ENTERTAINMENT
07/29/2008 03:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

America's Got British Talent: HuffPost Talks To Unlikely Opera Star Paul Potts

No one was more stunned than Paul Potts when the 36-year old amateur singer won the television competition Britain's Got Talent this past June. Not only had the rotund and unassuming mobile phone salesman not sung a note in four years previous to his audition for the show, but Potts' song category of choice was... opera. Not exactly a mass crowd pleaser. But buoyed by an extraordinary audition -- which has since been posted on YouTube and viewed over 30 million times -- and strong performances every week, Potts, the son of a bus driver and a cashier, ended up capturing the heart of Britain and winning the competition. Immediately rushed into the recording room by Talent panelist, uber-businessman, and notorious curmudgeon Simon Cowell, Potts has since seen his debut album One Chance top the British music charts, move legendary rock producer (and new Columbia honcho) Rick Rubin to tears, and drive viewers of his recent Today show appearance wild.

Potts took time to talk to us about the debut of his American album, opera karaoke, and E.T.

Between promoting you and Il Divo, Simon Cowell must really have a thing for opera.
Simon's always very determined and he's a very shrewd man who knows the business very well. And he's very honest, which is quite refreshing. Right after I won, the first thing he said to me, was, 'Next week, you'll be in the studio, recording your debut album," and seven days later, I was in the recording studio.

Have you found opera to be a hard sell?

I think what it comes down to is music. It either touches you or it doesn't. Opera is not closed to anyone. You can like rock and you can like opera. And I challenge anyone to sit through Puccini's La Boheme and not be moved by it.

What other music do you listen to?
Keane. Queen. Freddie Mercury was a brilliant singer. Snow Patrol. "Chasing Cars" is a stunning song.

How did you begin listening to opera?

I got into it by watching the movie E.T. I just wanted to be involved in the music, so I grabbed one of my mum's knitting needles, and pretended I was conducting the orchestra. John Williams really had a way with music. From there I moved on to Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Brahms, all different sorts of composers, and from there, I moved onto musicals. I'd also listen to Gilbert and Sullivan, which is a good introduction to opera. And of course, Jose Carreras and Pavarotti.

His death must have been a blow.
I met him back in 2001 in a masters class in Northern Italy. I didn't get that much of a chance to chat with him myself, but he saw me perform an aria by Rudolfo from La Boheme, and after I got out of breath at the end of a big phrase, he told me Rudolpho would never have run out of breather there. Then I sang something from Tosca, and was told by other people that he liked it.

Describe your first experience singing opera.

I'd gone to a bar in the center of Bristol where Sunday nights were karaoke nights. I'd brought a backing track to "Nessun Dorma" and I sang it there, just to try it out, really. I dressed up as Pavarotti and put on a false beard as well. I was also quite a bit slimmer than I am now, so I put a few things under my jumper.

How did you choose the songs for your album?
Me and Simon and some other people from the record company sat down after the competition ended and we made a list. One of the songs that surprised me was [REM's] "Everybody Hurts" I wasn't sure how that one would work. But I'm also someone who never says no until I've tried it.

How was singing for Simon Cowell?

At the auditions, I'd not really sung for four years, as a result of having my appendix burst, and then the doctors finding a huge tumor [on my adrenal gland] and when I was recovering from that, someone ran me off my bicycle. Bit of a bad year, 2003. Luckily, things are much brighter now.