Posted August 6, 2012 by whopperjaw in Tunes

Sébastien Izambard of Il Divo dishes on shoes and singing with Streisand

We recently interviewed Sébastien Izambard, the successful French pop artist who left his solo career behind to join three other singers in Il Divo, a multi-national operatic classical crossover group assembled by curmudgeonly American Idol/X Factor judge Simon Cowell, for an weekly paper. Since we couldn’t print the entire interview there, we figured we do it here. He phoned in from a tour stop in Canada.

You grew up in a particularly poor family. Talk about that experience and how it’s influenced you?
It’s not so much being poor that helped me get to where I wanted to go. It’s more so that music was a way to express myself because I was very introverted. The fact that I didn’t have much money helped me more so to be careful and enjoy my money when I had it. It helped me learn to value things. My kids have to make pocket money if they want to buy stuff. We want them to see that nothing is given in life and you have to work hard for it.

What first drew you to music?
I don’t know. I just spent hours and hours on the piano. It was a mode of expression and I loved the sound of it when I was six. Straight away, I wanted to compose songs, and I didn’t want to do things that others would do. I never thought I would do it as a work until I was 18. I wanted to be pilot. I started to fly quite a lot and I had a bad experience with flying. I’d prefer to keep that secret.

I’ve read that you’re a Jeff Buckley fan. Talk about his influence on you?
Oh, my God. He was my inspiration. He has an exceptional sound of his voice and he is a complete artist. I went to see Prince and he did kind of the same thing to me. He could play guitar and piano and dance and sing. There aren’t a lot of artists like that. He has that special thing. I just love people who have stories and have something to say. We have three children and every time a child has a birthday, we buy a special gift. This year, for the one-year birthday of my son, I bought him a limited edition Jeff Buckley print.

You were a successful singer even before joining the group. What did Simon Cowell do to convince you to leave behind your solo career?
Well, it was just the music. The songs really convinced me. I was an artist from France and I wanted to sing in different languages. It was a challenge and I thought if it didn’t work, I could go back to what I was doing. It worked. I’m glad I took the challenge. We didn’t even know who Simon was. That’s not why we wanted to sign the deal.

He seems like he could be rather nasty. Have you ever been on his shit-list?
No, I’ve never experienced that, but we don’t see him very often. He’s very trustful. I feel lucky in that sense. The tour is the four of us and he’s not involved. He knows the power we have in our music.

You toured with Barbra Streisand in 2006. Did you get to call her “Babs”?
Well, we were asked to perform with her on stage. I thought it was a joke at first. Barbra Streisand? Can it get any better? We started to sing with Celine Dion and Toni Braxton. I was like, “Are you kidding?” It was absolutely amazing. Every night she does something different. The way she delivers and plays with the audience, she is in the same range as Frank Sinatra. She’s an iconic person.

Creative Director Brian Burke, who is famous for the Cirque du Soleil-like Vegas show La Reve, has designed your current tour. Does this mean you will be doing trapeze tricks and diving into pools of water?
Ha! We don’t do that. Oh God. He’s amazing. We needed someone who could simplify our tour. We needed something Las Vegas-stylish. It was just the four of us and the orchestra. We didn’t want anything to distract the audience. We have three screens and no special effects. I think people really like it. We have a 40-piece orchestra. It’s more relaxed. People get to know our personality more and we joke around. That’s the most important thing, to make sure people have a special time.

Has Chris Isaak heard your version of “Wicked Game”?
Yeah, it’s funny enough, I read an article in Canada and he’s a few days behind us touring in Canada. He said how much he loved our version, in part because his mother is Italian and it’s sung in Italian. That was so nice to read. It’s a bit scary because you never know how someone will react.

I like your version of the Roy Orbison track “Crying” but I had trouble understanding the words. Couldn’t you just have sung it in English?
Um, yeah, I guess so. We tried it, and it sounded cheesy. It sounded a bit like Elvis Presley, but bad Elvis Presley.

I know you’re married but did you entertain any El Divo groupies in the early days?
Yeah, I used to. They all left me now for the two other guys. I find them respectful and very supportive of my family. I’ve made it clear that family is important to me. I’m really happy that everything worked out well. And I have two other colleagues who can meet the ladies.

I read that someone once stole your shoe while you were performing. Is that true?
Damn right. We were in Switzerland and I was sitting on the edge of the stage. A fan grabbed my leg and she left with my shoe in two seconds and disappeared. I was like, “Are you kidding?” I said, “You better bring that shoe back because it’s stinky.” I ended up selling my one shoe for something like $10,000, and I gave the money to a charity that helps kids. So as a matter of fact that experience helped others.

Tour Dates

Mon, Aug 6 (Pittsburgh, PA – Heinz Hall)

Tues, Aug 7 (London, ON – John Labatt Centre)

Thurs, Aug 9 (Washington DC – Wolftrap)

Fri, Aug 10 (Atlantic City, NJ – Borgata)

Sun, Aug 12 (Alpharetta, GA – Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre)

Tues, Aug 14 (Cleveland, OH – State Theatre at Playhouse Square)

Wed, Aug 15 (Saint Louis MO- Peabody Opera House)

Thurs, Aug 16 (Kansas City, MO – Starlight Theatre)

Sun, Aug 19 (Denver, CO – Wells Fargo Center)


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