As the countdown begins for the U.S. premiere of "The X Factor" (Sept. 21), an early U.K. winner shows he's still got the chops.
Will Young found fame as the 2002 winner of "Pop Idol," the pioneering Simon Fuller-created British TV singing contest that preceded "American Idol." A decade later, his career is still burning brightly. "Echoes," the London-based singer's fifth studio set, debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. albums chart.
The dance-flavored album, produced by Richard X (M.I.A., Kelis, Goldfrapp), scored first-week sales of 66,000, according to the Official Chart Co. (OCC). Having previously claimed chart success with a succession of downtempo pop ballads, Young says making a record utilizing electronic rhythms and beats is the culmination of a long-held dream.
"It's an album that I've wanted to do for about five years, and I've been waiting like a tiger, ready to pounce," jokes the 32-year-old singer, who's signed to RCA Label Group and managed by Fuller's XIX Entertainment. "You have to evolve as a pop artist. It's like being a magician: If you show all your best hands at the beginning, you have nothing left to reveal."
Young adds that he sought inspiration for "Echoes" from fellow U.K. dance-pop acts Pet Shop Boys and Everything but the Girl. "I wanted to hark back to that type of sound with strong bass but also very melodic," he says, noting that he recruited Richard X to the production chair by threatening to "sort him" if he didn't sign up. "He was so terrified that he agreed to do it," Young says with a laugh.
The artist's highest-selling U.K. album is 2003's "Friday's Child," which has moved 1.7 million units, according to the OCC. His total record sales stand at 4.5 million, according to RCA; combined singles sales are at 3.6 million.
"I've been really lucky in that I have a manager, Simon Fuller, who has really looked after me," the Sony/ATV-published artist says. "Every decision is based on longevity, not instant fame or riches."
In return, Young has consistently matured as an artist, says RCA senior product manager Poppy Stanton, who calls "Echoes" "the most cohesive and strongest body of work that Will has ever made." She credits support from AC-styled BBC Radio 2, which A-listed lead single "Jealousy" and placed the track in regular rotation.
A 60-minute prime-time TV special on British commercial network ITV1 titled "A Night With Will Young" was also "hugely important for second-week sales," Stanton says. Following the broadcast, which featured live performances of old and new material, Echoes dropped only two places to No. 3 on the U.K. chart. Another high-profile TV spot followed on Sept. 17 when Young performed "Echoes" track "Hearts on Fire" on ITV1's "The Jonathan Ross Show."
The next stage of the campaign commences Oct. 27 when Young starts a 23-date U.K. theater tour, booked by London-based Creative Artists Agency. First stop: Oasis Leisure Centre in Swindon, England. Additional international or stateside plans haven't yet been made, although Stanton is hopeful that, in light of its U.K. success, "Echoes" will receive a European rollout early next year.
Young's solitary U.S. success occurred in June 2010 when the single "Leave Right Now" hit No. 81 on the Billboard Hot 100. The chart action followed the artist's performance on the 2010 season finale of "American Idol."
"I really believe in this record," says Young, who's also exploring acting opportunities after a number of well-received appearances on several British TV dramas. "I want as many people as possible to hear it."