Whether he’s singing popular music, an operatic aria or a Christmas chestnut, British tenor Jonathan Antoine has a voice of unparalleled power and beauty.
The 26-year-old U.K. sensation’s first American tour brings him to the Mahaffey Theater Thursday, for a concert that will include selections from his new holiday album, ChristmasLand, along with songs from all across the musical rainbow.
He came to the full attention of his homeland as a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent in 2012; even judge Simon Cowell was rendered speechless when Antoine – then just 17 – began to sing.
Touring America, he says, “has always been a huge goal for me, personally. I’ve always been aware that a lot of the people who really supported me, from the very start, have been American. Or North American.
“And so being able to finally, actually interact with them – and see the faces of some of these people who have been with me virtually for the last decade – is incredibly gratifying.”
He would have made the crossing sooner – on the occasion of his 2014 debut album, Tenore, or its followup, Believe (both of which topped the classical record charts in England). But one thing or another kept a tour from happening.
His third release, Going the Distance, was released in the early days of the pandemic, in 2020. Not a chance of taking that one across the pond for live shows.
“It’s a very bizarre time to be doing this,” he laughs. “I’m glad to be able to be doing this at all. I have always had this idea that ‘oh, when we start cracking America it’s going to be the Big Time,’ but in traditional Jonathan Antoine fashion, things must always go an alternate route. Nothing I do is straightforward.”
That appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, as a duet with his high school friend Charlotte Jaconelli, became the most viewed television audition of any performer in history.
Cowell, as usual mincing no words, suggested right then and there that Jonathan was the talent, and he recommended “losing” Charlotte and going it solo.
But Antoine declined, and the TV appearance led to a record contract for the duo (both of their albums went Top Ten in the U.K.). They agreed to go their separate ways, by mutual consent, in 2014.
“I can’t really put into words the feeling that performing gives me,” he says. “I suppose in a way that’s why I do it. I can channel that energy into the music. It is empowering to me.
“At the meet-and-greets I do, there are these guys who are like six-foot-fifteen, big powerful guys, and when they reach out to shake my hand I can feel that their hand is tremoring. ‘Cause they’re excited and they’re nervous to meet … me. I’m a big, round 5-foot-9 fellow from the U.K. I’m not an imposing figure. But for some reason, to them there must be some mythos about me.
“To be able to see yourself as other people see you, I think that very, very few people get that privilege. And I count my blessings with every single day.”
Opera, he admits, came a bit later to his repertoire than the pop stuff. It was something his music teachers at school insisted he learn.
“I’m a big metalhead, actually, funnily enough. It all really did just come from going through a particular system, really. I was swept up in it, and I enjoyed it. It was a respite away from regular classes. Quite often you get to come out of a lesson to go and do your singing lessons.
“In a way, it was a place to get away. I just happened to enjoy it. And people thought I was pretty good at it. So I kept with it.”
He has been compared, favorably, to Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli and other celebrated tenors with strong, supple voices.
Antoine, however, realizes he has a good long way to go. “It’s a very slow process. To this day I’m learning stuff about my voice, and about how to use it. When I was but a wee lad, at the very start of high school, I had the opportunity to start singing lessons. My family were very supportive; they put me in.
“Around 13, 14 my voice started breaking. And my teacher, Jenny, said ‘If your voice breaks and you turn into a tenor, that’s like finding a little gold dust when you’re panning in the river.’ So I sat up every night, hands clasped together and practically prayed.”
He’s been frank about his early struggles with mental health, poor self-image and stage fright.
Things got better.
“A lot of it had to do with having someone who helped my confidence and my belief in myself,” he reports, “because when you’re a young man and your voice is breaking, it’s very easy to just go ‘Oh, this is terrible. I’m not going to go to lesson today.’ Because your range would change daily. Never mind what happened a week between two lessons!
“So being coached and guided through that, and eventually what came out of the other side … I quite like singing, and I think there’s something a little bit special about all this. If I may toot my own horn.”
Tickets for Thursday’s concert are here.