In today’s episode, Tara talks to the young, super-talented tenor, Jonathan Antoine. Jonathan shares with us his journey to success – from overcoming bullying to creating his three-act album called Going The Distance. As a singer who has been through so many challenges, Jonathan also shares some tips on how singers can look after their voices and how to be better understood by others through communication.
Listen to the podcast here:
Going The Distance With Tenor, Jonathan Antoine
Do you know what I love? I love young talent. Our guest embraced his young talent from a very young age. Having been compared to Pavarotti at seventeen and with numerous chart-topping albums already to his name, now at 25, he has a new album out and a PBS special coming. Please welcome to the show, the incredibly talented Jonathan Antoine. Jonathan, how are you?
I’m wonderful. Thank you very much.
I ask everyone this question because I’m in LA. Where are you?
I am in Hainault, Essex in the UK, although I will be in LA.
What are you going to do when you get here?
It’s been a hectic last couple of days as well. I had a filling and I’m going through all this thyroid stuff. I had a cannula in my arm. I’m getting a little bit of relaxation away from the doctors.
It sounds like you deserve it. It sounds like you’ve had a very busy year.
It’s been nonstop from start to finish. We did a concert in Toronto, which is that PBS special and the album. They’re all part of the same package. Even before we have that fully formulated, going back into 2018, we were working on stuff that was like pre-production for this. It’s been a shocker block with this and I couldn’t be happier. It’s being able to do what I love. This whole project has been exactly as I envisioned it and as I wanted to make.
Tell me, your album that’s coming out is called Going The Distance. Why is it called Going The Distance? Tell me a little about the project.
The title track is Go The Distance from Hercules and we edited that. We’re not telling you to do something, we’re just stating. It’s going the distance, making something bigger than you’ve ever done before. It’s going out and doing something crazy, which I think is what I’ve built my brand upon. It’s a story about the process of growing up as someone who feels different and someone who feels like they’re not quite a part of the same party as everyone else. It’s the way that you can reclaim that and harness your differences because those are the things that make us who we are.
I can see that. You have had an interesting journey. Before we talk further about Going The Distance, I’d like to start at the beginning, if that’s all right. In my introduction to you, I mentioned that you had been compared at seventeen years old to Pavarotti. That is an extraordinary feat in itself. How did you feel? Obviously, you were runner up with your duo partner at the time, Charlotte in Britain’s Got Talent back in 2012. When you get this such an amazing accolade at such a young age, how do you deal with that? How did it make you feel? It clearly was a lot to live up to.
If you don’t take it with like an entire cellar of salt, that could be quite degrading to your psyche in some ways. People obviously don’t mean it like that. You get compared to these huge names and you’re still a child even in the eyes of the law. I still feel like a child half the time. There’s still so much of the world that is so foreign to me. Back then, it was that exacerbated. It’s a daunting thing, but I always thought, “This is a big deal. I’m just me. People can compare me to whomever they please.” It’s a huge flattering, wonderful thing. To me, I’ll always be me.
How did you discover that you had this beautiful tenor voice?
I had always sung in front of the radio in the early 2000s. Ricky Martin was my jam. That was amazing. I’d always sang where you have the nice choir boy voice when you’re young. It was all down to chance at the end of the day because you develop one way or the other. You either develop into a deep bass baritone tenor. It’s a complete roll of the dice. I got phenomenally lucky. My teacher at the time when I must’ve been thirteen, she had said, “It would be wonderful if your voice ended up being a tenor because tenors are like gold dust.”
I was like, “Fingers crossed.” It happened. I never stopped singing. My dad, for instance, when he was in a choir as a young boy, he stopped singing after his voice broke. That is the downfall of many male singers. They feel discouraged by the fact that things are changing. If you continue to power on through that, you can end up with some of the greatest voices in the world. That’s how all the greatest voices in the world have strived and struggled through that very awkward phase, where every day your voice range changes.The greatest voices in the world have struggled with voice range change. Click To Tweet
That must be quite disconcerting if you’re able to sing a certain note one day and all of a sudden, that’s gone the next.
With a standard instrument, you have that element of control where you know that when you hit this note, it will always be that note in that place. When your voice is changing as a young person, it’s like you pick up a different instrument every day. It’s very disconcerting. It discourages people. As I say, it discourages them from pursuing something that they love because they think, “I sound weird. It’s never going to settle for me.” It always will.
Obviously as a tenor, your voice continues to develop over well into your 30s.
Hopefully, it will continue changing and evolving until the end of my life, whenever that may be. It’s the same for everyone. If you compare someone’s voice, often their speaking voice to how it sounded many years ago, there are differences there. That is exacerbated tenfold when it comes to the singing voice because it is such an affective thing. It’s a trained muscle and as you train it more and train it differently, it will adapt to those trainings and those techniques.
How do you look after your voice?
I’m very lucky that I’ve had a very resilient set of pipes for a long time. Nowadays, as I get older, I realized that I can’t keep putting it off until the next day. I’ve gone off of sugar because that is a little bit harsh on your vocal cords in my experience. Also, it’s hard on my teeth. I just had a filling. It’s a dual purpose. Mostly it’s resting the voice and not overusing it. I’m not belting out twenty top Cs every half hour. It’s the theory that every person has a set number of heartbeats. It’s not exactly true but it’s a good way to think of it. You have a set number of high Cs in your life. If you go over that number, God help you.
That’s an interesting way of looking at it.
It lets me justify my own laziness.
Good for you. I love that. I’m going to remember that because I’m working with some tenors at the moment. I will remember that. They have a certain number of Cs that they can reach in their lifetime. I’m going to quote you.
That will be my legacy.
With that, with your knowledge to date, if there’s a youngster, a young boy who wants to be a singer, what advice would you give him to help him to the place that you’re at?
I have a very hard time giving those blanket overarching statements. I am very much like a prescriptive. I want to know the exact issues that this person is having, how they’re feeling about singing. What exactly I can pin focus and help them with. As a cliche, it’s to keep doing it. If you keep doing what you love, eventually either you won’t love it as much anymore. You’ll find success with it, continue loving it or you’ll find success with it and you stopped loving it, which is even worse. There are so many things that that one can do in this life. To get overly attached to anything, it can be a misnomer, but it’s also one of the greatest things in this life. I’ve attached myself to the concept of being a singer and I feel like that will carry with me forever. If you want to feel like that, never quit. Never let anyone tell you that it’s weird. You can always improve.
It’s drive and belief in yourself.
It’s an ethereal thing to put in because if you don’t quite believe in yourself and the belief in you from others, you can believe in them and they believe in you. It’s this cyclical thing. There are a lot of factors that go in but just sing, let it out.
That’s perfect, just sing. I’m learning a lot from you. Let’s go back to your amazing career that you’ve already had. You started out in duo. You became a solo artist and released a couple of very successful albums. How are you enjoying being a solo artist? It’s clearly working for you.
When the duo even started, the whole conception was eventually we would go our separate ways. We are fundamentally solo artists. We came together to do something special. People got something special out of it, which is an amazing feeling. I get to do whatever I like, which is crazy. Particularly with this latest project, it’s all stuff that I loved. It’s a concept that I’ve had floating around in my brain for several years. It’s the idea of structuring an album like a play or a stage show in three acts that I don’t feel like anyone does that. I wanted to do it.
Explain that to me a little more and tell me what it was like working with Gregg Field, who I know very well and is a dear friend. I love Gregg. Tell me about the process with him.
The very first time we met was at the Steinway Building in London. We went underneath to a practice room with a pianist and Gregg. It was wonderful. It was all off the cuff. It all flew out from out of nowhere. It was pulled out of the ether, all of these songs. Pretty much what we conceived in that room is the album. Nothing was wasted. The songs were so easy to agree on. We had such a clear vision from the very beginning. It was that focus and drive once again. Gregg is a personality and a half. All throughout, going over to Gregg’s house, to his studio, he’s got a wonderful place. We got some incredible stuff. We have Pedro Eustache on the album as well playing the Can You Feel the Love Tonight. The things that Gregg can pull off are crazy. He’s a magician. He’s a wizard.
Tell me about the three acts. Talk us through what the three acts are.
The three-act structure loosely follows this idea of the story of a disenfranchised youth reclaiming themselves from the world. The first act is stuff that affected me as a youth. They’re Disney songs, the things that teach you morality without actively doing it. Go The Distance is the title track. I feel like at the head of the show and the album, it tells you everything you need to know straight away. It’s such a beautiful song. Reading the lyrics and comparing them to what the idea of the show is crystal clear. We moved from that into classic songs, songs that helped me find my voice as a singer.
It’s like the classic American songbook, Summertime, Moon River. It’s quite an easygoing slow, fun section where I enjoy with the audience and we all have a good time. We get to the real, the reclaiming part, the coming home at the end of the story where we get to the classical opera, the Arias, crowning of the show with a song that is so ubiquitous among classical tennis singers that people thought that I had done it on the show. People thought that I’ve done it on previous albums, but I’d never sung it before. That was Nessun Dorma.
That’s always a showstopper, isn’t it? I can’t wait to hear you sing that.
It’s a tough one. The notes themselves, the range itself is not the hard part, although it is quite a high song. It’s the flow and the ebb of the song is amorphous that you can get lost very easily in that. That’s right up at the end. It’s fun and it gets people on their feet. It gets people cheering. It’s a great moment.
When can we go and get Going The Distance? Do we have a release date yet or you’re working on that?
The PBS pledge is going to be in March 2020 across a bunch of different APT channels and that will be the very first where you can order stuff alongside the program as they do with APT. I’m not 1000% sure things on that side. Mostly I focus on making it here and whoever wants to put it out, they can deal with that.
Tell us about the process of making your PBS special. You recorded that in Canada, isn’t it?
Yes. It’s in Toronto, Canada. It’s wonderful. We’ve got some wonderful friends in Toronto. We’ve been absolutely blessed in that aspect. We came across Toronto in the summer of 2019. We did two dates at the Elegant and Winter Garden Theater. Both of them were filmed, but the first one was primarily filling shots and stuff. The final date was the big one, the real thing. It’s completely different to anything that I’ve ever done before. I have never personally scripted a show before this. Whereas with this, I set out, I had specific things I wanted to say about every single song, which made the show a little bit long.
I had to get that message out there. I wanted it to be in my voice. I feel like that would connect with people. I’m a regular guy and shared my experience with people. That was the hard part for me is focusing all of that, getting it into a nice tight script, getting all the songs laid out because when you film a show, the camera moves have to be planned out before mostly. It’s hard to do anything spontaneous. I go into a song and then I won’t speak until four songs. I’ll do random stuff. That was the challenging aspect for me. Other than that, it was incredibly fun to work with a bunch of incredibly talented people on something that I absolutely loved. What more can I ask out of life? I am blessed in every way.
I love that you are enjoying your life and enjoying the career that you have. To be honest, I’m obviously excited to listen to Going The Distance and to seeing your PBS special, but I’m also excited about what the next five to ten years hold for Jonathan Antoine. What would you like to see in the next five to ten years?
I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing. I have a very hard time conceptualizing the future. I usually think I’ll wake up tomorrow. That’s about as far as I go. I’d like to keep this plan going. I want to go to America and tour all over the place. I want to release another record after this called Beyond. I’m saying that it’s called Blackmail so no one can save it. When you get into this world at such a young age, it is all systems go right from the end of the show. It was straight away into album production. I was very green then.If you keep doing what you love, eventually either you won't love it as much anymore or you'll find success with it. Click To Tweet
I have to say you’re very awe-inspiring. You’re a great role model to other young singers out there. When I was reading your bio and I was looking on doing some research on you, I obviously saw about you speaking quite candidly about the fact that you’d been bullied when you were younger. At the same time that you say you’re a supernaturally lucky person. It’s a fantastically positive line. When you have bullying at the start of the line, but you have supernaturally lucky at the end of the line, tell us how you get those two in the same line and the journey that you’ve been on in a few words to explain to the audience. One of the reasons you are a very inspiring person because I know that you had a tough time for a moment.
I think back to being called names about my weight mostly. I’ve had weight issues since I was very young, around 4 or 5. It’s always been an issue. When to being called names, I can hardly remember the names that people called me. They are like darts to be thrown at you, but darts can be removed. The wounds from them heal over time. When I consider all of the things that I’ve been able to do, all of the opportunities that I’ve had, I cannot help but believe that I’m a supernaturally lucky person. My first victory, my first supernatural luck, which will be born to the wonderful family that I have because it could have been anyone.
That’s my first victory. I remember another one was when I was very young. I was up at my grandmother’s, she lived near the beach and I won one of the aliens from Toy Story from a crane game. That was another significant victory. There are these little things, these things I remember, this winning stuff and getting these little prizes. When you total all of that together and you add the BGT stuff, you add all of these albums I’ve been able to make, you add that I’ve been able to go all over the world. It’s from these tiny seeds, these are the old supernatural luck sprouts. I’ve grown this mighty tree of luck it feels like. Maybe that’s everyone’s life and it’s harder for some people to see it that way. Maybe I am special and supernatural in some way.
What sorts of advice would you give to people who are being bullied right now in the thick of it and are finding it very difficult? You hear often about cyberbullying and people don’t know how to escape from the moment that they’re in. What advice would you give having been through it, but coming out with the supernatural luck that you have? I reckon the other people who were being bullied probably have a bit of supernatural luck as well. They just don’t realize it at that moment.
My primary advice would be it’s a different age. The internet was a little bit less accessible when I was younger. There are all of these tools. There are all of these places that you can go where you can talk about these things candidly and openly with other people anonymously or as yourself if you so choose. Being able to do that, being able to speak about it that is so incredibly helpful to be able to be candid, to be open about the way that you’re feeling with someone who either will support you or someone who is impartial is an incredible help. It’s therapy but for free.
If you can afford or get into therapy, that is an incredibly helpful resource as well. This is a silly one. It’s a little bit of a sillier thing, but when someone says something to me, what happens is, because of the way my brain works, it reverberates around in my head a bunch of times. That evolves into me thinking of a witty retort to what they’ve said, but much too late. Even having that in your mind, I have this brilliant thing to say. It helps a little bit. It’s a little bit weird, but it does help for me at least. Maybe that’ll help for you, just the funnier one.
It’s such a problem that kids have. Any words of wisdom they can get from people that have been there and have experienced it can only help.
I find it hard to make those overarching statements as I said, but there are some things to talking with people, being open and understanding each other. If the people who are saying things to you understood you on a deeper level, they never would say such a thing.
People don’t think, do they?
It’s very hard to think outside of yourself. It’s incredibly hard. To be able to empathize with someone is a skill. It’s a skill that people build up over their lifetime. Some people have that instinctively and some people are hurt a lot when people say something to them. Some people, it just glances off of them. You must take each of those as it comes. If you are the type of person who sinks in and bites into, you have to allow that to express itself. You have to allow that energy because it’s all that energy flow. When energy comes in, energy has to go out. Again, speaking to someone, airing your thoughts, that is critical in my opinion.
Thank you for being so honest with us.
Thank you for asking. It’s vital to the survival of us as a species that we understand each other better.
It’s all about communication. I am so excited to listen to Going The Distance. You recorded that with the Royal Philharmonic?
I did. It’s world-class. We recorded all in the same room as well. I was in like a little vocal booth and we all performed it at the same time, which there’s nothing like it.
It’s with Maestro Chris Walden, no less.
He’s incredible, remarkable. His brain works at five times the speed of normal human beings. I’m pretty sure.
I have to say you have got the A-Team with you, haven’t you?
I genuinely do. If this fails, it’s only going to be down to me.
It’s not going to fail. I know it. You’ve been such a delightful guest. I can’t wait to buy your album. I can’t wait to watch a PBS special and literally, I can’t wait to have you back on whenever you want to come back on to promote something. I’m always here.
I would love to be back on.
To our audience, if you have any questions for Jonathan, you can contact Jonathan through me at www.LaLaLanded.com. Any questions, fire them our way. Thank you all. Thank you, Jonathan.
Thank you to our fabulous audience. You will be hearing from us soon on another episode of La la Landed. Thank you so much.
About Jonathan Antoine
Jonathan Antoine became a global sensation at the age of just 17. Compared to the legendary operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti after his astounding audition on Britain’s Got Talent in 2012, the shy teenager’s life changed overnight. Music mogul Simon Cowell proclaimed him a future star. He wasn’t wrong.
Alongside his singing partner Charlotte Jaconelli, Jonathan came second in the show’s grand finale. The duo went on to release two albums, Together (2012) and Perhaps Love (2013), selling an impressive 250,000 copies and both reaching No.5 in the pop chart.
Jonathan’s success continued as a solo artist with Tenore (2014) and Believe (2016) both topping the classical charts. Now, after working for almost 3 years to develop new repertoire and recording new music working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of arranger and conductor Chris Walen, comes his incredibly personal new album Going the Distance – a recording to cement his position as one of the world’s best tenors. And, yes, he’s still only 25.
With this fifth album, Jonathan has really found his voice. Eight years after his debut, he’s also now free to follow his own vision. Going the Distance realises a childhood idea to structure an album in three acts, like a musical, which tell the story of overcoming adversity to fulfil your dreams.