It’s been ten years since Ayrshire lad Jai McDowall, then just 24, impressed Britain’s Got Talent judges with his singing and came out on top of the star-searching series.
Now Jai’s bringing that same vocal talent to Dunfermline’s Alhambra Theatre in the “eclectic” musical theatre show Come What May – an apt title for a show which, for many theatres, will be the reopening production after Covid.
“It’s quite scary!” jokes Jai. “This is the first time being away from home again for a long period of time, so it’s quite strange.
“But it’s been fun so far, the cast are lovely.”
Refreshingly relatable anxiety aside, it’s clear Jai is absolutely raring to get back on stage – and particularly on the ones up north.
‘I had friends in London who stayed in flats… I would cry!’
“After the length of time off we’ve all had, we’re all just buzzing to be back and get on stage, and to tour the UK as well,” he beams.
“Because it’s all very well saying that West End’s been closed, but it’s been everywhere – no theatres, no nothing. It’s nice to bring that escapism for the evening to audiences who are not in the West End.
“And I’m lucky – we’re going to a few dates up in Scotland so I am obviously excited about that. I am very biased, but the best audiences are Scottish audiences!”
Having spent lockdown near his family in Ayr, Jai gained a new appreciation for his homeland.
“It’s such a beautiful part of the country – we’ve got the beach, we’ve got nice walks, and I’ve got a dog. Well, I say I’ve got a dog – my parents have got a dog, he just likes me better than them.
“I had a lot of friends in London who stayed in flats and they couldn’t leave the flat. I just think, ‘Oh my God, I would cry’.”
Back to work – and working out
But it’s not all play and no work for these theatrical types. As Jai notes, a year and a half of being stuck in the house means this first run of shows has taken a bit more training than usual to get back to peak performance.
“Obviously, we’ve all been sitting at home, raring to go. But then we’ve got here and we’re like: ‘Oh this is more tiring that you’d expect!’ Jai laughs.
“But it’s just like if you go to the gym and you take a week off. You’re trying to get back up to the level you were at.”
And it seems like the performers – three vocalists, eight dancers – will need their energy for the feelgood tribute show, Come What May.
Tribute to great musicals
The show itself is a tribute to four well-loved musicals. It features numbers from Moulin Rouge, Rocketman, The Greatest Showman and A Star Is Born, with Jai as the leading vocalist alongside Celyn Cartwright and David Wyatt.
And with three out of the four being jukebox musicals (musicals using existing pop songs), it isn’t just for musical theatre geeks.
“Most of the songs are from Moulin Rouge, and it does have a slight story,” Jai explains.
“We’ve got a good, eclectic mix of songs that folk should know. And the dancers are incredible, it’s a spectacle to watch.”
‘I kept in touch with Susan Boyle’
As well as rehearsing for Come What May, Jai has kept himself fairly busy – not that he sees it that way.
His tour with fellow BGT sensation Susan Boyle ended just four days before national lockdown in March 2020, meaning he was working almost literally until the doors closed.
“I think we finished on the Wednesday night and lockdown was the Monday,” he says. “And we’ve kept in touch over lockdown, I’ve been checking in and kind of making sure she’s alright.
“It was tough for everybody and I think one of the nice things about this industry is you’ve got friends everywhere, so it was nice to be able to connect with them and show support.”
And although he “did a wee solo gig with my dad”, worked with long-time collaborator Jonathan Ansel, performed for Ayrshire Hospice and did up his whole house, grafter Jai still reckons he “should’ve used lockdown to learn the guitar or something”.
“I can play enough of guitar and piano to get by – but I’m definitely not Elton John!” he admits candidly.
“I cannot play and sing at the same time, I’ve tried. I get really angry at myself!”
Syco bust-up didn’t burst bubble
Many BGT fans will remember Jai’s name from a headline-making letdown by music mogul Simon Cowell, who admitted in 2019 that he did not give Jai “the support he deserved” after his talent show win.
But speaking to Jai ahead of this tour, it’s clear his dreams haven’t been dampened, and there is a lot to come from him – “come what may”.
“My biggest issue, I think, is I can never make a choice!” Jai says.
“In the future I’d definitely like to pursue musical theatre on tours or in the West End, but equally there’s a part of me that still writes music as well, so I’d like to release an album too.
“I just want to try everything.”