The voice of Ireland has slowly become one of the highest watched programmes in Ireland. It gives musicians a shot at making it big and competition can be tough. I caught up with contestant Andy Mac Unfraidh to find out what made him decide to go for it, how he thinks its going for hi, and what the future holds for him.
What first got you into singing?
The first words I ever spoke were lyrics to a Tears For Fears song. Don’t know how old I was but apparently I was sitting in front of the telly watching MTV and when the video came on, I just started singing along. I haven’t shut up since. When I was 8 years old, me and me Ma were going on holidays to Tenerifé and she joked about me having to get my own spending money, so I went around the doors on the road with a sponsorship-card I’d made myself and I sang songs for the neighbours. I think I made about 50 pounds. Lot of money for an 8 year old back then.
What inspired you to go on the voice?
Reality/Talent shows aren’t something I’d ever gone out of my way to watch, but I managed to catch up with last years series on-line and saw that the show was a great opportunity to get a record deal. Shows like The X-Factor and their ilk are just entertainment shows, whereas The Voice seems to just focus on the singing. If you’re a shite singer you won’t get to audition for the cameras so there’s never going to be anyone made a show of on telly for the purpose of entertainment.
What artists have influenced you the most?
When I first started singing it was mainly Michael Jackson songs. I’d still class myself as a fan of his music to this day. But I suppose as I got older, rock music became more prevalent in my life. I lived with my uncle, who played guitar and always had music blaring in the bed room. I think I knew every single U2 and Guns N’ Roses song off by heart by the time I was 8. Music still influences me. There hasn’t been much in recent years that has caught my attention, but in terms of influencing my career path and songwriting, I’d have to say Radiohead are up there. I just wish I could write songs like Thom Yorke.
Is it nerve wracking performing knowing the whole of Ireland will be watching?
I try not to think about the viewers. There are definitely nerves, but I’ve learned to cope wit them. When I walked out on to the stage at the Blind Audition I was grand, until I started singing. I couldn’t hear myself properly in the monitors, and that’s when the nerves kicked in. The adrenaline in the knees was a bit overwhelming.
Has it gotten easier with each show?
Absolutely. I still get the odd butterfly at home when I’m thinking about my next performance, but as soon as I get on the stage it’s grand. After my Battle with Joey to get to the Live Shows, my knees were a bit shaky, but nothing compared to the Blind Audition. There was definitely a visible improvement when it came to me performing on the first Live Show. Cool as a cucumber and no shaky knees this time.
Were you happy that you ended up on team Kian?
100%. He was the only one to turn around, but I’m delighted that was the case. I didn’t know anything about him, other than that he was one of the singers in Westlife. Everyone was banging on about going with Bressie, so he was definitely a no-go for me if he had have turned around. The competition would have been fierce, but, unfortunately for Kian, both this year and last years contestants were reluctant to go with him, probably because of the whole Westlife connection, but I’d say some of Bressie’s team regret their decisions now. Kian is a very hands on coach in terms of performance but he’s also quite lenient with song choice. He’s not forcing songs down our throats. He actually listens to us and emails/texts us back and forth with ideas, but basically he’s giving us a blank canvas.
You will be singing Aerosmiths dream on for the next show, do you think it’s a good choice?
I already had it in my mind that ‘Dream On’ was going to be my second song for the live shows, but after my performance of ‘Umbrella’ I immediately started to panic thinking that maybe ‘Dream On’ would be a regression. I love the song, having been an Aerosmith fan from an early age, so I’m going to have to give it socks on the night. I won’t have my guitar to hide behind this time. It’s going to be a challenge, but if you want to win shows like this, you have to challenge yourself.
Do you have a lot of support?
The support has been mental. Especially in Ballyfermot. The neighbours kids are making me cards every week saying ‘good luck’ and ‘congratulations’. I don’t have as many posters up as some of the other contestants but I reckon I’ve been piggybacking on Sinéad O’Brien’s (other Ballyfermot contestant on The Voice) publicity campaign, because if people see her posters, they’ll tune in, and they’ll see me as well, so I’m hoping to grab a few sneaky votes from her.
What song would you most like to do on the show?
I’d love to do something a bit left of centre on the show, but due to the nature of shows like this, it would be very, very risky and stupid. I can’t imagine too many viewers warming to me singing ‘Bone Machine’ by The Pixies. Lots of screaming in that one. Or maybe something by Whipping Boy. That would be class.
Whats been the hardest part about being on the show?
Definitely the early mornings. I’d forgotten what 6.30 in the morning looked like until I auditioned. Some critics of the show think we just turn up, sing, then go home, but it’s not like that at all. We all have breakfast together (contestants, coaches, production staff) and then we start sound checking from around 9am, then we do a dress rehearsal ‘as live’ in the afternoon so that why you hear some of the coaches referring to someone being “better in their rehearsal”. It’s irrelevant to the voting, but it’s hard not to comment if someone has improved or made a balls of it since the last time you’ve seen them. Other than the early starts, it’s a great experience.
Do you practice a lot when preparing for the show?
I’ve become paranoid about ruining my voice, so I’m not singing as much at home as I used to. When I find out what song I’m going to be singing, I spend hours looking up different versions on-line, and then try to come up with the best interpretation of it. The songs have to be chopped down to one and half minutes or sometimes you’ll get two minutes, so choosing songs that would work in that sense is hard. People recommend songs to me all the time but I have to explain that it’s not as simple as just doing that song. Some songs just don’t work when chopped down. I do a lot of mental preparation before going on the stage. I try to get in the zone. I’m not sure what the zone is, but I’ll find my way there some day!
What has been the highlight for you so far?
It’s hard to pick one, the whole experience has been one big highlight, and I suppose when my participation in the show ends then I’ll be able to look back properly and pick a highlight. Hopefully winning the show will be that highlight, but who knows what’ll happen.
Do you think that the competition is tough this year?
No offence to the contestants last year, but the standard and variety on this series is much higher. I think the first series didn’t attract as many people as it should have because a lot of there so-called “serious” musicians would stay clear of reality shows. But when they saw that there was a record deal on the cards, I think a lot more, including myself, decided to take our heads out of our arses and just go for it. You’ve got seasoned professionals like Andrew Mann and you’ve got young, raw and quirky singers like Shannon Murphy so there’s a fair bit of variety.
Why should people vote for you?
If people think I deserve to record an album, then they should vote for me. That’s the one criticism I have of the show. It’s the parochial voting. It becomes like a general election. If you’re known around the town or you’re related to someone who’s known around the town, you’ll get the votes and you’ll get the county voting for you, regardless of your talent. It’s definitely much harder for Dublin people to get the public vote, because statistically, Dubs don’t vote. We’re not as supportive of our fellow Countyfolk like the rest of Ireland. If there’s someone from Letterykenny on the show, you’re guaranteed that someone from Killybegs will vote for them just because they’re from Donegal. I can’t see someone from Finglas voting for me just because I’m from Dublin. There’s a lot of intercity rivalry in Dublin.
Even if you don’t win will you continue performing?
Absolutely. I’ve no intention of putting the guitar down if I don’t win the show. It’s my bread and butter at this stage. I’m terrible at everything else. I’ve worked as a cashier in about 6 petrol stations, I’ve been a pizza chef, I’ve worked chopping bananas on a farm in Australia, I’ve done customer service for mobile phone companies and I’ve even worked in bars, and playing guitar and singing is the only thing I still enjoy doing. Don’t think I’d ever go back chopping bananas.