Belfast Telegraph

Stars sing the praises of Belfast's Leah McFall as the bookies make her favourite to win The Voice

by MAUREEN COLEMAN

Belfast fashion student Leah McFall is the hot favourite to win talent search The Voice after mentor Will.i.am described her as 'the best thing since sliced bread'.

The 23-year-old was fast-tracked through to next weekend's live shows, without having to fight for her place.

But after Will.i.am had reduced his team of seven down to three, Leah came back on to prove why he had made the right decision to send her straight through, with a stunning rendition of the Minnie Ripperton classic Lovin' You.

Explaining his decision to give Leah the free pass to the live shows of the BBC1 series, the record producer and Black Eyed Peas founders called her 'the best artist in the UK in a long time'.

Following her note-perfect performance of Lovin' You, Twitter exploded with praise from viewers and celebrities, including Cheryl Cole and Black Eyed Peas co-founder Dante Santiago. Leah told the Belfast Telegraph she was 'overwhelmed' by the faith her mentor had shown in her.

"There were seven of us standing there and Will.i.am was talking about this person who could be the next big thing and how excited he was about this singer," she said. "I was looking down the line, wondering who it was. Then my name was announced. I couldn't believe it. There were about four people I'd put in front of me.

"To hear those kind of sentiments from Will.i.am, saying I could be the next big female artist to come out of the UK, was pretty amazing.

"I felt so encouraged coming back out to perform and was glad I got the chance to show everyone he made the right decision.

"With Lovin' You, everyone waits to see if you're going to be able to hit those big magic high notes. I'm delighted we went for that song now. I'd originally chosen Thinking About You by Frank Ocean but in the workshop, Will.i.am told me to go away and pick another song. When I came back with Lovin You, he said 'yes, that's the one'."

Leah, who'll be joined by Team Will's Cleo Higgins and Leanne Jarvis in the live shows, said she was excited about the future.

"Working with a genius like Will.i.am has been an incredible experience and to know he's behind me is so encouraging," she said. "I'm so excited to see what happens after The Voice. Everything he touches turns to gold."

Co Tyrone singer Andrea Begley also booked her place in the live shows as part of Danny O'Donoghue's team.

The 26-year-old civil servant, who has only 10% vision, was chosen over Abi Sampa and Alex Buchanan, with her version of Songbird. She will be joined in the live shows by Karl Michael, O'Donoghue's Free Pass choice and Mitchell Emms.

O'Donoghue said he selected Andrea to go through because he had to follow his heart and go with the singer with whom he felt an emotional connection.

Andrea said: "Because Alex was Danny's steal from the Battle Rounds, I thought it was a foregone conclusion that he would put him through. I was so shocked when he called out my name.

"I think I under-estimated Danny's confidence in me and to have that belief is phenomenal.

"With the live shows, it's all down to the public so I'll be focusing on trying to connect emotionally with them. That will be an interesting test for all of us. But I'm just so thrilled to be the last girl standing in Team Danny."

There was disappointment for Belfast busker Conor Scott, when the 18-year-old was put out of the competition.

"To begin with I was gutted," he admitted. "But it's not the end of the world.

"Danny has kept in touch with me. When The Script played Belfast he invited me backstage and I got to sound check with them on stage.

"I've finished my A-levels and the plan is to move to London, take a gap year and focus on my music. The Voice gave me a great platform and I'm grateful for that.

"I want to record songs, play festivals, have a career in music. This is definitely not the end for me."

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