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Westlife: what next?


The boys are backing down: Mark
Feehily, Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan and
Shane Filan, aka Westlife, announced
this week that they were splitting up.

The boys are backing down: Mark Feehily, Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan and Shane Filan, aka Westlife, announced this week that they were splitting up.

The boys are backing down: Mark Feehily, Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan and Shane Filan, aka Westlife, announced this week that they were splitting up.

When Take That announced their split in 1996, helplines were famously set up to provide counselling to distraught teenagers. Life for these girls without their focal point was such a bleak prospect that suicide threats were issued.

The reaction to Westlife's split this week has not been met with the same levels of devastation -- there are no fans crying in the street; no tearful eulogies being spoken into news microphones.

Vicki Notaro, deputy editor with Irish teen magazine Kiss, believes the different reaction is simply down to different circumstances.

"Westlife have been around for 14 years, and their audience has grown with them," she says.

"But when Take That split, they had only been around for five years, and super-popular for about three. They were still very much in their prime.

"The Westlife fans who have been there since the beginning are now in their mid- to late-20s, and just aren't as fanatical as teenagers."

When Take That split, the roadmap to success had already been marked out for its former members -- and in particular, Gary Barlow. The coverage of their break-up in 1996 was dominated by tributes to his songwriting abilities.

And who was going to argue? This was, after all, the man who had written 'Back For Good'.

And sure enough, things started off as expected when Barlow's first two singles went straight to number one.

Robbie Williams was nipping at his heels with a brace of number-two singles, but he was still very much regarded as the band's also-ran.

That all changed with the release of 'Angels', which kicked off the most successful leg of his career and catapulted Robbie to stratospheric levels of fame as well as garnering critical acclaim.

Even after his solo career faltered, his reunion with the band last year marked the high point of what was already a hugely successful comeback.

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Boyzone's five members never hit the same heights as their contemporaries across the water, but they did follow a far more predictable path -- the band's main man Ronan Keating rose to the top, scoring a few hits around the turn of the century.

The struggle for second place was weakly contested. Mikey Graham and the late Stephen Gately released solo efforts that went largely unnoticed, while Keith Duffy and Shane Lynch paired off into a rap duo called -- wait for it -- Keith'n'Shane.

Duffy later took up a job on Coronation Street, as charming Irish stock character Ciaran McCarthy.

And he was joined in his acting endeavours by Mikey Graham, who 'starred' in the cult hit Fatal Deviation -- now regarded as one of the worst films ever made.

The band's reunion was cut short by the tragic death of Gately two years ago and the remaining four have largely remained outside of the public eye.

When Irish group Six broke up, the members' future occupations included RTÉ children's presenter (Emma O'Driscoll), Jedward's road manager (Liam McKenna) and deputy mayor of Cobh (Sinéad Sheppard).

But one ex-member was enjoying even greater things.

Nadine Coyle, who had been selected for the band via the Irish version of Popstars, was sacked when it was revealed that she'd lied about her age.

Undeterred, she auditioned on the UK version of the show -- and went on to become a member of the biggest girl band since the Spice Girls.

When Girls Aloud went on hiatus in 2009, however, there was a two-way battle for solo success between Coyle and Cheryl Cole.

That battle was won by Cole; her single 'Fight For This Love' was a smash hit, while Coyle's 'Insatiable' peaked at just number 26 in the UK charts.

So who would have believed that Nicola Roberts, the oft-maligned redhead member of the group, would sneak up and take a share of the spoils?

Her album, the tellingly titled Cinderella's Eyes, was lauded by critics -- and Roberts will enjoy a much more respectable role in the group if they reunite next year.

So, it's fairly hard to say from the outset how members will fare on their own in the big bad world -- but are there any signs as to what the future could hold for the Westlife boys?

Shane Filan

The group's most prominent member when it comes to vocal duties, the diminutive Sligo man is currently working on a solo album.

But if history has shown us anything, it's that the dark horse usually triumphs in the battle for success.

So the burden of being favourite may well weigh heavily on Filan.

Filan also has a track record in the property game, and while that might sound like a laughable prospect right now, it at least serves as a reminder that this is a man who has more than one string to his bow.

mark feehily

Reports that Feehily was the driving force behind the group's demise combined with his ambition to write songs for other acts would suggest that he will emerge as the main musical man to come from the group.

Happy to keep a low profile, and known for being a genuine music buff, this is his chance to spread his wings -- but chances are that his next pursuit won't see him come within 10 feet of a microphone.

nicky byrne

Bertie's son-in-law had a career before he joined Westlife, as a goalkeeper with Leeds United's youth team, and it looks like he has another career already lined up for after the band.

"I heard Nicky is going into radio, which I think would be perfect for him," says Vicki Notaro.

"I think Nicky will do really well in whatever he chooses, as people like and respond to him."

kian egan

Just as Ronan Keating joined Louis Walsh in managing Westlife during the early days, Egan has done the same for Walsh's girlband project Wonderland -- which included his wife, former model Jodi Albert.

That, combined with his upcoming role as a judge on The Voice of Ireland, would suggest that he feels he's learned a lot over the last 14 years -- and now it's time to put that experience to good use.

The Wonderland project may have been a disaster, but few would be surprised if Egan used his role on the talent show to kickstart a career behind the scenes.

brian mcfadden

In McFadden's case, it's not so much a question of 'Where will he go next?' as 'Where is he now?'

Having left the band in 2004, McFadden showed sparks of solo success with his debut album, but a series of PR gaffes led to his decision to relocate to Australia.

He's currently a talent show judge there -- a recurring theme among his type -- and is enjoying a high-profile romance with Irish reality TV star Vogue Williams. But will this Irish Son return to roost? Not according to Notaro. "He has too much baggage here."

louis walsh

Don't forget the sixth member, and the man who made it all happen. The demise of Westlife could well be the end of Louis's reign in pop music -- unless Jedward really step up to the mark.

But is this really the end? Could the four (or five) boys already have one eye on a big reunion? Well, to suggest that would just be cynical.

But let's not forget, the longer those white suits are left in the wardrobe, the more dust they'll gather . . .

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