Simon Cowell didn't invent American Idol ("credit" goes to television producer Simon Fuller) or how to be smug (that was right-wing comic Dennis Miller). However, Cowell did come up with Il Divo (Italian for celebrity), which is a "popera" (pop and opera) act that's managed to sell a few truckloads of albums. The group includes French pop singer Sébastien Izambard and opera singers Carlos Marín from Spain, Urs Bühler from Switzerland and David Miller, the lone American. Miller, who could be Ryan Seacrest's stunt double, recently discussed how he dealt with the group's language barrier and Cowell's influence on the group. — Ed Condran
Did you ever think that Il Divo, which has been together for five years, would be more than a short-lived experiment?
When we formed, I thought it was kind of a reach. We each had success, so it wasn't as if we were depending on this. We decided to go in the studio and if it worked, it worked; if it didn't work, we would just go back to what we were doing. But it did work. That surprised us because I don't think any of us thought this would last beyond two years. Who would guess that if you took three classical singers and a pop singer, singing pop songs with classical technique, would work? I thought it would slip between the cracks, but it didn't. It caught on.
Is Simon Cowell as rude as he is on television in real life or is he tolerable?
Simon is the most brutally honest guy you'll ever meet. He may say some critical things but he also says some nice things. Whenever I see American Idol, which isn't often since I don't have time for television, he is usually saying positive things. People don't remember that. They remember the harsher criticism he doles out. But he has opened doors for us that would not have been open. But you have to give us some credit. Quite a bit of our success is due to what we have done. There was a group from the United Kingdom that emerged from Britain's Got Talent. It was four guys who met at college, and they did exactly what we do. They released an album, but it didn't stick. They don't have what we have, which is years of experience before we ever got together. They could sing but not the way we can. They didn't have that experience to draw from. I think we deserve some credit for having the talent to last this many years. We have something special and powerful.
How do you choose your pop covers?
We each pick our own Top 40, if you will. Then Simon picks 40. That's the four of us plus Simon, and that makes 200 songs. We cut it down to 17, which we record, and then choose 10 or 12 for the album. It's difficult to choose what to go with, but at least we have some choices. We just go with what works best and what we have the most fun with and then make a record.
Has anyone ever gone to an Il Divo concert expecting to see Devo?
No. I think our lack of hats gives that away. One time, though, we were coming to an arena in Mexico and we saw some unofficial merchandise on the street. Some guy printed an Il Divo T-shirt that read, "Il Devo." It was hilarious. Whoever bought that shirt bought a collector's item.
It sounds like you guys are close. Was it difficult at first since you spoke different languages at the start of Il Divo?
Yes. Initially it was difficult. Fortunately for me, the language we all chose to speak was English. But it all worked out. We did what we had to do and now we have something very exciting together.
You tour every year. Does that hurt you since your fans see you once and perhaps not buy tickets the next year?
We looked at the numbers of who comes to our shows. Sixty-seven percent are new fans. And 20 whatever percent are repeat fans. Our management was downhearted about it but not me. I look at it like Il Divo is the circus. We come every year. Not everyone is going to come out to the circus every year, but the tickets still sell. We're playing to a packed house every night no matter who comes out.