Page last updated at 07:48 GMT, Thursday, 3 July 2008 08:48 UK

Talking Shop: Russell Watson

Handbag-wielding housewives performing Britney Spears form just one of the choirs singer Russell Watson will take on in new TV talent show Last Choir Standing.

The 41-year old will join actress and singer Sharon D Clarke and choral conductor Suzi Digby as a judge on the BBC One show, hosted by Nick Knowles and Myleene Klass.

It will be Watson's first high-profile TV job since he underwent surgery for a life-threatening brain tumour in October last year.

He talks to the BBC about losing his hair, his long road to recovery, and what it is like to be back in the limelight.


Tell me about Last Choir Standing.

It's different from a lot of the other reality TV talent shows around. There is an incredibly high standard of musicianship. Some of the choirs we have seen - especially the gospel choirs - have been outrageously good.

Russell Watson
Russell Watson's debut album entitled The Voice was released in May 2001

In fact, so much so, that it has been difficult to whittle down the finalists because the standard has been so high and so consistent throughout. It's been very difficult for the judges.

With a lot of reality TV shows you get the car crash people turning up who you know are not going to get through, but there haven't been any acts like that. A lot of these choirs are very, very good.

What kind of choirs can we expect to see?

There's gospel, a lot of community choirs, ladies choirs, Welsh choirs, one who called themselves an inspirational choir, although I have to admit, they weren't very inspirational!

What do you look for in a choir?

I am looking for character. Obviously I'm looking for technical ability, but I also want to know that people are feeling the music and getting the sensibility of the music over.

With all due respect, most people can sing, but it's getting the sensibility and the passion of the song over.

You can hear two separate choirs, both of a similar ability, singing the same song, but somehow one of them is doing something that makes you go 'wow' - that's what I'm looking for.

We've got The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent, I'd Do Anything, and now Last Choir Standing. Is the public not fed up with all of these talent shows?

Millions of people tuned in to Britain's Got Talent, so clearly people are not sick of them. I think inevitably there will be a saturation point, but at the moment people seem to be embracing them more and more.

What can the winning choir expect to get out of it?

I would hope that the winning choir could potentially get a record deal out of it.

ACM Gospel Choir
The show features a wide range of choirs from across the UK

For me, the downside of these reality shows so far has been that the winners have not been able to maintain longevity within the industry.

I think that is very sad because it must be incredibly difficult when that person - who has achieved success, been in the spotlight, put on a pedestal, given a record deal on a platter - can't even get arrested 12 months later!

Have your recent health problems influenced what kind of judge you are?

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Russell Watson talks about how his illness affected his family

I think my recent health scare has influenced what kind of person I am, never mind judge. An experience like that - where you are on the cusp of death, or at least you believe you are - does that.

I was rushed in with four haemorrhage points, a tumour the size of a tennis ball, and a swelling in my head that affected my vision to the point of blindness.

All I could think about was my family and my friends and my children. When you have been through an experience like that it affects your outlook and your perception of life.

I gave one of my first concerts since being sick in Tokyo last month and I remember walking out onto stage and feeling apprehensive about it. I was thinking "am I going to be OK?" Then something flipped and I just thought "you know, I could have been dead eight months ago, lets just out and have a good time". And I did.

Does this mean we're not going to see the classical music world's answer to Simon Cowell?

No! I think there is a way of letting people down and I don't think you have to be too heavy-handed or too harsh about it.

It's been a battle, but I set myself goals in life and I meet each battle head on. So far so good.
Russell Watson

If there is anyone I don't think is particularly good then I will point out their good elements, bad elements and tell them that unfortunately they're not good enough to compete.

But I don't like the "get out you're the worst thing I've ever heard" route.

So more of a Mr Reasonable than a Mr Nasty? What about the other judges?

Suzi is a tough nut, but again not in an unpleasant way. It's more informed criticism. She is at the top of her game and knows music inside out. When she gives criticism you can see people really taking it on board.

What was it like coming back from your illness and into such a high-profile role?

It was a morale boost, actually. I felt like I needed to get out of the house and effectively move away from the sick bed.

Last Choir Standing
The three judges join Nick Knowles and Myleene Klass on the BBC One show

I've been training hard to get fit because I was very ill during the radiotherapy. I was on steroids and I lost my hair and put a load of weight on.

The first thing I wanted to do was lose two stone, which I did through a lot of hard work, and wait for my hair to grow back because I looked like Friar Tuck for a while! It's not a great look but it amused my kids.

It's been a battle, but I set myself goals in life and I meet each battle head on. So far so good.

The programme is called Last Choir Standing. If you and co-host Nick Knowles has a fight, who would be the last one standing?

Well I've boxed since I was eight or nine, it's one of my favourite past-times, and while I'm not sure about Nick, I'm pretty handy in the old boxing ring. Let's just say I can look after myself, (adopts a hammy Northern accent) I'm a Salford lad, I've had to, love.

Last Choir Standing starts on BBC One on Saturday at 1945 BST. Russell Watson was talking to BBC News entertainment reporter Caroline Briggs.


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