Jai McConnell and Rachael O’Connor are representing Northern Ireland in the next round of The Voice UK. JOANNE SAVAGE talks to the new hopefuls about being mentored by Kylie Minogue
On Saturday two singers from Northern Ireland impressed the show’s judges so much that they have gone through to the next round of the primetime BBC talent show, with both contestants - Jai McConnell, 24, and living in Belfast, and 16-year-old Rachael O’Connor from Drumsurn, Co Londonderry - choosing to be mentored by pop princess Kylie Minogue.
Mum-of-one Jai, who was born in Bangkok and whose mother is from Bangor, impressed with a kooky, quirky rendition of the Noisettes Never Forget You that saw all four judges - Tom Jones, Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs, music producer Will.i.iam, and doyenne of pop Kylie - turning around in their chairs to display their interest in mentoring her through the next stages of the competition.
“Before going on I had my heart in my mouth,” says Jai, who moved to Northern Ireland at the age of four and sees herself as a deep house artist with jazzy vocals. “As I was talking on stage I felt myself begin to start shaking and then I gave myself a good talking to. Then at the end all four of them turned round and it just felt incredible.
“The judges felt that my voice was very unique and was something they hadn’t heard before.”
But Jai was adamant she wanted Kylie as her mentor from the beginning: “Kylie is amazing. She’s so easy-going, encouraging and positive with everyone. And she has such a huge amount of experience in the industry. In person she is absolutely immaculate, beautiful and tiny.”
Rachael O’Connor, a pupil of Limavady Grammar School, was understandably nervous before she took to the stage to perform her rendition of Emeli Sande’s Clown: “I was so pumped up with adrenalin that I barely remember much of it; what I do remember was amazing.
“When I sang I got to the last line of the song and was feeling a bit panicked and then Kylie turned around and there she was smiling up at me and I just couldn’t believe it. How many times in your life will you see a chair turn round with Kylie Minogue sitting in it?”
Welsh king of cool Tom Jones and Ricky Wilson also turned in their chairs to vie for Rachael to join their team; but like Jai it was always going to be the popette with the incredible gold hot pants who dominated the late 80s and 90s charts.
“I always wanted to be on Kylie’s team because she’s brilliant and she was doing stuff like this when she was 16; she’s a girly-girl just like me, into fashion, big performances, cool music videos and pop - that’s what I would love to do too. Kylie came up and gave me a big hug after my audition. She is really very calm to be around, lovely and so beautiful. She is great to talk to.””
Could this be another NI-dominated episode of The Voice UK? Last year’s final was dominated by two hugely talented Ulster contestants, Andrea Begley, from Pomeroy, whose emotive vocals saw her scoop the final prize of a recording deal, while Newtownabbey’s Leah McFall impressed the nation with an ultra-modern sound that was championed by her mentor Will.i.am and saw her come second in the competition. So go team Northern Ireland for the next round of vocal feats!
Watch The Voice UK on BBC One, Saturdays at 7.10pm.