The amazing story of Paul Potts

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bill Needham stopped by one day this week.

Bill and I don't know each other very well, but we share one thing -- that I know of -- other than the color of our hair: We both love the opera.

The opera.

Sounds pretentious, doesn't it? I suppose that's because there are some folks who try to make more out of opera than it really is. Just like some visual art. You know the kind I mean. The kind you wash off the kitchen walls when your 2-year-old gets the muse while armed with a red crayon. But if you run a high-class art gallery, you call it art. And you say you are a patron of "the arts."

The arts.

Opera, my dear readers, is basically a complicated Monty Python skit with music. When the music is good, opera makes your heart soar.

There are bad operas just like there are bad scrambled eggs. You don't have to be a composer or a chef to know the difference.

Bill, who lives here in Cape Girardeau, and I met years ago in St. Louis during intermission in the lobby of the Fox Theatre where we had gone for something musical. Later, I found out he had a thing for the opera. And Luciano Pavarotti.

So when Bill stopped by and expressed his sadness over Pavarotti's recent death, I thought that was it.

But wait. There's more.

"Do you know about Paul Potts?" Bill asked.

I confessed that I didn't.

Bill explained. Paul Potts won the "Britain's Got Talent" competition by singing an aria from "Turandot" called "Nessun dorma." You may have seen the three tenors -- Pavarotti, Carreras, Domingo -- sing it on one of their specials.

If you've ever heard "Nessun dorma," you would remember. It is one of those sweeping solos full of passion and high notes that test even the likes of Pavarotti.

So here's a young Welshman who sells mobile phones, has crooked teeth and looks like his suit was purchased by mail order telling Simon Callow and the other "Britain's Got Talent" judges that he is going to sing. Opera.

Rolled eyes all around.

Then the music starts.

When Paul Potts is finished with his abbreviated version of one of the best-known tenor arias, an audience of 2,000 is on its feet cheering like the home team had just won the football championship. At least one of the judges was in tears (along with many at the live performance and countless thousands watching on the telly at home).

Can Paul Potts sing? Listen for yourself. Go to and search for "Paul Potts." There will be dozens of choices, but look for the one where Paul Potts has his first audition on "Britain's Got Talent."

I told Bill Needham at the end of our brief visit that I would look up Paul Potts on the Internet. I had no idea nearly 16 million others would be doing the same thing. That's how many YouTube visitors had watched this video as of the middle of this week.

Here's what I like about this yarn.

Say the word "opera" to most people and you will see their eyes glaze while a wince stretches across their faces. "Screaming idiots" is how a colleague of mine once described opera.

Alas, the opera is misunderstood. Deep down inside it is good.

(Recognize that? It's taken loosely from another opera called "West Side Story." Some people say that's a Broadway musical. They're right. So am I.)

But Paul Potts turns opera into the music of everyman. Self-conscious, low on esteem and more than slightly pudgy, Paul Potts transfixes you with his singing talent.

"Don't judge a book by its cover," says a promo for the album Paul Potts recorded after winning the "Britain's Got Talent" competition. If you're looking for a special gift, look for "Paul Potts: One Chance."

And thanks, Bill Needham, for stopping by.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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