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Yvie Burnett on laugh-a-minute X Factor, Louis Walsh, The Voice and why she's heading to Belfast

The mezzo-soprano tells Una Brankin why she's looking forward to visiting Belfast this weekend and about her great pal Louis Walsh

Vocal coach Yvie Burnett has worked with Leona Lewis and Andrea Begley on shows like X Factor and The Voice, as well as with Gary Lightbody. Now she's coming to Belfast to help find the best school choir in Northern Ireland.

Yvie Burnett is on the lookout for another Andrea Begley - and she's coming to Belfast to find one. And as fellow Celts, our budding stars just might be at a slight advantage with the Scottish vocal coach, who's worked with the "lovely" Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol, as well as several The Voice and X Factor contestants from these shores.

"I think we Celts are all very down-to-earth people, we have a connection and we get on with people," says the mezzo-soprano from Aberdeenshire.

"We have a work ethic, too. Mine comes from my north east upbringing - work hard and be the best you can be. That's definitely come from growing up in Scotland."

Also known for holding hands on red carpet events with her good friend Louis Walsh, the radiant 44-year-old has another Belfast date ahead of The Voice auditions.

She's coming over this weekend to be part of the judging panel for the BBC Radio Ulster School Choir Of The Year, live on radio from the Ulster Hall on Sunday.

Yvie started her own singing career in a local choir in her hometown of Methlick, where her late mother was a well-respected schoolteacher.

"I was an only child and I had this operatic voice; it wasn't like the others," she recalls in a strong Scots burr. "I don't know where it came from - it was just there. My granny used to sing a bit, but my parents weren't musical and didn't know about opera, so it was very strange. I started to do solos in the Aberdeen Choral Society and it took off from there."

That beautiful mezzo-soprano voice led to steady work with the leading operatic companies all across Europe, in roles such as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly and, more recently, to the leading TV talent shows, including America's Got Talent.

Her change of direction came after her husband, Gordon, a producer and songwriter, introduced her to Louis Walsh. Their ensuing close friendship led to rumours they were married - unfounded speculation that amused them both.

"Louis and I have always been very close, I'm very fond of him," she admits. "He's always been good to me. We used to have a good laugh about those stories - I've also read loads of times that I'm going into the jungle to be on I'm A Celebrity. I can't even go on a rollercoaster, never mind jump out of a plane or eat worms."

She can, however, manage to make ordinary singers sound world-class, even for one night only, on those big-budget search-for-a-star shows. It's easier, of course, if they can naturally carry a tune.

"It is very difficult if you're an adult and you're tone deaf," she admits. "You can improve, but if you can't hold a tune, it's hard. You can train the muscle, though."

Even Jedward's? "I worked very closely with them. There was never a dull moment. Getting them to concentrate was the thing - they're so hyper and full of beans. I had to shout at them a bit, like a schoolteacher. I taught them harmonies - they could do it and their singing was fine, but performing was their forte. They're charismatic."

The more impressive voices Yvie has worked with include Alexandra Burke, Leona Lewis and, more recently, Andrea Begley, niece of country music legend Philomena and the first-ever winner of The Voice UK.

"Andrea's a lovely woman. Her voice is different - it's hard to categorise, but she has a very beautiful quality," she remarks.

"She didn't make anything out of her visual impairment and she was treated the same as everyone else. She's very intelligent, too."

And in spite of the apparent halt in former Tesco check-out lady Mary Byrne's singing career, Yvie still holds out hope for the 2010 X Factor finalist from Dublin and agrees that she could have done well in musicals.

"I worked very closely with Mary, too. You never know what could happen, she would be good on the West End. We still keep in touch - I keep in touch with most of them. Once you've been through an experience like that, you have a bond."

But, surely, with her idols being Maria Callas, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, it's hard to truly impress Yvie Burnett?

"I do love all the big divas, yes, but I still feel the hairs on my neck standing up in some of the auditions. I did when the Irish soprano Lucy O'Bryne sang on The Voice. She really was the whole deal, she really got to me this year.

"And Leona - there was just nobody else like her. It just shows you really can be an instant success like that. Oh, and a child soprano, Jackie, from America's Got Talent. She's only 12 and she's really special."

A mother-of-two, the coach's children - Emily (19) and Ollie (16) - joined her every summer in LA for her four-year stint with America's Got Talent, which followed untrue stories that she's been sacked from the X Factor by Simon Cowell.

"Simon's certainly not nasty - I just think people find it hard to get to know him," she says of the dog-loving TV mogul. "The public person and the private person are not the same."

While her teenagers loved the Hollywood life, their mother can take or leave the glitzy side of her career, in spite of having showbiz friends such as Carol Vorderman and fellow Scot Michelle Mone, the Ultimo lingerie tycoon.

"I'm not showbizzy at all, that's not me," she insists. "I'm just normal. I do the red carpet sometimes, but not too often. It's nice to get dressed up occasionally, though, and I'm little, so I do love my red-sole heels, even at home. I'm not really into jeans - they look better on my tall friends, like Carol."

As for the likes of Sting and Annie Lennox criticising shows like the X Factor for "sanitising" pop music and exploiting hopefuls, Yvie takes it all in her stride - even with her classically trained background and rise to the top of her profession via the longer, more arduous, way. "It doesn't bug me at all - it's better to have people talking about these things than not talking.

I don't care what people say - the British public's opinion is more important.

"And it's fun. It's been a laugh-a-minute working on it. You can watch these shows with the whole family, so they should be appreciated for what they are - proper family entertainment."

As well as searching for singers to audition for the next series of The Voice, Yvie has been working with Sarah Brightman, who recently announced she's going on the next expedition to the moon (appropriately enough for the singer of the hit single Starship Trooper).

"Sarah's going to sing on the moon - she can go on her own," laughs Yvie. "I told her I'm not going up there. She is looking forward to coming back to Belfast for the choral competition, having been here recently with the LA-based Irish tenor and television/radio host Eamonn McCrystal.

"It's in the Ulster Hall, I think, so it's a big deal, all live.

"It will be fun. I'm coming over on Saturday, but will have to fly back at tea time on Sunday unfortunately.

"But I'll be back again soon to see if I can find more Andrea Begleys."

BBC Radio Ulster School Choir of the Year, broadcast live this Sunday, 2pm, on Radio Ulster

Who’ll be top of the vocal form?

  • BBC Radio Ulster's School Choir of the Year reaches its final stage in a live afternoon broadcast from the Ulster Hall this Sunday
  • It promises to be an exciting (and melodious) conclusion to a competition which has involved schools from across Northern Ireland
  • The standard of music-making from our young choirs has been exceptional throughout and all of those who'll be taking part in this Ulster Hall event have shown winning potential. Competition doesn't come more nailbiting than this
  • John Toal and Kerry McLean will host the series of performances, showcasing some great musical talent and teamwork
  • Anyone can be part of the audience, supporting the young competitors and enjoying a great afternoon of entertainment as well.
  • All of the performances will be broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle and will also be available to music-lovers everywhere online

Scaling the showbiz heights

  • Yvie Burnett has developed her own vocal training, having started off teaching by learning the well-established Estill Voice Training techniques. As well as Snow Patrol, the Scot has worked with Danny McNamara from Embrace, Murph from The Wombats and The Saturdays
  • She joined The X Factor in series two as Louis Walsh's vocal coach and steered Shayne Ward to success as the series winner. She coached Leona Lewis in 2006. Initially not rehired for the 2010 series, she then replaced the new coaches after they were sacked by Cowell
  • Burnett became the vocal coach on the first three series of Britain's Got Talent and the vocal coach on America's Got Talent (Series 4 and 5). She coached Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts in 2007 and contestants Faryl Smith and Andrew Johnston in 2008
  • She worked with Susan Boyle on her albums and featured in the star's TV specials
  • In summer 2010, while working in Los Angeles on America's Got Talent, she started working with 10-year old singer Jackie Evancho and is credited as a vocal consultant on Evancho's first recordings for Sony Music
  • Having worked on the BBC series Last Choir Standing in 2009, Burnett was asked by Andrew Lloyd Webber to work with him on the BBC TV show Eurovision: Your Country Needs You to select an artist to represent the UK
  • Lloyd Webber was so impressed with Burnett that he asked her to work with the stars of Love Never Dies - his follow-up to Phantom of the Opera. Burnett later continued as vocal coach for the London show
  • When the BBC launched The Voice UK in January 2012, Yvie was hired to work behind the scenes with the singers for the 'Blind Auditions' and then asked to work on the live shows
  • She also worked that year with Lloyd Webber on ITV's Superstar show and on Canadian show Over the Rainbow on CBC
  • Yvie went on to work with all of the principal singers in the Arena Production of Jesus Christ Superstar in September 2012. In the show programme, DJ Chris Moyles credits Yvie with introducing him to Lloyd Webber and convincing him to do the role
  • Since then, Yvie has coached on the ITV2 show The Big Reunion, the NBC show The Winner Is, and ITV show Your Face Sounds Familiar. She also worked with Grammy winner Sam Smith

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