[…] Perhaps his biggest gift to the music world was when he teamed up
with Spanish stars Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras at the 1990 soccer
World Cup and introduced operatic classics to an estimated 800 million
television viewers round the globe.
Sales of opera albums shot up after the gala concert in Rome's Baths
of Caracalla and since then Puccini's aria "Nessun Dorma" from his
opera "Turandot" has been heavily associated with Pavarotti and soccer. […]
[…] "This is insane," Rubin said enthusiastically as the clip began. In
the video, an ordinary-looking middle-aged man waited nervously
backstage. When he faced the judges, he told them he worked at a
mobile-phone store and wanted to sing opera. The studio audience looked
annoyed — they clearly wanted to hear a pop song — and the judges were
cold and dismissive. No one expected anything remarkable from this
dull-looking, forgettable guy.
But then Paul Potts sang —
"Nessun dorma" from "Turandot." He had an improbably beautiful voice.
"Where does that come from?" Rubin said as he watched. Tears were
rolling down his cheeks. "I can't look at this without crying," he
said. "His voice is so beautiful." When Potts finished his song, Cowell
said, "I thought you were absolutely fantastic." The studio audience
roared with approval, and Potts beamed.
"It's August now — that
show was eight weeks ago," Rubin said. "In England, Paul Potts is
already gigantic, but we are going to launch him in America. This just
blew my mind."
No one could have predicted that one of the first
new Columbia artists to excite Rick Rubin would have been a would-be
opera singer from a televised talent contest. "I certainly didn't
expect his response to be so positive," said Steve Barnett, who
originally brought Paul Potts to Rubin's attention. "I was surprised
and pleased that he wanted to jump on it."
Rubin has an immediate
plan for Potts — he wants to test the powers of his "word of mouth"
department. "I want to see if we can create interest without there
being a record to buy," he said. "I've told our whole staff to send it
to everyone, to tell everyone, to mention it everywhere. I want to get
Paul Potts out to the world." Rubin stopped for a moment. "Although, if
someone tells you how great this is, it's not as moving. It's the
element of surprise that makes you interested in Paul Potts: he looks
so bland, and then he sings so well. If you expect him to be great,
will the clip still be great?"
The question cannot be answered. A
word-of-mouth campaign, like so many possible remedies for the ills of
the record business, feels forced. "I just don't know how else people
will see Paul Potts," Rubin said. "And I'm really glad I saw him." He
paused and looked out at the surf. "I know this sounds hard to believe,
but I never had any expectations of success," he said finally. "I knew
what I liked, and I didn't really care if anyone else liked it. I still
never assume that anyone will like anything. But I can't imagine that
they won't, either." […]