The Voice’s Luke Kennedy on friendly competition and not being caught with hookers in bed
Luke Kennedy is as charming a music personality as you’ll find. It is he who kicks off the greetings for his Cream interview, with a chirpy “Hi, how are you going mate?” as though the pair of us were ol’ high school buddies.
But Kennedy would be used to media relations, since he’s been in the limelight as one of the Ten Tenors for the better part of half a decade. He’s also used to working hard, having toured with the Tenors for ten months a year, most of that being overseas, and usually involving eight shows a week.
This year he touched home ground again, to compete on The Voice, ultimately making it into the show’s Top Four.
Antonino Tati tries to dig a bit of rock’n’roll out of the famed classical singer to the point where Luke reveals a penchant for sampling liquor the world over, and telling us he just may have been to bed with a hooker – but not been caught.
Your new single Stay For A Minute, are you happy with that choice?
Yeah. I was very fortunate to get one of Guy Chambers’ songs. He has either written or produced pretty much all of Robbie Williams’ hits so he’s a real monster in the song-writing world. To get one of his songs is a real coup.
Have you co-written any of the songs on the new album?
The album that’s just out is pretty much made up of songs from the show, plus a few extras – eight tracks that were previously released through The Voice, and three new ones. One of those songs is the song I sang in the semi-final which I had written with my old band.
You’ve been in music for a while. Tell me how you started out. What age did you first get on the microphone?
I guess the first time I sang on a microphone was when I was about four years old. Then I got into singing all sorts of things when I was in high school. Singing in school choirs, vocal ensembles, and doing whatever school concerts we put on. Then I started doing amateur musical theatre. I’ve been around music for a long time, and have been doing it professionally for about six years. But on a fulltime basis, I’ve been singing since I was about 15.
And how old are you now, if you don’t mind my asking?
Thirty? You look a lot younger; fresher for your age.
That’s nice, thank you!
I think you’ve got to look fresh in this industry to last a while.
Well it helps; it really helps [laughs lots].
When travelling, what do you jot down on your customs form under Occupation?
I say I’m a singer. Sometimes I write entertainer if I’m feeling outlandish. But singer mostly. And I’m happy and proud to do that; been doing it for a number of years now. This is obviously a good period for me, though. Previously being a singer meant eating a lot of two-minute noodles but now, thanks to the show I gues, I have the base that I’ve been looking for, for a very long time.
Do you feel you’d ever move beyond the music industry to venture into the other arts, like acting?
Absolutely. I’ve done quite a bit of musical theatre so I’d love to go back to doing that sort of acting. I enjoyed my time on TV as well. There’s a lot that I learnt by being on The Voice, and I’d be happy to get back in front of the camera at any stage. There’s a lot of possibilities out there for me, but for now I’m really taking the route of being a recording artist. But I’m always looking to learn and to educate myself, and I want new challenges. Once I’ve done a couple of albums, who knows?
When you were a kid, were you listening to the kind of more ‘adult’ music that you’re delivering now: namely classical?
Not so much as a kid. That was something I discovered more as an adult. I had classical lessons when I was at high school, and that gave me an introduction into that genre, but really the classical side of things is still fairly new for me. It was only when I joined the Ten Tenors five years ago that I really started to explore the classical repertoire in a big way. I’m a fan of contemporary music, and in my house, we used to listen to John Farnham, John Denver and John Williamson. It was all Johns, actually!
Would you say you inject a contemporary bent into somewhat more traditional styles of music like opera?
Yeah, in fact I’m probably not for the opera purists. I love the drama of opera, and the theatre that’s involved. I think my voice is suited to giving that classical genre more of a contemporary edge. And that can be an advantage or it can be a hindrance. But for where I’m wanting to head, it suits my style pretty well.
What are Luke Kennedy’s two ingredients to maintaining a healthy voice?
There’s one main ingredient and that’s sleep. As long as I get enough rest, my voice will be fine. And the other one is just heaps of water. But sleep is the number one ingredient and as long as I have enough I can go and go and go.
Some singers incorporate a few vices to maintain a certain style to their voice. Janis Joplin, for example, might have said smoking was good for her voice.
[Laughs]. Ah yes, I have a few vices of my own, but everything in moderation.
Well you need to tell us what some of those vices are because we want to make you sound a bit rock’n’roll, so come on…
[Laughs wildly] Put it this way, you can’t tour with ten blokes around the world and not sample the local brew. Whatever the local drink was, we’d always get involved, and there’s plenty of bottles of liquor that if I’ve not managed to drink, I’ve brought back from overseas.
So you’ve had a few nights on the tiles there. Did it ever get you into trouble, like, say, in the UK where they tend to love writing bad things about pop stars… even opera stars. Any newspaper headlines?
Not newspaper headlines, not to my knowledge anyway. But I tend to let the papers write what they’re gonna write. We’d go out and have fun but we’d never play up to the point of it being a story in the papers.
None of this being-caught-in-bed-with-a-hooker then?
[Can’t stop laughing] Not that any of the papers knew about, anyway!
I love it. When you were on The Voice, were there any contestants whom you had your eye on that kind of peeved you off; who perhaps may have gotten in the way of winning the competition for you?
You know, that was the funny thing about The Voice; most of the people on the show weren’t really thinking about the competition. We were all sort of focused on what to do musically day in and day out. The competition side of it was something that happened on the side that we had nothing to do with. But from the word ‘go’, even in the blind auditions, I knew there was going to be a couple of people who were going to be there right through to the end. Obviously Harrison had that support from the word go – I mean, for a young guy he has such a great voice. I was surprised Caterina didn’t get further. She and I had auditions on the same day. When I found out that she was on Team Ricky too, I started talking to her a lot and I knew straight away that she was the sort of person that could be a star. There was definitely a few people who I thought would definitely be competitors but at the end of the day we were all in the same boat, regardless of previous experience or how you were being pitched on the show. We were all on the same playing field.
Some people might say that Ricky kind of favoured Caterina, possibly due to their affinity in Latin culture. Did you feel there was any favouritism on the show?
TV can kind of edit things to look that way. In fact [the producers] can show whatever they want. I think Ricky was quite fair with the time he spent with everybody and how giving he was with his advice. He gave his email address to all of the top eight so that if there was a problem, we could get in touch with him at any time. He was pretty fair with how his time was divvied out. What you see is what you get with Ricky. He’s not very different in real life to what you see on TV, and that’s pretty much a sweetheart. That was certainly my experience with him.
Do you think some of the other contestants might have been wide-eyed when you entered the picture? Because they may have known you’ve had the strong musical background, and that you’d done the PR schmooze thing before…
Maybe. I think we all knew the people who were comfortable and the people who weren’t on that stage. Backstage, though, it was a pretty friendly environment. If anyone wanted help, they just asked for it. But none of us had performed on a stage like that, regardless of previous experience. None of us had had the opportunity to perform in front of 15 million people every night on national television. That’s a big stage for even when the coaches get up and perform. I know for Ricky, he told me he was really nervous when we had to perform together. I myself had never done TV before so it was really something I had to learn on the fly.
You hit number one on iTunes a couple of times. Is that instantaneous success mind-blowing in this technological day and age?
It is a really surreal experience. I remember when Time To Say Goodbye went to number one, I was in sitting in a car on my way back from the Today Show and my phone just started going off. People texting and tweets going, and it all sort of happened straight away. It was kind of crazy. I was trying to get onto the iTunes chart because I needed to see it with my own eyes to believe it, but it took about ten minutes because of the amount of messages coming through. My phone was just packing up shop. But I always kind of keep it in perspective. Sure, the fans who are buying these songs are fans of my voice but they’re also fans of the show. It would really blow my mind if I was able to get another number one outside of the show – without that same hype that’s associated with The Voice.
If you weren’t on The Voice this year what would you have spent most of your time doing?
Prior to The Voice I was doing regular corporate gigs and teaching, so I imagine I would have kept doing that. And looking for opportunities. I’ve always had a desire to push my own career and make connections. I’ve never really sought fame and fortune; it was just seeking work. I was quite content to just do three or four gigs a week and pay my rent and my phone bill. And that’s why the show has been such a life-changing experience.
Luke Kennedy’s single ‘Stay For A Minute’ and album ‘A Time For Us’ are out through Universal Music Australia and available on iTunes.