Jonathan Antoine: Appearing on Britain's Got Talent allowed me to sing in front of millions and I came away with a career
He was the shy teenager who left Cowell and Co stunned on Britain’s Got Talent four years ago, and since then Jonathan Antoine has gone on to carve a successful opera career. He talks to Andy Welch about maturing, gratitude and supporting songwriters.
When Jonathan Antoine walked on to the Britain’s Got Talent stage just over four years ago, he achieved something quite rare and brilliant ... making Simon Cowell eat his words.
The TV show judge’s face had given away the fact he didn’t expect much of the desperately shy teenager and his then singing partner Charlotte Jaconelli.
But once they started singing The Prayer, a song made famous by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion, the audience rose to their feet, the judges looked on in awe, and their audition became one of those ‘TV Moments’. Almost 10 million people have since watched it on YouTube.
They went on to finish as runners-up, and released two hit albums before going their separate ways.
“For the most part, people who stop me in the street know me from Britain’s Got Talent,” says Antoine, currently preparing to release his new solo album, Believe, on August 19.
“People at my shows are a mixture of fans from Britain’s Got Talent and people who’ve become fans of my albums. But yeah, I do get stopped. I love it.”
He says appearing on BGT — despite admitting to not really taking in what was happening until he stood in front of Cowell and Co — was a wonderful experience.
“I got to meet great people, I got to see how TV works, I got to do the thing I love in front of millions of people, and I came off at the end with a career.”
Watching the series, where you might see a pair of opera singers next to a dancing dog or a fire-eater, it’s not always clear how the act is going to be turned into a career.
Antoine, however, has barely stopped working, releasing his debut solo album, Tenore, in October 2014, and going on his first solo tour last year.
“I’m enjoying being on my own,” he says. “I have a team with me — my parents and sister, for a start — and I like the repertoire a lot more. The songs I’m singing, I think they’re more me and I’m really enjoying performing them.” Believe sees Antoine delve further into the catalogue of opera, but mixed with a number of original songs and contemporary covers.
One such cover is Hallelujah, written by Leonard Cohen and covered by many since, perhaps most famously by Jeff Buckley on his 1994 album Grace.
“I’ve loved that song for so long,” says Antoine, who reveals he was given Grace to examine as part of his GCSE music coursework and has been hooked on Buckley’s music ever since.
“I listened to that album over and over and over. Hallelujah is a brilliant song, and his version of it is one of the best covers of all time. It’s a little daunting approaching something that’s been done so well before, but we went in a different way with it, really bringing out the operatic element, and I’m very pleased with the end result.”
As for the original songs, he says he could quite easily only cover classics or opera standards, but likes supporting songwriters coming up with new material.
“It’s really important to pay people to write songs,” he says. “I think, in the next 50 years, there’s going to be a big change in the way we create art and media, but it’s important we continue to support artists and other creative people. Supporting songwriters is imperative if we want there to be songwriters in the future.”
Antoine’s favourite song on Believe, though, is E Lucevan Le Stelle, which translates as The Stars Were Brightly Shining: “I love singing it, and I’m just infatuated with the song.”
Much of the album is sung in Italian, and although Antoine doesn’t speak the language fluently, he insists on understanding a song’s lyrics before attempting to record them, and mastering the pronunciation.
“I think it’s absolutely vital to the performance, I have to get it right,” he says. “I like finding out about an opera, too — where it was set, where it was first performed, that kind of thing, so I can try to capture some sort of feeling that it was meant to have in that moment.”
Despite his success, Antoine is still just 21 — he was 17 on BGT — and his voice has matured since that TV debut.
Throughout Believe, his tenor is rich and it’s hard to believe it’s coming from a young guy from Essex.
“I think there’s a maturity in these performances,” he acknowledges. “I hope people hear that. There’s a maturity that’s not on my other records — the arrangements are larger and more luscious than they have been in the past.
“I would like to think I am coming toward my peak as a singer. I think it happens when you’re in your mid to late 20s, really, like footballers. The physical shape you’re in has a lot to do with it; it’s a series of muscles that take time to develop, but it’s not all about physical health, there’s experience and lots of other things that play a part.
“It’s quite exciting knowing I might be coming toward a peak, but then I suppose the worry is what comes after that. I just look to Placido Domingo, who sings all the time, still sounds incredible and he’s 75.”
Talking of Domingo, the world-famous Spanish tenor invited Antoine to sing with him at the final night of the 2014 iTunes Festival, something Antoine says was “a terrific honour”.
“It’s funny, prior to Britain’s Got Talent, I had no plans at all, no real aspiration. After the show it was crazy, all these possibilities opened up in my head. The stereotypical thing, I suppose, travelling the world, doing the thing that I loved. I’ve met so many incredible people.
“All I really hoped to achieve is to make people smile and bring people together, of every colour, race and creed, to enjoy my music,” adds Antoine. “Any positive effect I can have on the world is just a blessing and I am incredibly grateful.”
- Jonathan Antoine releases his second solo album, Believe, on August 19