Those suffering through Susan Boyle withdrawal can take heart — another British underdog is crossing the pond and winning Americans over with a heartwarming backstory and huge vocal pipes.
Danyl Johnson, a 27-year-old schoolteacher from Reading, England, floored judges in the opening round of the English TV talent show “The X Factor,” the Mother Country’s follow-up to “Pop Idol,” the show that spawned “American Idol.”
In a clip shown on TODAY Tuesday, Johnson took to the stage unassumingly, but soon had judges and audience eating out of his hand as he delivered a powerhouse version of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Delivering the song in a voice that sounded like a clearer version of Joe Cocker’s classic take, Johnson dipped and twirled, took to the air like an Olympic high jumper, and played to the judges for all he was worth.
His opening performance on “The X Factor” made notorious curmudgeon Simon Cowell, who not only judges on but co-produces the show, take the almost unheard-of step — for him — of giving Johnson a standing ovation.
“I’ve been doing this for how many years?” Cowell told Johnson. “Danyl, that was single-handedly the best first audition I’ve ever heard.”
Now, just as Susan Boyle’s ugly duckling-to-swan act on “Britain’s Got Talent” took America by storm last spring, Johnson seems poised to follow suit. His Aug. 22 performance has already amassed some 1 million hits on YouTube.
Failure before success
Johnson at first seems a sea apart from Boyle — where she was a frumpy, shy, retiring type before she opened her mouth and presented a voice from the heavens, Johnson is outgoing, undeniably handsome and a poised performer.
But Johnson still has his own hard-luck story. He currently works at three different stage schools in England, teaching young students drama and dance, but has whiffed in his own attempts at stardom. He was a member of the boy band Street Level until 2006, which failed to reach Backstreet Boys-like heights, and he actually auditioned for “The X Factor” that same year — only to be sent home before even getting a chance to show his stuff to the judges.
While Cowell gave Johnson what he called “an almighty yes” in advancing to the next “X Factor” round, the British press is already declaring Johnson the televised contest’s eventual winner. London’s Daily Express writer Elisa Roche said of Johnson: “He can dance, he can sing. He’s handsome. He’s got the likability factor. He’s got the whole package.”
Veteran British music scribe Rick Sky also predicted a sky’s-the-limit future for Johnson, though he sees the singer as the polar opposite of fan-favorite Boyle.
“She overcame a lot of personal issues, and people love that,” Sky said. “[Johnson] is a much more robust and a much more confident person.”
Example to students
While Johnson is reveling in his first extended stay in the spotlight, he might not want to count his “X Factor” chickens before they hatch. Amid all the hoopla that surrounded Boyle, some forget she actually lost out to a dance troupe called Diversity on the “Britain’s Got Talent” finale last May.
Johnson says his awe-inspiring debut on “The X Factor” is more than just an ego boost for him — he’s even more proud to show his aspiring-entertainer students, who range in age from 4 to 17, that they can reach for the stars and succeed.
TODAY’s Ann Curry and Matt Lauer marveled at Johnson’s story and performance on Tuesday’s program. Lauer said he was wowed by Johnson’s seemingly veteran command of the stage.
“He’s got great range, but he’s also got this incredible presence,” Lauer said. “It’s just extraordinary how he captivated the audience and these judges.”
Curry marveled at the thought of Johnson’s students tuning in and watching their teacher turn heads. “I mean, how exciting is it to watch your teacher go through this?” she said. “His students must be going crazy.”
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