Stepping into the Spotlight

Caitriona O’Sullivan told David Hennessy about her new show, being a judge on Glór Tíre and being trained by the late, great Veronica Dunne.

She is well known as a country singer and a judge on Glór Tíre.

Now Caitriona O’Sullivan is fronting her own show on Spotlight TV.

The Caitriona O’Sullivan Show will combine interviews with names from country music as well as other arenas with live performances from her family’s pub in Tralee.

Caitriona told The Irish World: “I was delighted to be asked.

“I’ve really enjoyed doing Glór Tíre over the last 17 years and I suppose for a long time, I was keen to do a new TV project.

“It’s my first time presenting a show from start to finish, so it’s actually a challenge I’ve wanted for ages.

“So I was delighted to do it.

“I get to interview people.

“Because I was raised in a bar, it’s very natural to me to be listening to people’s stories. I have a great interest in people.

“It has all my favourite things: There’s performing, there’s interviewing, listening to people’s stories, and then researching music. So I mean, I can’t get any happier.”

Caitriona is known for her hits like her number one duet with Johnny Brady, This Country Girl but her interview subjects won’t all be from the world of music with former soccer player Billy Dennehy and Mark Leen, also known as Emerald Elvis, among her early subjects.

“We kind of wanted to broaden out the show somewhat.

“What I’m looking for are guests that would be of interest to people in Ireland and the UK.

“I’m just picking guests I feel that would be of interest to people from the world of showbiz, whether it’s soccer, fashion, music…

And I think just someone who has an interesting story really that I think would be of interest to people.

“Now, my first number of guests primarily will be music, but there’s a few sporting people in there as well.

“One example is a sportsman I’m interviewing that played for Sunderland in the UK and then moved back to Ireland..

“Billy Dennehy was playing professionally for Republic of Ireland and Sunderland.

“He talked about what it was like to leave home at 16 years of age in the time where there was no FaceTime and no internet or anything else.

“He said his family had a second mortgage phoning him over in the UK, and it was a different thing altogether, you’re much more cut off from your family at home when you went away.

“So that’s the kind of thing I’m interested in, because I have a great interest in people.

“Because anyone’s biography can be looked up online, what people are interested in is their story and what was going on for them emotionally and personally at the time.

“We had Emerald Elvis which coincided with the release of the Elvis film.

“He’s a guy called Mark Lean and he’d gone to London actually to study at RADA to study drama.

“He went on to be very successful with his Emerald Elvis act and he retired at the same age as Elvis died.

“He’s several offers to sing and perform but he chooses not to because he wants to honour Elvis’s life and have integrity in relation to that.

“So he retired at the age Elvis died, even though he could still be working very successfully.

“So it was very interesting to hear his story as well.

“I think people are interested in people and they’re interested in the human story, in the personal story and the highs and lows of it.”

Caitriona was recently honoured to be invited to sing with Daniel O’Donnell on Opry le Daniel.

Speaking ahead of that appearance she told us: “I’m excited and you always have a tiny bit of nerves too of course doing something new, but I’m really excited to do it.

“Obviously Daniel is such a star and such an amazing country music artist worldwide really.

“He has such an amazing following so it’s a great honour to be asked by him to go perform on the show.

“And one song is one I’ve never performed on TV before actually, that I wrote for my mother, called Still of the Night before she passed.

“It’s a really special emotional song for me, and really excited to perform it.”

Still of the Night means so much to Caitriona as she wrote it for her mother when she was terminally ill with cancer.

“It means a huge amount. My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer a good many years ago.

“At a certain point, we were told it was going to be terminal.

“When I was writing the lyrics, it was about 10 years ago and it was during the recessionary times as well.

“There were an awful lot of people who had to go as far as Australia to find work.

“I know some people choose to travel but it’s not nice for people when they are forced.

“So when I was writing the lyrics of the song, I was sort of partly inspired by that, all these people that were kind of forced to leave home, were forced to go so far away from their families to get work.

“And I suppose my own lonesomeness at my mum, knowing I only had a couple of months left with her.

“I was very lucky. For the two months before she passed away, I was teaching at the time, so I was able to come and spend the summer at home and two months at home with her.

“I was tapping into that lonely feeling of knowing I was going to lose her.

“And then I was tapping into that lonely feeling of imagining people are halfway across the world and didn’t have the option of coming home because they were forced to leave to go and work.

“And I was very lucky I got to sing the song to her.

“It means an awful lot to me to perform it.

“And I’m quite touched that Daniel and his production team chose the song for me to sing on the TV show.

“That means a lot to me to be honest.”

Caitriona has been a judge on TG4’s country music talent show Glór Tíre for 17 years now.

In that time she has seen a number of country singers like Lisa McHugh, Sabrina Fallon, Chantelle Padden, Olivia Douglas to name a few take their first steps on great country music careers.

“It’s very inspiring. I get very excited seeing young talent coming through the show.

“Every year, there’d be a couple of singers where I would just be in awe listening to them.

“So it’s a very exciting series to be part of, and I get very excited myself when I hear a voice that excites me, Chantelle Padden and Noreen Rabbette, your jaw be on the floor listening to them.

“And sometimes if I don’t have any kind of constructive criticism to give, I won’t say anything, I’ll just say that was amazing.

“Of course, what it all boils down to is the emotion someone sings with and their own natural voice too.

“I think it has to sound like they’ve lived the song and that you really believe them when they’re singing the song.

“Lisa McHugh always had a really strong stage presence and a really sweet voice and a beautiful, beautiful image and presence on stage.

“Olivia Douglas really impressed me with her accordion playing as well as her singing and her originality as well.

“She has so many different strings to her bow that when she performs and she’s just going from strength to strength over here on the country music scene as well.

“It’s a great launchpad for people.

“I did an interview with Sabrina Fallon for the show.

“One point Sabrina made when I was interviewing her, and she’s absolutely right, is a lot of people have gone on to do tremendously well from the show, even if they didn’t win like Chantelle (Padden), and Olivia Douglas and Lisa McHugh didn’t actually win the overall series of Glor Tire.

“Even people who didn’t win often went on to have extremely successful careers.”

One performer who may be known to Irish World readers and went on the show some years ago. Slim Attraction, real name Paul Rooney, took part in 2011.

Caitriona says of the Irish World award winner: “A lovely, rich deep voice, and a very strong stage presence.

“He really filled out the stage with his voice and his personality and a very bubbly guy and a beautiful, rich voice.

“So he definitely stood out as well. And he did very well and got great feedback on the show from both the judges and the public when he was on.

“I’m not surprised that he’s popular over in your neck of the woods.

“Great, great singer.

“I suppose stage presence is such a huge part of performing as well as the voice, someone who can really command people’s attention on stage. And he was fantastic at that.”

Caitriona trained under Veronica Dunne, the revered Dublin soprano and teacher who passed away last year.

“She was quite like a mother figure as well.

“I remember on one occasion when I was a college student and my landlord was kicking us out because he was doing some renovations on his house.

“I basically had nowhere to stay, nowhere to live for those couple of weeks and she took me into her house to live with her.

“She was feeding me steak every night.

“She was always trying to ply me with red wine to get me to relax.

“And at the time, I didn’t drink red wine. I grew up in a bar and I didn’t actually like the taste of wine.

“So she’d leave the room and I’d go and pour it down the sink.

“Of course she would miss nothing. She would come back and say, ‘Lovey, the next time I give you a red wine. Don’t be throwing it down the sink’.

“You would get nothing past her at all.

“And sometimes when you were young, and if you broke up with a boyfriend or if you’d any little heartbreak she could see through you the minute you came in the door to her.

“When you were singing it would come through and eventually she’d get out of you what was wrong and she was a great woman to give you advice.

“She was so much more than just a teacher.

“And she was just such a funny character as well.

“I mean, she was notorious. I couldn’t repeat half the things she would be saying to you.

The late Veronica Dunne.

“She had a very unapologetic sense of humour, she could come out with anything and she had some very funny novel recommendations for how to relax yourself when you’re singing,” Caitriona laughs.

“The wine was just the tip of the iceberg.

“But she was an amazing woman.

“When we would go to Veronica Dunne- and she was like this for all the students she believed in- You’d be paying for one lesson and she would take you for three or four lessons a week. She didn’t have to do that. And she was doing that for all of her students.

“And that’s just what she did.

“It’s not everyone that would do that for their students.

“She was so committed. She lived and breathed opera and vocal coaching.

“She was a tough task master but then she’d say, ‘You know it’s for your own good, lovey, you know I love you’.

“I’d say, ‘I know it’s for my own good, Ronnie. I know you love me’.

Caitriona with Veronica on that trip to Tralee.

“Her students were her life, her students were her family and she was 1,000% committed.

“It’s not everyone that would give you that kind of time and that kind of energy.

“Opry le Daniel actually were asking me to dig out some photos of myself as a teenager and young adult the other day, and I knew I had a few pictures somewhere of Ronnie, but I was delighted that I found some lovely photos of when she came down to Tralee and she put on an operatic production in our local theatre.

“There was gorgeous pictures of her with my mum and my dad and with myself and with all the other singers that were down from Dublin at the time as well.

“We had a fantastic time that weekend and some amazing memories and of course loads of sing songs in mum and dad’s pub as well.

“So the vocals weren’t fantastic in places.

“I remember us doing a seven o’clock in the morning interview with Radio Kerry after being up to four in the morning singing our heads off, ‘She’s gonna kill us’.”

Veronica Dunne with Caitriona’s parents.

Caitriona mentions her family bar there, The Munster Bar in Tralee. This is where she first performed.

“I was quite lucky to grow up in a bar because you always had an audience.

“Very often, a bunch of tourists would come through the door, and my mum and dad would say, ‘Go down and sing a couple of songs in the bar, we need a bit of entertainment, go out and create an atmosphere quick before they all go out the door’.

“That was great training for me.

“I was delighted to come back as part of this new TV show, the Caitriona O’Sullivan show on Spotlight, I was delighted to go back there because that’s where it all started.”

It was always going to be music for Caitriona.

“I remember trying to choose a college course with my dad.

“Because music hadn’t been offered as an academic subject in my school in Tralee at the time, I kept saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do law because it won’t give me time for music. And I don’t want to do this because it won’t give me time for music’. My dad eventually said, ‘Why don’t you just do music?’ And weirdly, that hadn’t ever occurred to me in an academic sense.”

Caitriona would study Irish as well as music, going on to write many Irish textbooks. She credits this with much of her good fortune.

“I never envisaged just how beneficial it was going to be to me as a singer.

“It actually was responsible for me getting my first record deal because before there was Glor Tire, there was a country music program called Ceol Tire.

“And on that night there was a representative from Daniel O’Donnell’s record company Rosette Records.

“He was there and I sang an original song and spoke in Irish.

“It actually led on to me being signed and going off to record my first original album, Fallen Angel, with them.

“And along with that, I was asked to become  a judge on Glor Tire off the back of that gig.

“And I have no doubt that being able to speak the language helped me as well as the songs to get the gig in the first place.”

The Caitriona O’Sullivan Show is on Spotlight at 9pm on Mondays, repeated on 3pm on Friday and 4am on Saturday.

For more information, you can find both Caitriona O’Sullivan and The Caitriona O’Sullivan Show on Facebook.