ARTS AND FEATURES — 04 June 2013

Andrea Begley, niece of Philomena, has reached the live shows of BBC’s The Voice

By David Hennessy

Visually impaired Tyrone singer Andrea Begley has made it through to the live shows of BBC’s The Voice. With the show now in its knock out phase, Saturday saw Andrea emerge triumphant from her tense encounter. The niece of country singer, Philomena, Andrea wowed judges and the audience at home with her first audition which has now become popular on YouTube earning nearly 500,000 views. Although Danny O’Donoghue of The Script and legendary crooner Tom Jones turned around to show their eagerness to coach her, Andrea then went on to disclose her condition and how she was unsure anyone had turned around.

The 26 year old tells The Irish World just what a whirlwind it has all been since that first audition: “It’s really been a total culture shock. Obviously I’ve done music competitions before but nothing on this scale. To be propelled into media and headlines and TV shows and everything else, it’s just been a complete change of circumstances. It’s been very exciting and I’ve really enjoyed it but definitely it’s been a big change.”

Now Andrea needs your support and votes if she is triumph in the live shows. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” she says of her progress into the last twelve. “To be even comtemplating a live performance in front of however million on television is a daunting thought in itself. I think it will be a big test for all the contestants and indeed for myself to get the audience vote and get their views on whether they like you as a contestant or they like your performance. It’s quite exciting but it’s also quite an anxious time as well.”

The budding singer has been mentored by Danny O’Donoghue and says the Script front man has been great every step of the way: “He’s really easy to get along with and he really gets the whole vision impairment side of things. It doesn’t bother him at all. I think it might be because I’m quite comfortable with it and we can have a bit of a joke about it. I think if I was closed up about it, it would be harder for him to coach me. He understands there are certain limitations to what I can and can’t do onstage so he’s never really said ‘that’s a problem’. He’s always tried to find a way around it or he’s said: ‘Your main performance is your singing. That’s what people want to hear, it’s not all the dancing or whatever else’. From that point of view, we’ve always sort of been on the same page.”

Andrea pictured with singer Dido, fellow competitor Alice Barlow and coach, Danny O’Donoghue

She turned down Tom Jones when she went with Danny. Although there can be no regrets now, was this a tough decision at the time? “It was and it wasn’t. Danny had always been in the back of my mind. When it came to the decision time, I did think about going with Tom simply on the basis that he’s got a huge amount of experience. I’m happy I went with Danny. Danny was the right coach for me.”

Andrea was diagnosed with glaucoma at five years of age and has now lost 90% of her vision. Music has always been her passion and is something that she can do independently and has been a big outlet for her. The Voice appealed to her as it provided the opportunity to get judged simply on her vocal talent: “That was one of the main reasons why I took part in it. The fact that I would be starting off on the same basis as everyone else was very, very important to me. It was very much focused on music and the voice.”

After her stunning audition, Andrea beat former Hollyoaks actress Alice Barlow in their battle round. How did she feel coming out on top over a well known actress and strong singer? “Delighted and very surprised as well because I had very much thought of myself as the underdog. Looking back on the VT, I felt that she felt like the underdog but that’s not the way I felt at the time. Obviously for Danny to pick me from the battle was fantastic.”

It was at the battle stage that coach Danny pointed out to the audience how difficult it can be for Andrea making her way around the television studio: “Just to get on to the stage can be a bit of a stuggle sometimes so I really appreciated his observation on that. Once you’re onstage, it’s a light relief as much as anything,” she says breaking into a laugh.

Although she can’t see the audience in front of her, can Andrea get a sense of how they are enjoying it from the roar or the atmosphere? “Totally. For me the most important point is going to be the auditory experience: The people who are cheering, clapping, shouting or whatever and that has a big help for me and it certainly was a big help in the knock out round to hear everybody cheering along.”

For the full interview, please see the June 8 print edition of The Irish World.

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