noticed by the right people. That’s why I wanted to join NTE, it’s a worldwide competition, but it’s online! So anyone from their living room, they can sit there and show their talent, and be judged purely on just the talent.”

“What really excites me about this whole concept of NTE is the pure fairness - it’s based just on talent. It’s not about a sob story, how you look, just about talented people who want to show the world that they can create entertainment, and give people that smile that they really need in life.”

How did he find out about Now Thats Entertainment? “I had James on Facebook and I just started following the things he did and the things he produces and I just thought what a concept! Anyone in the world can apply for this competition.”

Talking of his time as a professional judge on series one of BBC’s All Together Now: “I know I have the credentials that James wanted for his competition, to make it a success, to make it that people want to know what NTE is, to join in, get involved.”

“I want to see raw talent. I want someone to come onto that stage and totally blow me away. I want to be speechless. I want people to realise that music is absolutely everything.”

Rick Sheehan – Comedy Judge


Rick is an award-winning entertainer who has been in the business 42 years, working across every medium. His show, ‘Tribute to the Stars’, has taken him around the world.

Rick’s fast and family oriented humour pays tribute to characters that everyone knows and loves – Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and Irish comic TV Star 'Mrs Brown'.

He knew he had the gift when he started performing just aged four at a family party. “I loved the reaction I got making people laugh, and I decided this was my destiny,” he jokes. He started drumming at 14 and later became a DJ. Comedy was always his passion though, and he spent his youth studying his idols, and eventually fulfilled his ambitions in becoming a professional entertainer.

“I served my apprenticeship on the pub and club circuit around the UK. Soon I became a well-known name and was getting repeat bookings at places like ‘The Maid Marion Club’” - (now known as Club Tropicana in Lincolnshire). Rick’s worked at all the major UK seaside venues - Pontins, Butlins, Haven and Thompsons Gold holidays, with regular spots at other big Cabaret venues including N.E.C Birmingham: “That is invaluable experience I have that I will bring to the judges’ panel.”

On his involvement with NTE, Rick is well versed in the workings of talent contests and has quite a few first place notches under his belt. In 1998 he won Entertainer of the Year for North Staffordshire and South Cheshire via the Entertainments council. He went on to win Entertainer of the Year for Pontins for five consecutive years. “This was an achievement I was really proud of, it felt like all of my hard work and dedication had paid off.”

Rick has been around the UK throughout his career, but he is a worldwide performer, taking his show to Dubai, USA, Canada, Spain, and Portugal. He’s worked with both current acts and old time family favourites such as Herman’s Hermits at the Lincoln county showground, The Dreamers at The club Tropicana Skegness and toured with Ricky Tomlinson (The Royle Family) and among others.

He has two favourite memories from his career: the first was switching on the Derby Christmas lights with a crowd of 5,000 people. The second was appearing on BBC 1’s prime time 'The One Show', for which he was truly honoured.

Rick is excited for the Judge’s panel on 11 July. “I’m looking forward to seeing all the acts that have made it to the final stages I wish them all the best of luck and hope they get what they want from this competition.”

Aaron Blackmore – Dancing Judge


Aaron Blackmore, professionally known as AZ, is a choreographer and dancer, who for the last five years has been teaching and performing.

Graduating from De Montfort University, a Centre of Excellence and renowned for their performing arts programme, Aaron left with a degree in Contemporary practice. His specialisations are Ballet, Commercial, Contact Improvisation, Contemporary, Hip Hop, Jazz, Street Dance, and Tap.

Whilst still studying, he set up his own academy but says he still intends to keep dancing himself to further explore his passion and hone his craft: “Back in 2015 I launched Salute Performing Arts Academy & Agency. I love teaching, but dancing is still my passion, I have so much I want to explore – so I still aim to create, to perform, express myself, and learn as well. It’s important to continuously build on your skills and experience, for those you teach, and also for yourself, as a performer.”

And he’s been continuously a furthering his knowledge whilst providing industry professional training within both commercial and urban contemporary to aspiring dancers.

For more than two years Aaron worked as a choreographer at Swagga Dance Academy in Herne Bay, an academy whose mission statement is to bring affordable dance tuition to all ages and abilities, where he guided his students through graded, vocational and medal test dance examinations and trained them to take part in competitions. Some of the students from the academy have been lucky enough to go on and perform on some of the world’s most prestigious stages such as The Royal Albert Hall, Her Majesty’s Theatre and Disneyland Paris.

He is currently Artistic Director at EDC Skegness – an Industry Professional Training Programme for aspiring dancers. He is also still a choreographer at JAKS Dance academy in Leicestershire, a performing arts school offering a mix of dance, drama, and music, paying particular attention to the social opportunities that the arts provide.

With credits including Fleur East to his name, Aaron is looking for exceptional talent to mentor, and can’t wait to see the NTE contestants on the 11 July when the top 20 reach the judges’ panel.

Interview by Jade Zienkiewicz at PhlashWeb