From the moment French broadcaster France 3 announced that Amaury Vassili had been selected for Eurovision 2011, Eurovision fans and bookies have been shouting “Ooo la la!” Amaury instantly became the bookies’ favorite, and he’s increasingly seen at or near the top of online voting polls. The French opera star recently spoke with Wiwi about his entry “Sognu,” his stage act in Düsseldorf, and what it’ll be like to sing opera at a contest dominated by pop starlets.

At 21, you’re the world’s youngest professional tenor. When and why did you go pro?
I turned pro at the age of 16. I studied music during all my childhood. But to become a professional lyrical singer really took me at that age. Since then I didn’t stop. And as long as chance will be on my side, I won’t stop. It’s a great feeling to think that you can live out of performing and singing.

When did you realize that you could sing?
I have no specific classical formation, only generalist music teaching. Until the age of 15 I didn’t really know I could be a professional tenor. And then I bought a CD from Florent Pagny, a French pop singer that I’m really fond of and who released a CD of classical and opera songs, and I started working and working as I knew that I wanted to become a professional.

Why have you chosen to sing in Corsican at Eurovision?
First of all, because of its similarities with Italian, which is, to me, the most appropriate language to sing in my musical genre. Second of all, because I wanted to show Europe the cultural richness of France through this “regional language.”

For those of us who don’t speak Corsican, can you please explain the meaning of “Sognu”?
Well, as a romantic song, “Sognu” (memories in Corsican) tells the story of a man who thinks about the loss of his loved one. This feeling you experience when your mind can’t focus on nothing else and when you seem to see your lost love on every corner. But it’s not a sad song.

A scene from Amaury's "Sognu" video

How does your official Eurovision preview video convey that message?
I always wanted my video clips to reflect as much as possible the feelings of my songs. This one really sticks to it, through the lightning and the directing. I think we managed to visually communicate the mood of the song.

 

Your video was one of the first preview videos released. When did you film it and how long did it take?
We shot the video clip during three days in the month of February. I think it took some 10 days more to edit it.

What was your reaction when you first head the song?
I was really excited and seduced. It’s really my style and both the writing and the music combine really well. This song was meant for me.

 

Sitting pretty: Amaury has been the bookies' favorite from the start

What will your stage show in Germany be like? Will you keep it simple like Patricia Kaas in 2009, or will you have lots of dancers like Jessy Matador in 2010?
It’s not a 100% sure so far, but I should be alone on stage. In that way, I might be even more able to express my emotions during the performance.

Eurovision is usually associated with pop music and dance music — not opera. Is that intimidating for you?
Not at all. Nevertheless, I know that’s very hard to compare many artists who perform in a lot of different musical genre. On what grounds do  you compare lyric-pop and dance music ?  But I’m not intimidated. I know my musical genre can be seen as rare or even risky for the Eurovision contest, but I definitely see it as an opportunity to make the difference.

Why do you think the bookies have responded so well to your song and made you the favorite?
Maybe because they like me! (Laughing) More seriously, I don’t really pay attention to what bookmakers say. I prefer to focus on the artistic side of the preparation in order to be fully ready for my performance on May 14. At the end it’s the public who decides, not the bookmakers.

In a 2010 interview you said that the concept of Eurovision was out of date. Have you had a change of heart? Why did you want to compete at Eurovision this year?
Well, my thoughts have been miswritten at that time. What I wanted to say is that at that time I was kind of tired of the “song contests” in general, the kind of TV-reality  shows that promise you to become a star in 6 weeks. I always had great excitement in watching Eurovision so to be participating to the 2011 is simply a fabulous honor.

An estimated 120 million people will be watching the Eurovision final. Is that the biggest audience you have ever performed for?
It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity if I can say so. It will be the biggest audience I’ve ever performed in front of. But I already have some experience with big audiences as I performed in front of 80,000 people in the Stade de France two years ago during a rugby game, and with Katherine Jenkins at the 02 Stadium in London. What an experience to had the privilege to perform with Katherine who is such an outstanding, charismatic and talented artist.

Your debut album Vincero went double platinum after its worldwide release. Were you surprised by the positive international reaction?
Yes, I was surprised and flattered. It’s always a satisfaction when you manage to touch people from abroad, especially for a French artist. I always wanted to make people from all around the world discover my music.

You’ve described your sound as “lyrical pop.” What does that mean?
I’d say it’s the combination of classical singing techniques and pop influences. This means that you can enlarge the spectrum of the song that are usually reserved to “lyrical singers.” It’s a crossover that frees me from the rigidity that, in a certain way, defines opera music.

Did you watch Eurovision growing up? Do you have any favorite songs from contests?
I loved the Finnish band Lordi when they won. I was both amused and impressed that such an original band would win something like the ESC.

Have you listened to any of the other Eurovision 2011 contestants? Do you have any favorites?
I prefer to focus on my performance. I don’t really want to know who my contestants are. I think it would only bring me some unnecessary pressure on my shoulders. But what I know is that the competition is tough this year!

When will your next album come out? Can you tell us anything about it?
Actually, my second album is being reedited with the song  “Sognu “ as well as a few new songs. But I’m already working on my third album.

Finally, is there anything you want Europe to know about you or your song that they may not know?
That “Sognu” is a song for all Europeans wherever they come from, whoever they are. It’s a song that can touch the heart of everyone. And this is what is important to me.

(Listen to Amaury’s other songs here.)

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