Car Phone Salesman Captures British Hearts Welsh car phone salesman Paul Potts wowed British audiences last weekend with his performance of "Nessun Dorma," an aria from the Puccini opera, "Turandot." He appeared on the British television network's Britain's Got Talent. Potts talks to Madeleine Brand.
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Car Phone Salesman Captures British Hearts

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Car Phone Salesman Captures British Hearts

Car Phone Salesman Captures British Hearts

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: There are lots of reasons for Americans to look longingly across the pond to Britain for culture. They have Shakespeare. They have Helen Mirren. And now they have Paul Potts.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Paul Potts is a cell phone salesman/opera singer who has made it to the finals of "Britain's Got Talent," a sort of "American Idol" TV show where regular people show off their hidden talents. Like "Idol," the show even features notoriously grumpy Simon Cowell as a judge. And Paul Potts joins me now from London. Welcome to the program.

Mr. PAUL POTTS (Contestant): Hi.

BRAND: Well, how do you decide to go on this show, "Britain's Got Talent"?

Mr. POTTS: Well, I've seen the adverts online and filled out the form, basically, and spent about 10, 15 minutes deciding whether I should bother. I felt like I was a little too old and maybe not the right image but in the end I pressed the submit button.

BRAND: So you applied and they chose you?

Mr. POTTS: We applied and then we went for auditions - the initial auditions. And then we ended up in front of Simon Cowell and Amanda Holden and Pierce Morgan.

BRAND: These are the three judges.

Mr. POTTS: Yeah.

BRAND: Yeah. The aria you sang, when we played it here, when we played "Nessun Dorma" here in the office, I have to say there were not a few people who were misty eyed, including a few men - I have to say. And I was wondering if you were going for that. I mean, people - and then you could see the - you could see the camera sort of swept across the audience. And even one of the judges looked like she was about to cry.

Mr. POTTS: She's admitted to crying. And she was crying last night as well.

(Soundbite of "Britain's Got Talent")

Ms. AMANDA HOLDEN (Judge): You've managed to make me cry again. I've turned into a wreck again, and I don't want to be dramatic and I'm not trying to get any kind of sob story here, but my granddad passed away this week and he would have voted for you. So I vote for you on behalf of him. You were fantastic.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. POTTS: (Unintelligible) aware that my voice does. It's not necessarily something I push for. I'm aware my voice has that effect on people. But I'm not sure what it is that makes it do that. I mean it's just something that happens, really.

BRAND: Well, you certainly did get under a lot of people's skin. This performance has gotten a lot of hits on YouTube, millions of hits. It's fair to say I think because of the surprise factor, the incongruity. I mean, here you are, a cell phone salesman, and as you say, you don't really look the part. And just to describe for our listeners who haven't seen you, one of the judges said you were wearing a cheap Tesco suit with your hair cut too short. You're a little pudgy and you have a chipped front tooth.

Mr. POTTS: Yeah.

BRAND: Well, you look like a cell phone salesman. And here you are, singing "Nessun Dorma" from "Turandot."

Mr. POTTS: Well, I mean, that was pretty much how I looked, and the suits got better. The suits are a lot better. And I've lost a bit of weight. I need to lose a bit more, and you know, I'm working on everything else. I think there is another video out on YouTube at a moment from last night's performance when I did "Time To Say Goodbye."

(Soundbite of song, "Time To Say Goodbye")

BRAND: Have you had formal training?

Mr. POTTS: I've had some formal training but most of it's literally six years ago. I ran out of money. So I wasn't able to continue. I had an appendix burst, then they found a 10-centimeter tumor, which frankly was benign. So I'm fortunate in that respect. And then, once I go back (unintelligible) I got run off my bike.


Mr. POTTS: And living off credit cards for two years kind of dents your wallet.

BRAND: Yeah.

Mr. POTTS: So now I'm on arrangement to pay on those and so I haven't had money for singing lessons for a good number of years. And whenever I've had training it's been just for the good of doing it. You know, I've always enjoyed performing and I don't get paid - I don't ever get paid for it.

BRAND: So before you went on the show, you hadn't had formal training in while.

Mr. POTTS: Not for a long time.

BRAND: So how would you...

Mr. POTTS: Six years.

BRAND: Not for six years. How would you practice?

Mr. POTTS: With a backing track, in a that room that's eight foot by eight foot square. What we'd call a box room. A very small room, literally with stereo in the corner. Because I quite often work quite long hours, it's - the walls aren't exactly very thick. So - and we got quite young children next door. So I don't often get the opportunity to practice as much as I'd like. So before I did the show, I literally maybe sang once in a year.

BRAND: But - so how did you have the confidence to think you could do this?

Mr. POTTS: It was just a gut feeling decision just to stick my oar in. You know, I've always known there was a voice there. It was just whether I felt it was good enough. And a lot of the time I didn't feel it was good enough. And you know, it's been awesome to get the response I've had from the judges, and from the audiences as well.

(Soundbite of "Britain's Got Talent")

Mr. SIMON COWELL (Judge): I don't know what it is about you, but I just - every time you come on I want you to do well, and you just did again. It was magic.

(Soundbite of applause)

BRAND: When you finished that night, when you were singing the aria, when you finished and you got the reaction from the judges, you looked like you were about to cry. Were you?

Mr. POTTS: I think I was. I could tell they weren't expecting it. I mean, it's been quite telling looking at it in more detail when it was broadcast last Saturday, to actually watch Simon's face and mouth and then suddenly his jaw drops. You know, it's been edited out, but he did actually comment about my appearance. But I mean, you know, I'm working on that side of the things anyway.

BRAND: So you're performing in the finals on Sunday.

Mr. POTTS: Yeah.

BRAND: What will you perform?

Mr. POTTS: I think there's only aria to pick really because it's a real finale aria - it's going to be "Nessun Dorma" again. I've been doing some work with some of the very good coaches on the show and hopefully, you know, it will be even better.

BRAND: If you win, will you go back to being a cell phone salesman?

Mr. POTTS: I don't think so. I don't think so. (Unintelligible) you know, the reactions that I've been getting, nobody's expecting me back.

BRAND: So you'll pursue a career in singing in opera?

Mr. POTTS: I would love to do that. That would be the ultimate dream.

BRAND: Well, Paul Potts, congratulations and good luck on Sunday.

Mr. POTTS: Thank you very much.

BRAND: That's Paul Potts. He's an opera singer and a cell phone salesman. He's performing Sunday in the finals of "Britain's Got Talent."

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