After a period out of the limelight due to ill health, Last Choir Standing marks his welcome return to primetime television.
Russell’s rise to fame as ‘The People’s Tenor’ has been meteoric. He first came to public attention in 1999 when he was invited to Old Trafford to sing before Manchester United’s Premiership-winning match and his performance of the World Cup anthem Nessun Dorma received a standing ovation.
His debut album The Voice was released in 2001 and was no. 1 in the classical chart for a year, only to be knocked from the top spot by his follow-up release, Encore. The first British male singer to take the number one spots in both the UK and US classical charts simultaneously, he is credited with bringing opera to a wider audience.
He has performed for some of the most influential people of our time, Tony Blair, Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, the King of Malaysia, the Emperor of Japan and even the late Pope John Paul II who requested a private audience with Russell at the Vatican.
“I got a call from my management who said look we’ve been offered this BBC show. I remember having a look at the show at first, and thinking I wonder if I’d be able to do the judging thing because as an artist and someone who sells records I’m usually being judged not judging. So I decided that after having a chat with people at the BBC and my management that it could potentially work out quite well. And of course when I went down to Cadogan Hall [where the auditions were held], I realised it was going to be great fun.”
“I think it’s going to be a fantastic show. With some of the other shows that you see of this type, you’re generally concentrating you’re energies on one individual. Here you’ve got groups of people, so there are so many different characters to choose from.
“Of course the difference being a judge is it’s quite difficult because say there’s somebody that you don’t like, you’re not just telling one person I don’t like you. You’re potentially telling up to 40 people you’re not liking what they’re doing, so I think it’s going to make for very, very good television.”
“We want them to be in tune! For me it’s a combination of different things. You want to see the personality of the choir and I think a good story as well, a good back story is good for a choir and then of course they have to be able to sing. And then on top of that technically you’re looking for good harmonies - three to five part harmonies from a decent choir.
“And just a group of people who seem to know what they’re doing. I mean obviously there are choirs here who haven’t been together that long. You can tell the ones that are well rehearsed and have been together for a long time from the ones that haven’t but it’s difficult because what I like to see particularly are choirs who haven’t been together for that long, I’d like to see them go on a journey. It’s all well and good picking a fantastic choir who’ve rehearsed everyday for the past ten years and are absolutely amazing - that’s easy. What you want to do is pick out some raw talent.”
"Nerves are good but when they get hold of you and everything tightens up, the throat tightens up, everything does. It’s learning how to control the nerves. It’s learning how to control the adrenaline, that’s the key.
“I don’t particularly get nervous. I get a little bit of adrenaline but I love the big occasion, for me the bigger the better. I really enjoy thoroughly being on stage. Do I get nervous? I don’t know. I mean I’ve got different stuff going on in my life you know. I go on stage and think you know what I could’ve been dead eight months ago, so I just enjoy it for the moment.”
“No I’d have been the noisy one at the back! But I’ve performed with lots of choirs including the Julliard Choir in New York who are renowned as being one of the best in the world.”
“I’d like to think honest would be the kind of judge that I’d be. I watch a lot of these types of programmes on TV and like everybody else I enjoy them, but I don’t like seeing people’s dreams flattened. I think there’s a way of telling people, ‘you know what you’re actually not what we’re looking for, you’re not fantastic’, rather than just ‘god that was diabolical, get out you can’t do it, go away never come back again’. I don’t like that - why destroy somebody’s dreams?
“Yes it’s funny because we were on our way down to London the other week, and I remember saying to Gary, who’s my assistant, when we were driving down, ‘ah this is what I do, I entertain people, I sing’. Because I think I got so used to, over the last two years, being ill that I sort of forgot what I did. And that’s a strange feeling when you come back out, particularly when I did a concert in Japan last week. It felt strange but fantastic strange!”
“I think that there’s already a, resurgence is probably the wrong word because I don’t ever think the choir thing’s ever been mainstream, but I think already things are starting to build with choirs. I don’t know if you noticed but there was the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards’ album in the charts at Christmas and there were the Welsh lads, Fron, who had big success in the charts.”
Only Men Aloud! have signed a seven-figure record deal with Universal Music.
Myleene tells us about her favourite moments from the series, why this has been her dream job and who would be in her dream choir.
Nick tells us about his favourite songs from the series, why he's so proud of the show and what he's up to next.
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