- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 9, 2001

Russell Watson sounds like one of the Beatles when he talks. But the singing voice of the 28-year-old tenor from Manchester, England, resembles that of Luciano Pavarotti or Enrico Caruso, who are among his operatic heroes.
If Mr. Watsons star continues to rise the way it has in the past year — with CD sales home and abroad soaring — he may share Pavarotti stardom one day.
"The success hasn't really sunk in yet," Mr. Watson says, during a recent telephone interview from his home.
The Englishman has been chosen to sing "God Bless America" at "An American Celebration at Fords Theatre" at 7 tomorrow night. The event is a fund-raiser that dignitaries, including President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, are expected to attend.
The gala will be aired as a prime-time, one-hour special on ABC-TV at a later date.
Other entertainers are comedian Jeff Foxworthy, R&B; singer Mya, the country-pop group Shedaisy, performance artist Ronn Lucas, Bill Conti and his 32-piece orchestra and 13-year-old country singer Billy Gilman, whose album "One Voice" earned him a Grammy nomination.
Actor James Whitmore will receive the Lincoln Medal for extraordinary dedication to Fords. Mr. Whitmore premiered his "Will Rogers U.S.A." at the theater in 1970 and after eight additional runs retired the one-man show there last year. He also presented a number of other productions at Fords such as "Give em Hell Harry."
Not to be confused with Mr. Gilmans album, Mr. Watsons latest effort, "The Voice," came out last year and sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies in England and the United States.
He also won two Brit Awards, which he says are Englands version of musical Oscars.
Aside from the recognition, the monetary return has propelled Mr. Watson to a life of luxuries he could barely dream of a few years ago. He lives in an 18th-century cottage that once was the boathouse of Queen Victoria and drives a TVR British sports car and a Lexus sport utility vehicle.
A few years ago he was working on a conveyor-belt line. He describes his achievements in school as "getting As in clowning around."
In his spare time he pursued his passion for singing by performing at local halls and taking lessons to improve his skill. (He stays fit with kick boxing and tennis most days.)
"I would be a liar if I said I envisioned the success I have had," Mr. Watson says.
The singer says hes not content to perform only for the upper crust. "I want to give classical music back to the people, or rather, to give it to people for the first time," Mr. Watson says. One of his musical inspirations, the American tenor Mario Lanza, was seen as the "people's tenor," something Mr. Watson wants to emulate.
His album contains a mix of pop and classical music, but Mr. Watson sees himself primarily as a classical tenor. His favorite composers are Giacomo Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi.
"One of my ambitions was to sing with Pavarotti before he hangs up his vocal cords, so to speak," Mr. Watson says. "And I am doing that on July 17th in Hyde Park."
Also on his agenda is performing in front of Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in the fall and to a large secular audience at Carnegie Hall.
One thing he can look forward to is becoming a better singer. He is still young, and opera singers are not like gymnasts who reach their peak performance at the age of 15.
"We get better with age," Mr. Watson says. "Were like a fine wine — we mature with age."
The Fords celebration spans the weekend. A post-rehearsal reception, of which Congress is one for the hosts, will be held tonight at the Capitols Statuary Hall. A reception honoring the performers is set for tomorrow afternoon at the White House, and a supper after the show will be at the Organization of American States.

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