HARD as it is to believe, 20 years ago this week Sinéad Quinn appeared on the first episode of Fame Academy.
Little did the Irvinestown singer know that her debut on the show would make her an overnight success.
“I didn’t even have a definite place at the time [in the competition]. There were 12 people in total, but 11 had already been chosen,” Sinead explained.
“The first night of the show was a wildcard night. Three of us sang to get in. It then went to a public vote to choose who the person was to get the final place.
“I had a wee suitcase with me in London and told our ones at home I’d be back in a few days, but when the public voted me in I was being taken on the back of a motorbike to the Fame Academy house. It was surreal.”
The first show in the BBC series took place on Friday, October 4, 2002, presented by Patrick Kielty and Cat Deeley.
The winner was given the chance to become a successful music artist, and the first prize also consisted of a £1 million recording contract with a major record company, plus the use of a luxury apartment in London and a sports car for one year.
Scottish singer David Sneddon was the winner, but Sinéad still won 2.5 million of the 6.5 million votes cast in the finale to finish in second place.
Her debut single ‘I Can’t Break Down’ later reached number two on the UK charts in February, 2003.
But with sudden fame came unexpected problems, and Sinéad wasn’t prepared for her loss of privacy and anonymity.
“Looking back I have only fond memories of it all, but there was no real aftercare as such. Suddenly everyone knew me. There was no real help in how to deal with it. I had no idea about dealing with the media, for example,” she said.
“People were so supportive and I didn’t want to let anyone down, so there was pressure from that too. I was only 22 and had no experience of any of it.”
Sinead is still working in the music industry today, playing corporate and private gigs. She also works at charity organisation Electric Umbrella in London, which uses music therapy to help disabled adults.
“My little brother Gerard was disabled and when he turned 18 there were no activities for him to do,” Sinead said. “At Electric Umbrella, we use music to help disabled adults and I love working with them.”
Sinéad is still in contact with other singers from the show such as Malachi Cush from Tyrone, Lemar Obika and Marli Buck.
“I hope we can meet up socially soon and mark the occasion, all these years later,” she said.
It may feel like a long time ago now, but looking back, the Fermanagh singer can say her wildest dreams came true.
“I remember growing up years ago in Hudson Heights in Irvinestown watching Top of the Pops and going: ‘I want to be on that one day.’ It’s in the past now, but I was able to do it and sing live. I’ll always be proud of that,” she said.
Her children Emerald, 10, Gerry, 6 and Gloria, 4, won’t let her forget what she has achieved either.
“I was doing the school run the other day and was explaining to my kids about being in Fame Academy. Seeing the excitement on their faces put it all in a new perspective,” she said.
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