It all began in 2007 when the world was first introduced to Rhydian – the white haired baritone singing a love song on the UK talent search X-Factor. Simon Cowell may have declared his audition piece “one of the worst songs I have ever heard” but Rhydian would go on to place second in the competition overall and be signed by Cowell to Sony. His debut album was named one of the best selling by a male newcomer. Classical Crossover Magazine was able to learn more about the ambitious young baritone thanks to Joanna Burns.
Rhydian, for a young singer, you seem to have an unusually clear idea of who you are and what direction you want to pursue musically. How did you get the confidence and vision?
I think I owe that to the training I had at college. I’ve been fortunate to have great teachers and guidance from a very young age. I knew at the age of 19 who I wanted to be as a singer and I found my identity as a person during the same year. One of my mottos is ‘ride the horse that got you there’. All of my success in singing prior to the TV competition was as an aspiring classical crossover singer and so I have never overlooked that. If you walk down a street and mention me to anyone, 90% of the time they say ‘the guy with the blonde hair and the classical voice’. Rarely is it, ‘oh yeah that heavy metal singer!’
A lot of artists, especially in this genre, tend to get stuck in a stage persona of “angelic” or “diva.” I think it’s quite remarkable that you were placed on a show that really tried to define you as one thing and how you were able to turn that around by being yourself. How important do you think authenticity is for a performer, especially in the long run?
That’s a very good observation. Umm, I don’t know really. I guess I hate being pigeon holed and I’ve always been a bit of an enigma as a performer. I wouldn’t want to have the diva tag line and you’re not going to fool anyone if you give me the ‘angelic’ description! I’d rather, reliable and professional. Serious about music but keen to entertain an audience.
You’ve done a few musicals so far but as yet, and correct me if I’m wrong, you haven’t played in “Phantom”. As the theme song was more or less your anthem on X-factor, do you feel this will be an important role for you in the future?
Yes totally. When the time is right I’d love to play that part.
You were a rugby player growing up until you injured yourself. Do you feel that the competitive nature you cultivated in sports was easily transferred to your music?
What a great question. Yes absolutely! I miss competitive sport a lot but I absolutely transfer that to the music industry. It’s more a kin to a rugby culture of competitiveness though not soccer! Calving out a career in the music game is a conundrum. It’s like solving and endless crossword or sudoku! I love the challenge. A lot of it had to do with patience and strategy. A bit like a game of rugby!
How do you set goals for yourself?
I write them down on a ‘to achieve list’ and then go about my business to make it happen.
Your new album, “One Day Like This” is full of music that you are passionate about. How did you narrow down the tracklist?
I started with songs that I knew would suit my voice. I then narrowed it down to songs that I knew the audiences would like to hear me sing. I then looked at ensuring it qualified for the classical charts and so added 4 standard classical songs that I studied at music college. One was Litanei by Schubert that I auditioned for music college with. Another was Sleep by Gurney which I included in my final year exam at college. I also included the Pearl Fishers Duet which was the song that made me fall in love with singing and music. All of the songs have a reason as to why they made it onto the record and in the booklet I let the listener know the story behind each song.
Pavarotti said that every singer needs to have 5 songs that they own. For you “Nights in White Satin” is one you those. What makes that piece so unique to you and what are other pieces you feel showcase your best qualities?
Epic in nature and the arrangement is perfect for my tessitura. It had the right combination of drama and beauty that I seek in a song. You’ll find the same effect in my version of The Impossible Dream, Benedictus and To Where You Are. The other track would have to be Miserere which is a duet I do with Bonnie Tyler on this new album.
I always look for drama and beauty. Bit like the girls I tend to go for I guess!
What artists and albums inspire you?
Prince, Tina Turner, Freddie Mercury, Simon Keenlyside, Pavarotti and Mozart. I like any album by Jim Steinman. Opera, theatre and rock combined! Passion personified in a song!
You spent two years in pop music. What drew you back to the classical crossover scene? Was it the need for more vocally challenging material?
Yes that, but also that’s what the audience prefers from me. There are more opportunities in the classical world and it’s potentially a longer career in today’s music industry. Pop acts today usually have a maximum of a 5 year shelf life. It’s difficult to reinvent yourself as a solo Pop singer nowadays when you’re in your mid thirties. That’s not the case in classical music, as most males are at their most prevalent between the ages if 38- 54 in my world. That excites me! We get to sing great songs by great composers. Pop however is all producer driven, mass produced drivel today. Not for me thanks!
Your look is very unique and has become a signature style. But have you felt like just trying something completely different?
Yes, the album after this I may well shave off all my hair for a change.
If you could have originated any popular hit, what song would it be?
Happy Birthday to you. Owning the copyright to that would have been awesome!
Outside of singing what is most important to you?
Time in the sunshine. I love heat on my body. Scarcely found in the UK sadly!
Finally, at this stage you’ve really tried a bit of everything. How important has having a strong technique been in allowing you to experience so many different opportunities? And what would your advice be to young singers in regards to training their voices?
For me longevity as a singer comes from a secure technique. Sure you can have success for a period of time if you do well in say Britain’s Got Talent by mimicking other classical singers. You’ll make a good replacative noise that wows an audience momentarily, but without a solid technique you will find it hard to pull the wool over people’s eyes in the long run.
My advice to young singers would be, sing within your means. Don’t sing repertoire that’s too big for you that could potentially damage the voice. I would say do research and find a great teacher. There are plenty of terrible teachers out there so finding a good, safe one is like gold dust.
For me, it was important to study all different genres of singing as there are some anatomical differences in the technique of Bel Canto which you need for opera and Belt singing which is heard a lot in musical theatre. Both have a correct way of execution but Belt is not generally taught at opera college. I’m flexible because I had tuition from the opera school and musical theatre school simultaneously.
Vocal health is vital. One simple way of protecting your vocal folds/ chords is to make sure you hydrate well. I drink at Least 4 liters of waiter every day.
To keep updated with Rhydian Roberts visit his official website rhydianroberts.com/