AFTER months of searching for the best young talent from across Northern Ireland this year’s Citybeat Young Star Search winners have been crowned in a spectacular grand finale.
Castlecourt was packed to the rafters with adoring friends, family and fans all rooting for their favourite act with huge banners, personalised balloons and homemade t-shirts.
The atmosphere was electric as the sea of faces chanted the name of their would-be-winner in response to presenter Stuart Robinson’s now infamous question ‘who’s it gonna be?’
After a week-long series of nail-biting elimination rounds it was an achievement in itself for the 30 grand finalists to have made it to the last leg of the competition.
Hundreds of hopefuls took the first step on their Young Star Search journey almost six months ago and on Saturday the crème de la crème stood before the public and the panel to be judged for the last time.
With the crowd tight against the stage, shoulder to shoulder along the mall and looking down from the first floor, the pressure was really on to produce a perfect performance.
Keeping with tradition the babies of the bunch aged eight to 12 kicked off proceedings and brought the house down while they were at it.
First up Lauren Rhonda Coleman produced a polished performance of Mama Do by Pixie Lott while Gavin Gribben brought the crowd to a hush with a note perfect version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Other stand-out voices were Carla Morelli and Shauna Lillywhite but the knock-out performance came from a very special little lady.
Emma Lowry (8) who suffers from autism wowed the judges and the audience back in June at the Maritime Festival heat.
With her bubbly personality, boundless enthusiasm and outstanding vocals she won the public’s vote and everyone’s heart.
The seniors had a mountain to climb to live up to the standard set by the youngest of the talented bunch but they rose to the challenge.
Anna McIlmoyle produced a very cool rendition of No One by Alicia Keys while former Young Star Search Junior winner Rachel Pearson sang her heart out in the hope of making it a double.
Country songstress Zoe Skillen and Christina Aguilera sound-a-like Bethan O’Donnell also impressed the panel.
However, one contestant shone just that little bit brighter and she strummed and sang her way to victory.
Jessica Hammond performed her own unique take on Lady GaGa’s Speechless like a true pro.
Excellent guitar, note perfect vocals and buckets of heart made Jessica a cut above the rest.
With the results still unknown from the first two talented groups, tension was at fever-pitch by the time the young adults took to the stage.
The crowd weren’t disappointed as the 17 to 25s pulled out all the stops to clinch the title.
Knock-out performances from Lauren Garland and Andrea Begley had the judges astounded while Joe McNulty and Kerry Wilson lifted the competition to a whole new level.
Star of the show, however, was 20-year-old Saoirse Hallam. Previously described by the panel as ‘one to watch’ she lived up to her reputation.
Singing Alexandra Burke’s Hallelujah she raised the roof better than the X Factor star herself.
As the four-hour marathon came to a close, the panel retired to make those all important decisions and it was not an easy task.
Judge and record producer Micky Modelle said: “The talent this year is just out of this world.
“There are easily half a dozen contestants this year who could be recording artists in five years time.
“Young Star Search gets bigger and better every year and it just goes to show what an amazing wealth of talent there is in Northern Ireland.”
With the three winners finally decided upon it was up to Stuart Robinson to make and break some Young Star Search dreams.
Saoirse Hallam was the first to be crowned in the Young Adult category and she was absolutely delighted.
She said: “I never normally win anything so I am just gobsmacked!
“The whole experience has been just fantastic seeing everyone out there cheering you on.
“I can’t wait for the coming year to see what more opportunities it brings my way.”
The seniors were next in line to hear their fate and the nerves were palpable.
The top five were outstanding but Jessica Hammond was a worthy winner of the coveted Senior Young Star title.
Jessica said: “I was really nervous but the atmosphere was fantastic and I just gave it my best shot.
“I am delighted to have won and all the experience and publicity will be invaluable in my future career.
“I would advise anyone thinking of applying for Young Star to go for it – you could be standing in my shoes this time next year!”
With the longest wait of the day, the juniors finally had their moment and what a moment it was.
The camaraderie was clear as the contestants held hands in anticipation and when Emma Lowry’s name was called Castlecourt went wild.
Emma threw her hands up in the air as confetti rained down on the tiny Junior Young Star winner.
Emma said: “I want to thank everyone for coming today and being my fans.
“I am very proud of all the other singers too because they were great and I can’t wait to record my single.”
The competition may be over for another year but the winners work is just beginning.
The three young stars will showcase their talent this Saturday at the Shoreline Festival in Newtownabbey.
In the meantime they will be busy planning their trips with Easyjet, spending their shopping vouchers and practising for their very own singles – it’s a hard life being a popstar.