Symphony No.4 in F minor Opus 36 (2) Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky
Charlotte’s grown up and Katherine’s moving on… So say hello to Faryl Smith, a singer who’s wowed millions on TV, has a new CD just out – and she’s only 13.
While the average 13 year-old might be preoccupied with Facebook and PlayStation 3, Faryl Smith is calmly building herself a musical career. Ever since she reached the final of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent, where she sang Ave Maria and was hailed by Simon Cowell as “by far the most talented youngster I’ve ever heard”, an air of predestination has surrounded Faryl’s future.
Record label Universal Classics and Jazz arrived on her doorstep brandishing a contract and soon she was sequestered at Air Studios in Hampstead working on her debut album. In January, she was launched to the national media with a champagne showcase at London’s Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Now it’s time for her album to hit the high street and make its way in the world. So is her life completely different now?
“Nothing has really changed much,” shrugs Faryl, giving her distinctive toothy smile.
“I’m just going to a lot more shows and seeing a lot more famous people now. I went to the South Bank Show awards and I was talking to Bryn Terfel and Lesley Garrett. Then we went to the party for the Thriller musical and I met Lulu. Then at my showcase Katherine Jenkins rang from South Korea to say good luck, and she passed the phone over so I could talk to Plácido Domingo. He said, ‘I look forward to meeting you one day and singing with you”’ It was amazing!”
But if circumstances have changed, Faryl herself is trying not to. She’s still going to school in her home town of Kettering and tries to spend as much time as she can with family and friends. When we meet at Classic FM’s photo-shoot in the VIP lounge of The O2 Arena she’s accompanied by her father Tony and her brother Shea. The only splash of rain to have fallen on her parade is that time pressures have forced her to give up playing with her all-girl football team.
“She’s just keeping it simple and enjoying it,” says her father, ferrying tea and pastries to his daughter. “I think you have to change a bit because you have to adapt to the environment, but she’ll go home later and she’ll just be Faryl. She’ll ring her mates and go to school tomorrow, but she won’t tell a soul what she’s been doing. She won’t tell the world like I do.”
It’s Faryl’s air of calm that most impresses onlookers. At her London showcase, faced with a room full of journalists, TV executives and most of the staff of UCJ, she floated serenely to the microphone, talked to the crowd as if she knew each one of them personally, and then launched confidently into River of Light (Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube Waltz with newly added lyrics).
“People said that I looked in control, but I was very nervous,’ she admits. “Halfway through one of the songs I thought, ‘All these people are here for me’, and that was weird. But everyone seemed to enjoy it.”
She has grown accustomed to hearing gasps of incredulity when she talks about her age. “Nobody can believe how young I am; they all say I look and act mature. I think its because I’m the youngest in my family, so I’m always with older people.”
There seems to be no danger of Faryl slipping into the wild-child excesses that nearly sank Charlotte Church’s career after she burst into the limelight aged 11. Still, Faryl thinks Church has been unfairly maligned.
“People say, ‘You don’t want to be like Charlotte Church’, but everything’s going fine for her now, with her own show and her two kids. I don’t see what the big deal is. I’d really like to talk to her and see how she got through it when she was younger. I’d like to talk to Hayley Westenra too, because she started very young. It’s still unusual for a young girl to be singing classical, and I’d like people of my age to appreciate this style of music a bit more.”
Faryl’s voice enhances the impression that she’s old beyond her years. It isn’t breathy and child-like, but firm and assured. “I wouldn’t say I’m a soprano, I’m more of a mezzo. I think I’d like to stay a mezzo, because there are already lots of sopranos around.”
The starriest of those mezzos is Katherine Jenkins, who has been lending sisterly support to Faryl since before she took part in Britain’s Got Talent. Katherine was alerted to Faryl’s abilities after she’d won a prize at the Llangollen Eisteddfod in 2006, after which she invited Faryl and her parents backstage to meet her at a concert in Birmingham.
“I gave her advice about singing as much as she could,” says Katherine. “Entering competitions is really good experience and makes you a better performer. You realise it’s not always about winning and it toughens you up a little bit.”
Katherine was on tour in Japan when Britain’s Got Talent was screened. Her mother called her to ask if she’d heard about the girl who was taking the competition by storm.
“My mother’s my severest critic, so for her to be impressed by a voice really takes something,” says Katherine. “She said, ‘This girl Faryl has really got something that touches you in her voice’, and I have to agree with her. It’s a quality that you can’t teach.”
So Katherine decided she would throw her support behind the fledgling singer. “I got in touch with the family and offered to help in any way I could. She’s a brilliant girl and she’s got an amazing personality. She’s now being managed by Bandana Management, who look after me, and I’m involved in mentoring her. I give her advice on everything from interviews to repertoire. I really miss the teaching I used to do, and I’m really enjoying being able to pass on everything I’ve learned.”
Subsequently Faryl has made guest appearances on stage with Katherine. “She came to my Birmingham concert,” Katherine recalls, “and there were about 7000 people there. We sang a duet together and I said, ‘I’m going to leave you with Faryl now.’ The first thing she said to the audience was ‘You alright?’ in her little Brummie accent, and I just thought it was hysterical. When I was 13 I’d have been petrified, but Faryl’s a real star. She takes everything in her stride.”
Faryl repays the compliment. “I’ve always looked up to Katherine and she’s been a great inspiration,” she says. “To be a success you have to be a good singer and you have to have the look and be able to connect with the audience, and she’s got all that.”
Before Faryl entertained dreams of becoming a star soloist, she gathered valuable experience from singing in her local church choir and Kettering’s Masquerade Youth Choir.
“I still sing with the Masquerade Choir,” she points out. “If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be singing. They were the ones who got me up to sing solo, and if they hadn’t I wouldn’t have known I could sing.”
The Masquerade’s conductor Barry Clark remembers the first time he heard Faryl sing, at the choir’s pre-Christmas Wassail Evening in 2004. The nine-year-old Faryl was then in the Junior Choir, but, as Clark recalls: “When Faryl started to sing Amazing Grace a hush fell on the audience, as this huge voice filled the room. It was followed by loud and prolonged applause.”
Kettering proved to be a propitious place for a young singer. The town celebrates the centenary of its own Eisteddfod in March, and Faryl won three awards in the event when she was 10. Then she went on to take first prize in the 10-15 age group at the Llangollen Eisteddfod, and last year, the Masquerade Choir were named Senior Children’s Choir Champions at Llangollen.
When it came to choosing the songs for her album, Faryl drew on material she had been singing either with the choir or in concerts, while the record company and acclaimed producer Jon Cohen threw their own ideas into the mix. Her Britain’s Got Talent showpiece, Ave Maria, was an automatic choice, and Faryl knew she wanted Somewhere (from West Side Story), Amazing Grace, Danny Boy, and Welsh hymn Calan Lan. The latter is a favourite of her great-grandmother, a singing star on Welsh radio in her youth.
Faryl admits she wasn’t too familiar with some tracks, such as John Denver’s Annie’s Song or Abba’s The Way Old Friends Do. The latter contained some lines that “weren’t really appropriate for a 13-year-old girl because they were about love and stuff’” as Faryl puts it. However, UCJ contacted songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and they agreed to make adjustments in the lyric. “We couldn’t believe they’d actually changed the song for me,” says Faryl grinning.
The album seems guaranteed to go sprinting up the charts, but Faryl is doing an excellent impression of staying cool and collected. ‘I’m not bothered,’ she says. ‘I just enjoy singing. That’s what I do.’
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN…
■ May 10 2008 TV viewers are amazed by Faryl’s performance of Ave Maria on Britain’s Got Talent. So are the judges. Simon Cowell declares it, “the best audition I’ve heard this year.” Faryl, 12, remains unfazed. “It was filmed back in February and I’ve just got on with normal things since then,: she says.
■ May 12 Faryl glimpses super-stardom as she appears on GMTV. “A few people have asked me, ‘Are you that opera singer off the TV?’”
■ May 29 It’s semi-final number four, and the winner is… Faryl Smith! She sings Sarah McLachlan’s Angel.
■ May 30 Faryl is tipped as 4/6 favourite to win Britain’s Got Talent by bookies William Hill. “We are confident that we have seen the winner,” says spokesman Rupert Adams.
■ May 31 Oh no! The series winner is 14-year-old breakdancer George Sampson, with Faryl finishing in seventh. Many viewers are disgusted that Faryl didn’t win, suspecting “a fix”.
■ December Faryl has the last laugh when Universal Classics And Jazz sign her to a deal worth a reported £2.3m. Faryl remains calm: “People think when you sign a contract you’re automatically given a barrel of money, but that’s not how it happens. I just let my mum and dad get on with it.”
HEAR HER ON…
Faryl Smith (mezzo-soprano) Can she be just 13? Faryl sings her way sweetly and sensitively through a selection of undemanding favourites including Amazing Grace, ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Somewhere’. One to watch.
UCJ 179 3546