The Version Interview... Amber Riley on BBC One's Let It Shine

Starring judges Gary Barlow, Dannii Minogue, Martin Kemp and guest judge Amber Riley, and presenters Graham Norton and Mel Giedroyc.

Over eight weeks of competition, starting at 7pm on Saturday 7 January on BBC One, Let It Shine will search for five talented boys to form a band and perform the songs of Take That, in a brand new show touring the UK from late 2017. The judges are looking for a band that exudes the charisma, showmanship and stage presence that Take That became so famous for.

Let It Shine will welcome guest judges in each of the three stages of the competition. Musical theatre star Amber Riley, joins the first audition stage (episodes one-four), superstar Lulu joins the second stage. Announcements about the live shows in February will be made in due course.

How did you get involved in the show?
They were looking for someone and my name came into the conversation. My agent asked me if it was something I would be interested in doing seeing as I was in the UK for a West End musical. I’ve always wanted to see what it would be like to be a judge on a show like this because I watch all of these types of shows anyway, I love music and I love singing. I always have an opinion about something, so why not try and be a judge on a TV show?!

Did you have to do some research on Take That songs?
I did look up their videos on YouTube, I had to do my research. I saw a lot of the videos from back in the day. I loved how - I don’t want to say quirky and weird - but I just loved how artistic they were. I loved their style and their dancing! It’s very 90s! Some of those dance moves were very cool.

When did you meet Gary and the other judges for the first time?
I literally flew in and met them at rehearsals for the show. Everyone was lovely, of course. Gary was great, he gave me the low-down on everything, what to expect and what he was looking for. He wanted us all on the same page.

Can you see why British women have the hots for Gary?
Every time we came out the women would scream their heads off. I enjoyed it! He loves it too. I can see what they love about him, he’s extremely charming, really smart, well-spoken and very warm, so I get it, I get the appeal, ladies!

How did you get on with the other judges?
It was great, Gary was wonderful and very funny. Dannii is so energetic and glamorous, she’s so gorgeous. Martin was like the dad on the panel. I’ve been away from the US because I’m staying here for a year to do Dreamgirls the musical, so Martin sent me flowers and a candle. Everyone was very inviting, they knew I was a little bit homesick, so they were extra sweet towards me.

What’s it been like to be a judge for the first time?
It was hard because you want to be constructive and not just tell someone no, you want to be encouraging. I have been in their position before, I know what it’s like to want something really bad and think it’s going to be the turning point for your life, so being rejected is very hard. I wanted to be honest but not give anyone a false sense of hope. It’s been exciting though, because we've found some rare talent. I’ve found the whole thing a mixing bowl of emotions.

What do you think you bring to the show that the other judges can’t?
I think I’m one person who has done it all - stage, screen, movies, Glee was all of those in one. I feel like I’m the newer talent, the rest of them have so much more experience than I do. But when it comes to the people on the stage, I was in that position more recently than the other judges were, so I’m in touch with what they could be feeling in that moment.

Could you empathise with the contestants?
I certainly took that into account because it’s very nerve-wracking singing in front of people you admire or who are in a position you want to be in yourself.

What were you looking for from the contestants on stage?
Stage presence is the number one thing I was looking for, someone you couldn’t take your eyes off of. I know that this is something that they are going to need when they go out on tour. I think it’s more important than the voice in a way, you have to be able to hold the audience’s attention.

Were you impressed by the standard of the contestants?
I was extremely impressed and very entertained. Everyone that came out was so different. It was interesting to hear so many different voices - some were musical theatre, some operatic, some rock and some pop. I was extremely entertained every day, Britain didn’t let me down.

Were there any disagreements on the judging panel?
Absolutely! We had a couple of disagreements because all of us were looking for something different in people. Sometimes you can see things that the others can’t. Gary’s judging harder than the rest of us, though Dannii is surprisingly tough too. She was tough on a lot of them. I think with Gary he knows the specifics about the show, so he knows what he wants and will be gunning for one person and we don’t really get why. We couldn’t confer about the contestants before we voted, so if you really liked someone you just had to hope that the others would feel the same way.

What advice would you give the contestants about dealing with the fame that comes with being on a show like this?
They need to make sure they always remember where they came from and remain grateful for what they have. They also need to live in the moment. A lot of people will push you to think about the future, and that’s important, but while you’re in it, don’t lose focus.

What’s the key to your success?
I don’t know if there’s a formula for success because everyone finds it in their own way. For me, I’ve always been a person of faith and focus. I’m regimented in my days, I schedule them to the minute. I get up, drink a lot of water, I pray, put on my worship music to listen to a good message before I start my day. I need my brain and my spirit to be ready before I walk out of the door. I’m a firm believer that mind, body and spirit have to be working together in order to be successful.


Let It Shine, 7pm, Saturday, BBC One.