By Dalia Colón
Times Staff Writer
If Paul Potts' story weren't true, it'd be a cliche: Schlubby Welshman toils away as a cell phone salesman while harboring a dream to sing opera.
In short succession, he gets appendicitis, has a benign tumor removed, and while recuperating falls off a bike and breaks his collarbone. He grows depressed, he and his wife are on the brink of bankruptcy, and his operatic fantasy seems more out of reach than ever. One day while working on his computer, he comes across a pop-up ad for Britain's Got Talent. He fills out the online application but isn't sure if he's what Simon Cowell and the other judges are looking for — a pudgy, middle-aged bloke with bad teeth.
So he flips a 10-pence piece. Heads, he'll submit the application; tails, he'll forget the whole thing. It's heads.
That was 2007. By now Potts' fairy tale audition has had more than 50 million YouTube views. The tenor wowed the BGT audience and judges with his rendition of the aria Nessun Dorma and went on to win the competition.
Now touring his sophomore album, Passione, Potts, 38, brings his Cinderella story to Clearwater on Sunday for a performance.
Where's your favorite place that you've gotten to travel so far?
I have so many favorite places. . . . It was March (2008) when we were last in Tampa at a very sweet theater, the Tampa Theatre. It's a stunning little place.
You seem to have a really vivid memory of your time in Tampa.
It's something I try very hard to do, because you never know when you're going to come back. . . . I never take anything for granted. . . . I try very hard to take things in, take a stroll around.
When you're out and about sightseeing, do people recognize you?
They did when I was wandering around Tampa last time. I think it's one of the few places that actually has the railway running through the streets.
I can hear it from my office, actually.
Yeah, we could hear it on the stage. (Laughs)
I understand you performed for Queen Elizabeth. Who was a tougher audience, she or Simon Cowell?
They were both very nerve-racking for different reasons. But it was a great honor to perform for the royal family at the Royal Variety show and a very nerve-racking experience. In theory, she has the right to have your head chopped off.
A lot of people compare Susan Boyle to you. What advice would you give her?
I think the most important thing for her, and I know the record company feels the same way, is that she take things at her own pace. If she feels (overwhelmed), she needs to slow things down.
You worked in the cell phone industry; now you're working in the music industry. It seems like the natural marriage of those two would be to have your own ringtone.
(Laughs) I think there are some available. . . . My younger brother actually has one of my songs as his ringtone, and I go bright red every time his phone rings.
Do you sing your winning aria at your concerts?
Always. . . . (It is) a reminder of where I started, and I could never forget where I started. I've heard people that come to me and say, "Isn't it time people stopped calling you the Britain's Got Talent winner?" and my response is always to say no. The moment I decide that I'm tired of hearing that title is the moment I've forgotten where I've started. It's a bit like building a wonderful house and then deciding you don't think you need the foundation anymore. And when you do that, the house falls down. You'll always have to remember where you started.