Stoke's Top Talent 2012: All rise as Carrie-Ann Williams carries off prize
TWELVE years after first being introduced to opera by her dad, soprano Carrie-Ann Williams triumphed in the Stoke's Top Talent variety competition.
The 23-year-old from Congleton was a hugely popular winner of the contest's grand final on Saturday night – which featured a talented array of dancers, singers and musicians.
• GALLERY: Stoke's Top Talent 2012: The Grand Final
Carrie-Ann, who is just about to start her fourth year at the prestigious Birmingham Conservatoire, brought The Regent theatre's audience to its feet with her rendition of Nessun Dorma.
She just edged out eight-year-old gymnasts Harley Spann and Lewis Bagguley for the top prize, and can now look forward to a starring role in The Regent's panto Cinderella at Christmas.
The judges praised Carrie-Ann's voice and her ability to engage with her audience.
Carrie-Ann says she was left speechless by both the audience reaction to her performance and the judge's decision.
She said: "I really can't believe it. When I was in the last three, I was so happy with that, as all 12 acts in the final were so good.
"I'm so excited about being in the panto. It's not something I've ever thought of doing before, but now that I am doing it, I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be brilliant working with people like Eric Potts and Jonathan Wilkes."
Carrie-Ann won a scholarship to train at the Birmingham Conservatoire four years ago, and has impressed her tutors – picking up the school's Mario Lanza Opera Prize for her performance as Ilia from Mozart's Idomeneo.
She says that opera has been an important part of her life since she was a child.
Carrie-Ann added: "When I was younger I was really into musicals. But when I was 11 my dad took me to see Phantom of the Opera. I thought some of the music in the show was a bit different to what I was used to, and my dad told me it was opera, and I've just been in love with it ever since. I started training as a classical singer almost straight away.
"Training at the conservatoire is pretty intensive, with lots of singing lessons and language lessons, but I really love it there. We do a show every year, and I've been selected as the lead twice.
"Performing in Stoke's Top Talent has definitely been different, but I love the audience at The Regent. I wish I could perform for them every day.
"Everyone has been so supportive. I just couldn't have asked for a better experience."
Dad Steven, aged 58, from Congleton, said: "We're so proud of Carrie-Ann. She works really hard, and it's things like this that make all the hard work worthwhile."
NRG – made up of youngsters Harley and Lewis, from Talke – were the runners-up, and their act, involving gymnastic tumbling and hand-stands, was spectacular.
Harley said: "We're really happy to come second. It's been brilliant being in the competition."
Lewis Bagguley said: "It's a lot different to normal gymnastics competitions."
Sarah Brewitt has been the pair's gymnastics coach since they were five, and she was proudly watching on as they competed in the final.
She said: "I thought they were absolutely brilliant. Tumbling on a hard floor like that is really difficult. We are definitely aiming for the Olympics in eight years' time. Hopefully they'll get talent-spotted in the next few years."
Dance troupe Dolly Mix, who came third, were competing in Stoke's Top Talent for the fourth successive year.
They were thrilled – as well as nervous – to be performing in front of guest judge Kevin Adams, from BBC's Fame Academy, but they were delighted when he heaped praise upon them.
The group is made up of five 15-year-olds: twins Sophie and Megan Toft, from Weston Park, Amber Phillips, from Park Hall, Ashlie Scarlett and Emily Tomasso, both from Northwood.
Sophie said: "It's just the best thing ever. The whole competition has been amazing. We've got on so well with everyone – especially Carrie-Ann and the NRG boys. Everyone has been getting on and supporting each other. We're so happy that Carrie-Ann won."
Amber added: "We've been performing together about five years. We know there are lots of other street dance acts around so we try to do something a bit different."
Megan said: "Every year we look forward to entering Stoke's Top Talent. We were all 12 when we were first in it, so it's been something we've grown up with."