Proof that television talent shows work
Will Young is not your average pop idol. Having proven himself in the world of acting and having campaigned on social issues, he is back to doing what he loves best – singing live. Ahead of two Irish dates, he talks to Jenny Lee
MANY reality show contestants have faded into obscurity but two of the first reality TV stars of the noughties – Pop Idol winner Will Young and Kelly Clarkson, American Idol winner in 2002 - have continued to prove critics wrong.
Young has exceeded all expectations since being crowned the original Pop Idol in 2002. The Brit Award winner has gone on to sell 10 million albums and has enjoyed a successful foray into acting. His sixth studio album 85% Proof has seen him switch management and record companies, while continuing to explore new sounds and ideas.
After a four-year absence he is looking forward to getting back on the road for his Love Revolution tour, which takes in Dublin on November 8 and Belfast on November 9. And he might even bring along his wetsuit.
"I took my surfboard on tour there last time. The guys in the band thought I was a pro, but the second time I got on my board I completely wiped out and the surfboard completely swung around and I’m not joking it just grazed my teeth," he laughs recalling his visit to the Co Antrim coast.
Young promises audiences a lively and interactive show.
"The beginning is going to be like a finale. I’ve worked really hard and I believe it's really important to give the audience a good show. I always feel particularly connected to the audience. I came from Pop Idol and everyone voted for me. In a way the audience were the record company executives and that connection to the audience is very different for me because in a way they signed me up.''
So what is his advice to young folk today auditioning for the likes of The X Factor and The Voice?
“The key thing for me was keeping a love of the music. And actually singing live – that's what I did on the show for 20 weeks. Everything else around it felt a bit uncomfortable, but the singing was what I loved. So I always concentrated on the music."
His first album since his 2011 platinum-selling Echoes, 85% Proof shot straight to the top of the charts. An eclectic, confident and startlingly human record encompassing folk, country, pop and R'n'B, it continues to demonstrate Young's evolution as a songwriter.
Young wrote all but two of the tracks, so is it his most personal album to date?
“I listen to songs such like Leave Right Now, Who Am I and Your Game and I think isn’t that interesting that I was in that place then. Then I listen to songs now like Joy and Love Revolution and I think isn’t it interesting that I’m in that place now. It may not be the entire me, but as long as I’m honest and authentic about my songs it will always be a reflection of me".
The album title came after a conversation between Young and his brother after watching a documentary on highly alcoholic drink Moonshine during a six-week kick-boxing training camp in Thailand.
Young sees 85% Proof as a way of representing the impact he hopes the album will have on the listener, but says the impact is ultimately out of his hands.
"It just feels right for the record. I'm really proud of it. Fourteen years after going from a talent show to a company like Island Records wanting to sign me is a dream come true".
While he struggles to name a favourite track from the album, he is looking forward to performing Gold on tour.
"It’s such a beautiful song about hope and looking up to the sky and seeing the positives. I’m really looking forward to doing that one live.”
As well as keeping his body in good shape, Young also takes care of his mental wellbeing and a sense of mindfulness shines through on the new album.
"I concentrate on being in the moment. And actually to be honest singing has always kept me in the moment. I don’t think about the past or future, I just go into a meditative state. You don’t really think when you are at a concert, do you? You just enjoy the music.”
Young added acting to his repertoire when he appeared in the 2005 film Mrs Henderson Presents. He has since been on stage in the Royal Exchange Theatre's production of The Vortex by Noël Coward and received an Olivier Award nomination for his role as the Emcee in Cabaret.
He believes his work outside the recording studio has contributed to his songwriting.
"I just feel so much more relaxed. That's part of doing a lot of other stuff between records. I'm more observant of the world, whereas before I've been more internalised as a songwriter and singer."
Young plans to continue juggling acting, writing, campaigning and singing. "I've got quite a few plans for more acting, I'm writing a comedy-drama and I've got an idea for a musical. But just like with an album it takes time for them to come to fruition and it's just about doing one thing at a time," says the level-headed singer, who studied politics at university.
Over recent years Young has been outspoken about knife crime and fronted a campaign to stop school kids using homophobic language, engaging with politicians and appearing on Question Time.
He also supports gAID, which focuses on domestic violence in homosexual relationships and is patron of a charity called Pace which help LGBT people with their mental well-being.
"I would never go into politics, but I think it’s a real honour to be able to go on shows like Question Time and meet politicians. I feel a responsibility to shed light on people that aren’t as fortunate as me. I’m in a really privileged position that I can do that. Rather than just use my fame to talk about myself all the time I actually like talking about others."
The music video for his new single Brave Man has certainly got people talking. Having publicly come out as gay, Young as faced prejudice himself and uses the song and video to show the determination needed in modern life to be authentic to yourself. T
The video follows a young man who is shown walking naked around a city, being hassled and abused by members of the public, while covering himself with Polaroid photographs. At the end of the video, he throws the photos – which show him as a young girl – into the sea, revealing him to be a transgender man.
"It’s absolutely the most powerful thing socially I’ve ever done and I’m really proud to be a part of it. It’s really special. It's not about society, it's about me and if this was the last tour and that was the last video I ever did then I would be very happy.”
:: Will Young plays the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on Monday November 9. For tickets (£35/£38), visit Waterfront.co.uk or call 028 9033 4455. He also plays the Olympia in Dublin on November 8. The single Brave Man is out now