Stoke's Top Talent 2012: Girl power as Katie and Carrie-Ann are on song
THERE were spine-tingling songs, saucy moments and even someone who had broken their ankle.
But at the first heat final of Stoke's Top Talent last night, there were so many good performers that even former Pop Idol star Gareth Gates was upstaged by the talent.
Gareth had stepped in as a guest judge and was almost lost for words. 'Incredible', 'perfect' and 'You looked hot' were his main riffs during the evening.
The first of the 10 acts at The Regent theatre was teen dance group Addiction, whose feisty and fun routine was girl power in action.
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Portly Eric Potts, one of the other judges, was clearly impressed.
He told the audience: "I was just very surprised that the girls managed to make five pairs of denim shorts out of the ones I leant them."
Next up was 17-year-old Zoe Conning, from Nantwich, whose rendition of Hey, Soul Sister wouldn't have seemed out of place on Radio One.
And then came 74-year-old Graham Horne, who was described as 'Chell Heath meets The Sopranos'.
He sang Van Morrison's classic track Moondance and was every inch the pro. No sooner had the beat begun than Graham was twitching his fingers and launching into a toe-tapping lounge act. And he even provided his own encore, tricking compère Jonathan Wilkes into thinking he had finished his song, only to reel off a few more notes.
Sentinel columnist and judge Martin Tideswell told him: "You are so relaxed on stage, you could be in your own home."
Graham was one of the oldest contestants to make the final heats of Stoke's Top Talent.
But 11-year-old Harry Latham must have been among the youngest. The youngster, from Endon, appeared with guitar in hand and sang a song that would have been befitting of someone twice his age.
And as a final flourish, Harry tossed his baseball cap into the crowd.
The other performers included 16-year-old singer Rhiannon Hill, from Bradwell, who had such a powerful voice that she could have been a country version of Amy Winehouse.
It was entertainment of a different kind when the larger-than-life Dolly Tubs took to the stage.
"Let's get ready to wobble," was the refrain. They weren't kidding.
One of the performers had been so determined to take part that she did her routine while sitting in a wheelchair. She had broken her ankle a fortnight earlier playing football.
Another popular entry was the Masque Theatre Company, a group of dancers from Stoke-on-Trent.
Some of the outfits were also rather eye-catching, including the shiny red waistcoats that looked like Quality Street wrappers.
Red was a recurrent theme and it was used to striking effect for 23-year-old singer Michael Tremble's routine.
Bathed in an atmospheric glow from the stage lights, he launched into a version of House Of The Rising Sun.
But the night belonged to two other singers. Both Katie Barlow and Carrie-Ann Williams have now clinched places in Saturday's grand final, with the chance of winning £2,000 and a part in the pantomime Cinderella.
Sixteen-year-old Katie seemed to have brought along half the population of her home village of Mow Cop for support. From the moment she began singing, she had won over the judges.
And the special effects were amazing too, including the shower of snowflake-light shapes that rained down on the audience.
But when 23-year-old opera singer Carrie-Ann, from Congleton, graced the stage, she was an impossible act to follow. As wisps of smoke floated past, her beautifully controlled voice left everyone catching their breath.
In the words of the judges, she was, quite simply, 'something special'.