Looking to the future

By, George Watson

A lot of water has passed under the bridge for Tarbolton’s Jai McDowall since winning Britain’s Got Talent in 2011. When we spoke recently, nearly seven years later, that memorable evening was still fresh in his mind, especially the warm welcome he received from panel members Michael McIntyre, Amanda Holden and David Hasselhoff, not to mention the millions of public votes which he deservedly earned from viewers all over the country for his powerhouse vocal talent.

Overcoming his initial nervousness led to huge applause for his rendition of Josh Groban’s ‘Where You Are’, and not unsurprisingly scooping the cash prize of £100,000 came in quite useful too! Inevitably controversy surrounded the show, but that’s what draws the viewers. Jai was initially a dark horse in the competition, with 12 years old Ronan Parke the bookies’ favourite, but as the ‘Sun’ newspaper said ‘The unassuming Scottish Singing Sensation won the contest with a flawless performance’. It was indeed a dream come true, however the associated contract with the Syco company proved not to be the right fit and Jai would not be the first musical talent to find that media mogul Simon Cowell could be challenging to deal with. 

As a kid Jai would play around the steps of Tarbolton’s Bachelors Club, famously founded by Robert Burns in 1780, so perhaps that poetic and musical influence still remains in the village. However life can be unpredictable and Jai could never have conceived when he was working as a Care Assistant in South Ayrshire and singing round the pubs, that six years later he would have won that prestigious event, much less be featuring as the handsome Prince in the family panto ‘Snow White’ in the Palace Theatre, Redditch. 

I managed to catch Jai for ten minutes on his lunch break from rehearsals for the panto. Treading the boards in musical theatre is no novelty for the thirty one year old Ayrshire man. There was always music about the house, and amateur dramatics with the Ayr Players saw him appearing in the musical ‘Chess’, singing that enduring theme from the show which he would later share on television with a much wider audience. Incidentally a new production of that great musical created by Bjorn and Bennie of ABBA along with Tim Rice is due this Spring from English National Opera and it would be wonderful to see Jai featuring there. 

To appear on the Royal Variety Show was of course an early high spot; for anyone in show biz it doesn’t get much better than sharing the London Palladium stage with Peter Kay and Leona Lewis! The nationwide tour of the BGT road show was a great experience, especially the huge response from the Glasgow audience. Then another tour with ‘Mad about the Musicals’, visiting theatres and venues all over the UK, and not least having the privilege of singing ‘Flower of Scotland’ at Murrayfield in 2013 before the Scottish rugby team kicked off the Six Nations tournament. Beyond the bounds of Britain, Jai’s fame has taken him into the world of entertaining on cruise ships, and he admits that winter on a luxury liner is an appealing opportunity compared to the weather back home, and yet one of the best parts was the occasional chance of overhearing a Scots accent on board ship and just enjoying a good blether, or perhaps sharing a whisky or an Irn Bru with passengers.

Though Jai had studied Music and Audio Technology at the excellent facility at Ayr College, he admits that coming late into ‘the business’ left him at something of a disadvantage compared to youngsters who had the advantage of working their way through Stage School, giving them the opportunity at an early age of how to deal with some of the pitfalls of show business as well as the glamorous side. Moving from dealing with challenging issues and clients in his day job back home to the complete contrast of the whirlwind touring which Jai has experienced for the past six years has meant, as he puts it, ‘learning on the job’. However as an Ayrshire man he counter balances his good- natured side with the necessary toughness to cope with the personal, financial and legal challenges of an entirely different lifestyle, and one that is not always as glamorous as it might appear. So to the wider issue of what happens next? Life never stands still and Jai is well aware that the pace of life in the public eye of the music industry is such that there is always a need to rethink your directions. There’s a constant need for fresh material, whether as a download or in actual CD or now LP format. Through Love Shadow Jai took the decision that his latest release would be in EP format, recognising the needs of the vinyl community but at the same time taking into account that his fan base is a wide one age-wise. Independent record shop Big Sparra Vinyl at Tam’s Brig in Ayr are always very enthusiastic supporters of local artists and are promoting the disc featuring three brand new songs by Jai’s regular collaborator Shad Love along with three bonus tracks. Jai McDowall So my final question to Jai had to be whether his experiences of the last few years would encourage him to rethink his future pathway. His response was to reflect on how much he appreciates the occasional opportunity to visit his mum and her wee dog ‘Teddy’, or local friends like Sean Kennedy, giving him the opportunity to review the way forward. So, as our brief chat concludes, Jai reflects on his early days in Tarbolton when the family home was alive to the sound of Country Music. Favourites from those days were Lonestar’s ‘Amazed’ and Garth Brooks ‘If Tomorrow never comes’. Well, when tomorrow does come, perhaps the way forward might not be BGT or panto or even as a tenor on the musical stage in London or on Broadway, but instead a redirection from Tarbolton all the way to Nashville or Memphis.