He reached for a dream

He reached for a dream


norman lebrecht

July 25, 2007

Someone asked for my view on Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts. Here goes:
Paul Potts: Once Chance
album released Monday 16 July
review by Norman Lebrecht (Evening Standard)
Nothing deceives like the evidence of our eyes. A month ago, Paul Potts, a mobile phone salesman from Port Talbot with wonky teeth and a waistline problem, convinced 13.5 million TV viewers and countless more on YouTube that Britain’s Got Talent and he was it.
Premium phones lines glowed red when he sang Nessun Dorma and Simon Cowell, the pop-picker at the heart of the enterprise, thrust him into Air Studios for a debut album that is released on Monday, preceding a national tour in the New Year.
What appealed to viewers, the quality that plucked our heartstrings, was that Paul was such an obvious loser. Bullied at school, unskilled at work, a virgin at 30 who met his wife in an internet chatroom, he reached for a dream and scratched it with a fingernail. His performance of Nessun Dorma aroused more football memories than operatic, but who cared? This was the ordinary man’s David Beckham moment and none could begrudge him that glory.
Remove the visuals, however, and the music leaves the ordinary man viciously exposed. Nessun Dorma, the CD’s opening track, is not just clumsily phrased and vocally strained but utterly charmless. Paul comes over like a Venetian gondolier who won’t take no for an answer. Several notes are on the edge of sour and the aftertaste is rank.
The rest of the album is made up of package-tourist ballads and motorway favourites like Frank Sinatra’s My Way, rendered in tourist Mediterranean. Paul’s range of expression so limited that sincerity is reduced to a binary alternative of sigh or shout. Time to Say Goodbye is the second track and I wish he had made it the last. The rest is dreary to the point of somnolence. Haste was plainly of the essence. An extra week with a vocal coach might have helped him inject more colour into the tributary Caruso song or more feeling into Stanley Myers’ Cavatina. This is amateur night in a very small town.
A magnifying glass applied to the booklet’s back page reveals the LSO as the accompanying orchestra. I guess they won’t be advertising that in their next Barbican season. All the echo chambers at Air and all the remastering skills of Cowell’s team, cannot disguise the sad truth that this is a singer with nothing to say, nothing to add beyond his ordinariness. Sad, really. It was all a visual illusion.


  • Mary says:

    Evidently NL is not interested in Opera music. As a fan, I thought then and still do now think that Paul Potts has a fantastic voice. I cannot get enough of listening to him singing Nessum Dorma. I play You Tube every day

  • Mandalayna says:

    I’ve been championing Paul since first hearing him on YouTube, but I’ve never personally denied his voice needed more work. Your review is one of the more balanced I’ve read.
    Paul was absolutely rushed through the album, and I was surprised because of that. I suppose Cowell wanted to make the most of the visual phenomenon that created the fervor that has surrounded Potts in the last month plus.
    I don’t think Paul himself would have expected greatness–he just was a guy trying to support his wife and start a family, and wasn’t going to make it on what he was earning.
    From all accounts, he’s a well grounded man who doesn’t expect this fame of his to continue, and I haven’t heard anyone say that he’s counting on it. Just the opposite.
    Yes, YouTube has gone a long way to continue his moment in the sun, but the sun will eventually set, and then maybe he can take those music lessons.

  • Michelle says:

    I have always been a champion of the underdog. Being a classically trained musician my ear is very critical, however I realize that Paul’s story has more to do with what is entertaining to the masses rather than what is going to make it in an audition at the MET. I applaud Paul for stepping it up and following his dream while many of us resign ourselves to sitting on the sidelines spouting off criticisms. Paul Potts may have opened the door of opera to a broader audience. Am I going to run out and purchase his CD? Probably not; but for those that do, they may become more interested in the art form and maybe even become future opera audience members. And THAT is a good thing. Is he the next great opera tenor, no, but he’s an average guy that people can relate to, with some raw talent and a great deal of courage. Bravo Paul Potts!

  • Carl says:

    Thank heavens someone has the discrimination and the balls to write a review like this.
    We should not turn performers into millionaires simply for having an average talent and a virtuoso marketing department.
    Keep up the good work in your fight against mass-marketed mediocrity. The line in the sand has been drawn.

  • M says:

    Yes, keep opera elitist!

  • George Strait says:

    Paul is not a world class tenor, but he clearly has enormous raw talent,and he is a far better singer than you are a writer. Your cheap phrases would do better in Reader’s Digest. The irony which I’m sure you miss, is the similarity between your style of critique and the Potts phenomenon. The intent of your meanness is to garner an audience not based on the substance of your review, but by appealing to the unkind side of people who like to watch a bully. Similarly Cowell leveraged Paul’s underdog story more than his vocal talent to gain an audience. The differences are 1. that Paul’s story is worth telling – a personal triumph, he is a touching everyman; yours is not. 2. Cowell was successful in getting an audience while your self conscious review will remain on the last page of the internet. I plan to tell no one that you exist so you can move on from writing and perhaps pick up singing. Paul might be willing to give you a lesson or two. He seems just that sort of kindhearted man.