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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 12:02 GMT
Watson christens new Oscars venue
Russell Watson
Watson: Welcomed by the American public
By entertainment correspondent Peter Bowes in Los Angeles

British tenor Russell Watson will make Hollywood history on Friday night as the first artist to perform at the new permanent home of the Oscars ceremony.

The so-called people's tenor was selected to open the prestigious, 3,585-seat Kodak theatre in Los Angeles, which will host the Academy Awards for the first time in March.

"It's a great opportunity for me personally," says Watson. "I think they saw me as a good platform - there's a bit of a buzz surrounding us here in the US at the moment.

"We're doing exceptionally well in the charts, the profile is beginning to raise quite well so I think they thought I was an ideal proposition for the first night."

The Shrine Auditorium
The Oscars' former home at the Shrine Auditorium

He added that it was an "incredible" honour to perform at what was one of the finest theatres he has ever experienced.

Watson will sing songs from his debut album, the Voice, which became the fastest-selling classical recording in UK history.

The former engineering apprentice from Salford is getting a lot of exposure in America as the new Pavarotti.

American fans of classical music have latched on to the 27-year-old singer, who has no formal operatic training, and he is rapidly becoming the hottest new British star to cross the Atlantic.

"America was a market that we wanted to be involved in," says Watson. "It always feels good to say you've broken America.

"We've had phenomenal success over here - we've done a lot of television promotions, a lot of radio, a lot of press. We've sold a lot of records and we're delighted with the success."

Ambassador

Watson explains that he is especially proud of his achievements in the knowledge that so many British pop stars find the United States difficult to conquer.

He says: "When you hear there are artists such as Oasis and Robbie Williams who are huge stars in the UK that are struggling over here - it does give you a feeling of 'yeah!'"

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
UN secretary general Kofi Annan's organisation has enrolled Watson

When he performs at the Kodak theatre, Watson will face a star-studded audience which will also include several representatives from the United Nations.

On Wednesday, at a reception in Beverly Hills, he was formally named as a peace and goodwill ambassador for the international organisation.

"It's basically to raise the profile of the United Nations and get the message across of world peace and of exactly what's going on - the struggles in the third world countries," says Watson.

The role will involve travelling the world to help educate young people about topics such as safe sex and contraception.

"We're also doing a lot for the land mine fund so it is something that I really do want to get a hands-on approach to," he says. "I've told them that I'm available for pretty much anything they would like."

Watson's role will also involve performing concerts in aid of the United Nations. He says he feels very honoured to be asked to contribute.

"I've only been involved in the music business at this level now for practically a year - to be already receiving accolades at this level is very exciting and very humbling."

Critics

Watson also sees himself as something of an ambassador for classical music. His abilities have been questioned by some respected opera critics such as the Sunday Telegraph's Michael Kennedy.

He said: "He is an untrained singer and personally I would not rate him at all. People like the story of the chap from nowhere who makes it but I suspect he has a very short career prospect."

Russell Watson
Watson: Criticism, but two Brits

Classical music buff David Mellor also slated Watson's album. He said: "He tries to live up to his record company's hype that he is 'the country's new singing phenomenon' but, sadly, he fails."

Watson refuses to be phased by the criticism. He says: "If the stuffed shirts and the snobs want to take pot shots at me - then fine.

"Just go and have a look at the results, the people who listen to my music, the people that I get the feedback from, they are the people that matter to me - not somebody like David Mellor who writes a stuffy, snobby article. It's silly schoolgirl stuff - it's rubbish."

He added that in the United States he had encountered no resistance from the classical music fraternity.

Movies

While Watson's star is still rising in the music world, he admits to having half an eye on Hollywood. Before leaving Los Angeles, he will perform at a Dreamworks studio event to be attended by Steven Spielberg.

Steven Spielberg
Spielberg: Welcome to make a film offer

He says: "It's funny, isn't it? Actors want to sing and singers want to act and sure, if Steven pops over to the table and says, 'Russell, my boy, I want you to appear in my next film,' I probably wouldn't turn him down."

When he returns to the Britain next week, Watson embarks on a busy schedule of high profile appearances.

He will switch on the Christmas lights in London's Regent Street next Thursday and is also on the bill for the next Royal Variety Show.

"In my opinion that rubber stamps you as a celebrity in the UK," he says.

See also:

01 Jun 01 | Music
Triumph of the tough tenor
20 Sep 01 | Film
Oscars move threatened
13 Sep 01 | Film
Hollywood 'changed forever'
20 Mar 00 | UK
The UN's goodwill hunters
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