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Imelda's playing the wrong tune with RTE

Everybody adores Imelda May and it's not hard to work out why. There's a lot to love and not one single thing to dislike. She's a glittering talent with a scintillating image and a scorching voice – a star who took what many would consider a niche musical genre, rockabilly, and thrust it centre-stage.

Her incandescent personality, storming stage presence and sense of fun shows up the auto-tuned poseurs and note-mangling divas that pass for female singing stars these days instead of the mediocrities they are.

Of course, it helps no end that she hails from my own neck of the woods, The Liberties, the oldest and greatest part of Dublin. But then, all the best people do.

Despite residing in London for the past 18 years, fame hasn't altered her. Her Dublin accent is still as rich as a plate of properly-made coddle. While she'd probably tell you to get away with yourself if you said it, May is a national icon.

The wider world knows her worth, too. Jools Holland was so knocked out by her 2008 album, Love Tattoo, he immediately booked her to appear on Later . . . which is pretty much like being handed a first-class ticket to the big time.

She and her band, which features her husband Darrel Higham, have toured with Holland and been back on the show several times since, including an appearance on the 2011 Hootenanny special.


May has credited Holland, who was instrumental in landing her a recording contract when nobody else wanted to know, with raising her international profile, but her career since then has been one breakthrough after another.

Her second album, Mayhem, topped the charts in Ireland and Britain. It also hit the No 1 and 2 spots in, respectively, the US Billboard Heatseekers and Blues charts, as well as making a respectable showing in Billboard's Rock chart.

May has appeared on most of the big US chatshows, toured with Jeff Beck, performed with him at the 52nd Grammy Awards, and shared a stage with, to name but a few, Lou Reed, David Gilmour, The Supremes, Bono, Elvis Costello and Wanda Jackson, the queen of rockabilly and one of her idols.

With a new album due in June, and her career and credibility copper-fastened, you would imagine the last thing May needs to do is front an Irish television show. But she's going ahead and doing it anyway.

The Imelda May Show, an hour-long pilot that could well lead to a full series, goes out on RTE1 on Sunday at 9.30pm.

In an interview in this week's RTE Guide, May says she has no yearning to be a presenter. What sold her on the project was the chance to showcase Irish music.

"There are so many great bands in Ireland that need a platform to get out there," she adds.

You can understand why May might feel she owes a debt of loyalty to her country. You can also understand why she, more than most, knows the difference a helping hand from the right source can make to a career.

But hosting a music show, and possibly an entire series of them, for a broadcaster whose recent form in this department consists largely of Other Voices and Gay Byrne's For One Night Only wouldn't appear to be the smartest move from a woman who seems to have smarts to burn.

And of course there is their longer track record, featuring productions involving the likes of Daniel O'Donnell, Twink and other assorted glorified cabaret performers, to keep in mind. Since the show was only recorded on Tuesday, RTE understandably couldn't provide a preview.

But given that the line-up includes Finbar Furey, Sharon Shannon, bland C&W smoothie Nathan Carter and peculiar indie-rap hybrid The Original Rudeboys – none of whom needs a helping hand to anywhere other than the nearest exit door – this could be a career iceberg to be avoided at all costs.