The Irish Independent Online - 19, December, 1999

Singing his way to the top
By Ciara Dwyer
Below is most of this interview

Ciara Dwyer says a bit of luck and a lot of hard work have helped Anthony Kearns on the road to success with the Irish Tenors

ANTHONY Kearns tells how his life has changed. It began in September 1998.

Anthony starred in a show at the RDS the Irish Tenors. It was a resounding success. Since that night the three tenors John McDermott, Ronan Tynan and Anthony have toured the States, sung in Madison Square Garden and have barely had time to take a breath.

The CD and video of the show were big sellers. And for Christmas, they have another CD out Home for Christmas.

The following day, Anthony is jetting off to New York for more promotions.

``'Tis a far cry from Kiltealy,'' he says. At 28, it would appear that Anthony Kearns is flying high. But he is quick to point out that his road to success was a long, hard slog.

Film-makers couldn't find a sweeter story if they tried. Anthony's tale has all the ingredients: small-town country boy who knows that he was born to sing; dreams of a singing career; years of sensible jobs; talent contests; Tops of the Towns Anthony did the lot. And then, when he ditched the day job, it wasn't all plain sailing. Making your dream a reality can be a rough ride.

``I remember living in Cardiff. I was studying singing at the time. St Vincent de Paul came and gave me a bag of food. And I can tell you that I was very glad for it.''

Kearns has had many a poor day. And he is proud to admit it. It makes him what he is today, he says. ``Hard work does nobody any harm. You respect money when you get it.''

Before we get on to the success story, I want to know where his interest in music came from.

``I was involved in traditional Irish music, then I got involved in sean-nós singing. All the family played music as well. I played the accordion. I picked it up by ear. And when I was in school, I played the trombone in the orchestra.''

Although Anthony was in the school orchestra ``wrestling with a trombone'' he wanted to be on the other side of the stage. ``I could see the orchestra. I wanted to sing with it. Gearóid Grant gave me that opportunity and that was my start.''

Soon Anthony was singled out for school Masses. He became the resident singer. Many starring roles in school musicals followed; Godspell, Fiddler on the Roof and Oklahoma.

``That was my opportunity to show off,'' he admits. ``A showcase and there would be the school orchestra. That was my real taste of it. And I loved it.''

From the age of 10, Anthony knew that he wanted to be a singer. But finding the right direction wasn't easy.

``I used to sing in the house at home. I used to imitate all different singers, country and western singers, even Elvis Presley. I tried all different styles of singing. I tried the lot. I got interested in shows like Oliver. I craved to be on the stage. But coming from a rural area nobody gives you direction in that field.

``The attitude tends to be get a good education and a job. The singing will be your evening thing. But to me, it wasn't. It was my life and soul.''

To start with, Anthony took the sensible route. He studied hotel management and catering at Cathal Brugha Street. Then he worked in the Grant Hotel in Wicklow as a trainee manager. ``I was working 70 hours a week for £45. It was good grafting. A bit of hard work doesn't do anyone any harm.''

THE day job didn't distract Anthony from his singing ambitions. In his spare time, he entered every talent contest he could find. He'd sing Unchained Melody in karaoke competitions. And for the talent shows, he'd do Garth Brooks.

``I dressed up in all the gear, the red and black shirts, the chokers, the hat and the boots.''

When he worked in the hotel, he became known as the singing barman. At weddings, the bands would ask Anthony to get up and do a few songs. He would, and then repair back to the bedlam behind the bar.

After a while, the talent shows no longer held the same challenge. He was becoming accustomed to winning. He needed to move on. That chance arose with a competition on Gay Byrne's radio show. The new £10 note was being launched and in conjunction with that there was a competition Search for a Tenor.

The morning Anthony heard about the competition, he was working in a telecommunications office in Dun Laoghaire. ``I phoned up and sang down the phone. All the others in the office were breaking their hearts laughing. I sang Danny Boy.''

The day of the final Anthony hitched up from Arklow at six in the morning. He was to be at North Earl Street with Joe Duffy at nine o'clock. He sang, and won.

``The following Friday I was on The Late Late. I was like a superstar. I was thrilled.''

Veronica Dunne saw Anthony. ``She said I want you to come to me. So I did. She was the person I was looking for, someone who would help me. She can be a hard woman. She'd never let you know how good you are. I remember her saying `If you're going to take this seriously, you're going to have to give up your job,' I did.'' As Anthony talks about Ronnie (as she is known), it is clear that he has nothing but admiration for her. She was the making of him. He is not going to forget that.

``I stayed with Ronnie for a couple of months, until I found my feet. She didn't care. Whatever it took. Because she was showing such an interest, I was interested. At last, I had found someone who was interested in me.''

`SHE used to say `Come on, luvvie, we're both Leo's. You're a stubborn fellow.' She saw the fire in me and I saw it in her. We'd argue like mad but we'd get on great.

``She's the most generous woman I ever met. She'd give you money, she'd feed you to the gills. She'd no time for wasters. When I lived with her, she'd be working away. She'd throw me the keys. `Right, luvvie, I'm going to be working till nine. There's something in the fridge, feed the dog and the alarm is ....' It was gas.''

Ronnie Dunne may have given Anthony the crucial training that he needed, and still does, but he admits that he has always had a neck. Take, for example, the time he got to sing in Croke Park. The lad knows how to sell himself.

Wexford were playing Offaly in Croke Park in the 1996 hurling semi-finals. Wexford won. After the match, Anthony managed to get into the room upstairs.

``There was great excitement. I lashed out a song and someone said `You should be singing in Croke Park.' The following morning, I was on the phone. They didn't have anyone organised for the finals. I auditioned.''

Anthony sang before a crowd of 70,000 people in Croke Park for the All-Ireland final. ``You never ask, you never get,'' he says cheekily.

Since the Irish Tenors' show, Anthony's life has changed dramatically. Now he can easily afford to work with the singing teachers he admires.

But success hasn't gone to Anthony's head. He appreciates it.

``For too long I had been waiting for this opportunity. I wasn't going to blow it.''

You can be sure of one thing. He won't. Anthony Kearns has arrived and is here to stay.