X-Factor Andy keeps feet on the ground

IF ANDY Abraham tried any harder to keep his feet on the ground, his ankles and toes would be buried under a mound of earth.The family man who won the hearts of viewers with his genuine personality and silky voice is enjoying life no end since runners-up spot in last year's X Factor competition swept him into the big-time.

IF ANDY Abraham tried any harder to keep his feet on the ground, his ankles and toes would be buried under a mound of earth.

The family man who won the hearts of viewers with his genuine personality and silky voice is enjoying life no end since runners-up spot in last year's X Factor competition swept him into the big-time. He displays the enthusiasm and glee of a child handed the keys to the sweetshop, but isn't getting carried away.

His excitement is tempered with the knowledge that something unexpected could come along and pop his bubble at any time. If that happened - and the chances are it won't - you can imagine him picking himself up, dusting himself down, and carrying on: grateful for the memories and working hard to bring the good times back again.

It has been one heck of a year. Losing out narrowly to X Factor rival Shayne Ward at the end of 2005 was, in truth, no setback. The following spring, Andy's debut album entered the UK chart at No 2, selling 176,689 copies in its first week and being beaten to the top spot only by fellow X Factor finalists Journey South.

The Impossible Dream - featuring songs such as Me and Mrs Jones, When A Man Loves A Woman, and Can't Take My Eyes Off You - has proved the twelfth-biggest-selling album of the year, with sales of more than 250,000.

A second album is out this month (November, 2006) and he's working with GMTV showbiz reporter Michael Underwood on a song they hope will become the Christmas number one. It's going to be interesting, since December Brings Me Back To You is likely to be going head to head with a festive offering from the winner this year's X Factor final.

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All in all, 12 months to remember.

“Yeah, completely different,” agrees Andy. “My world's been turned upside-down in an incredible way. I would never have expected myself, from one show, to be propelled into this kind of lifestyle. I love the lifestyle and everything, but I make sure I keep my feet on the ground.”

That was a major part of the appeal to X Factor voters: in his 40s and able to keep the hoohah in perspective, Andy was no self-obsessed wannabee with limited talent backing up their hollow dreams.

“Oh, yeah,” he laughs, “firmly rooted to real life. There won't be no botox in my forehead, mate!”

This year has brought lots of buzz; how has he, Denise and their children coped with the changes to life's routines? (It was his wife who faked his signature on The X Factor application form, as Andy was for a long time unsure about doing it.)

“It's been amazing for me. The first year is kind of my infancy year, isn't it, and I'm just kind of riding the waves at the moment. But I'm looking forward, as well, to writing some new material and there's more stuff in the pipeline that I'm going to be doing.

“I'm taking one step at a time: establish myself as a singer, first and foremost, and then after that I'll move on to being a singer/songwriter - contributing to good material, you know?”

Andy had been working as a dustman for nine months for a private company - collecting waste from restaurants and other premises, and driving the dustcart. He was settled and it gave him time to spend with the children, as well and do a bit of writing while he planned to go out and perform. “And then the X Factor came along. Everything's gone mad!”

He gave up the job the weekend before the X Factor moved into its live format as it edged towards a conclusion.

“My thoughts were just to give it everything I'd got. I didn't know if I was going to make a success of myself or the show, but I figured to myself 'Look, I'm here now. I'm part of the 12. Let's just give it everything. I don't know how long I'm going to be away for. I could be back withiin a week.' I just decided to give it everything I'd got.”

So quitting the job was a bit of a risk, then?

“Yeah. Yeah, it was. But, then again, I'm the type of person that, if I leave a job and go off and do something else, and it doesn't work out, I always say to myself that I'll get another job. I'll always be working; that's how I've always looked at things.”

Has showbusiness changed him as a person?

“You know what? Everything around me's changed, but I haven't. Not at all. With anything new, you've got to kind of adapt. I'm still a novice in the business - I'm still learning - and I don't plan on letting the business change me as a person, or how I think.”

You must need to be a strong character not to have your head turned, though, when people are whisking you here and there, and catering for your whims?

“Well, I'm quite happy with who I am. I've had 40 years to decide!” (Andy was born in 1964.) “I'm totally chilled out when it comes to stressful situations; I hope I can handle any new problem that occurs in the same way and not worry about it. We can only see.

“I'm not going to say I won't get annoyed if something is not right - because I'm only human; you know what I mean? - but I'm very relaxed about the whole situation.”

He hasn't splashed the cash willy-nilly, but popularity has brought its rewards.

“Well, coming from the show and the success I've had, the material things have changed a bit. We're going to be moving into a nicer house and I've got meself a car. You have to have something to show for all the work,” he smiles.

But we can tell he's not the kind of person to waste the hard-earned pennies.

“No, no, no. The taxman would remind me of that, anyway, so I'll make sure I'll keep him happy!”

The Abraham family lives in Enfield in north London, but will soon be moving “just down the road” to Southgate. His swish vehicle is no poseur's wagon, either, but a practical model: a Range Rover Sport. “It's good because it's a family car; the comfort of that type of car is great for the wife and the kids.”

Daughter Tara. 11, and son Jacob, nine, are as happy as dad with the way things have turned out.

“Sometimes, looking at me on TV and that they get all embarrassed, but they're absolutely over the moon.”

They're asked by schoolmates to bring back bits of paper so he can sign his autograph. “But they don't mind. They love the fact that people like me and like to hear me sing.”

Is it really true that his one-hour set at the Lydd Airshow in Kent, early last month, was the first time he'd been on stage for that length of time? (Irritating X Factor 2005 alumnus Chico was also singing.)

“Yeah, that was. Strangely enough, I wasn't sure if people were going to stick around, but they did! The place was packed out. It was absolutely brilliant.”

The day after, he performed at his first Bar Mitzvah - the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony for 13-year-olds.

By the time his 13-date tour begins on October 23 in Newcastle, Andy will have had about two weeks' rehearsal time. He reckons it will prove enough.

“There's a lot of songs I already know, and then there's the Motown section I'm going to be doing as well. There's a lot of classic songs there: a lot of nostalgic, reminiscence songs. Plus the new single with Michael Underwood. It's going to be fun - a fun night, definitely.”

Any butterflies doing aerobatics in his stomach?

“Erm, excitement collywobbles. I don't know . . . My own The Unforgettable Tour . . . it's just like 'Woah! OK. Right. Now it's time to get down to some business!'” He chuckles.

Has had he to construct a stage personality for the tour?

“I think when I'm on stage my whole persona is more to do with interaction with the crowd. That's how I build up my own persona. I don't have an alter ego or anything like that. It's just me; I just lay bare myself and talk to people from the heart; hopefully have some fun and a little bit of comical comment.”

So, simply heightening aspects of his character. “And just being as natural as possible, so when people see me on stage, that is how I've always been.”

The tour takes in big cities such as Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol and Manchester before arriving in Ipswich, with his hometown hosting the finale.

It a big leap, then, going from your first hour-long performance to the Royal Albert Hall in less than two months!

“Yeah. You know what? In every venue, I'm looking forward to giving it everything I've got. I try not to distinguish from one venue to another, because they've all got their own importance. Obviously the Royal Albert Hall is the most renowned venue - plus it's in London. I'm just looking forward to the whole tour in general.

“Ipswich - I can't wait for it. It's going to be wicked!”

Andy Abraham is at Ipswich Regent on November 6. Box office 01473 433100

IT promises to be a 100mph end to 2006 for Andy Abraham.

His second album is released less than a week after his tour draws to a close at the Royal Albert Hall, and about a month after that comes the launch of the Christmas single with Michael Underwood.

A novice when it comes to singing and performing, the GMTV reporter is being coached in the ways of showbusiness by Andy, and will be singing backing vocals, as well as a solo section. His progress is being publicly tracked by GMTV.

Meanwhile, Andy's been recording the album Soul Man since the late summer/early autumn. It's a collection of the kind of classic Motown hits that he's adored since childhood, and includes hits associated with the likes of The Temptations and Smokey Robinson.

Andy, who grew up in the Somers Town area of Camden - near The British Library and not far from St Pancras - used to listen to that style of music with his mum. “So I'm really happy to be doing that and trying to build on my success. That's what it's all about,” he says.

“My mum was a huge influence on me musically. She listened to everything from country to old-time reggae and soul, and I listened endlessly to what she played.

“We listened to a lot of jazz, funk and soul too; so, a real variety of styles. I still love a wide range of music now - everything from Stevie Wonder to Robbie Williams to Donny Hathaway and Fleetwood Mac.”

Andy's musical ability was evident at a young age. As he grew older, his desire to perform grew stronger and he began to take part in singing competitions. “I used to go to the 291 club at the Hackney Empire. It was a big competition where you get up and sing in front of a crowd, and if you're bad they soon let you know!”

It was the death of his best friend in 1998 that gave Andy the push he needed to throw himself head-long into music. He left his job as a printer and signed up for music school in Acton.

And soon he could be looking at a Christmas number one . . .

“D'you know what? - if it is, I'll be absolutely over the moon. If it's in the top 10, I'll be over the moon. Just the fact of being involved in something like that, and being asked to be involved in something like that, is enough for me.

“It's going to be busy - which is brilliant for me. That's all you want. In any profession, you want to be busy. It makes the time go quicker!”

What dreams does he have for the future?

“I do have long-term ambitions, but at the same time I've got to treat every day as it comes. The business is going through a funny transition. It's difficult for a lot of people to get deals; purse-strings are being tightened. If you're successful, then you get the deal; if you're not, you don't. It's as simple as that, really.”

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