He’s one of the sharpest tools in the box. Rhydian Roberts isn’t bothered about fame or adulation. He is as disinterested in celebrity as a lactose-intolerant, panna cotta-shunning vegan is in a trip to the local dairy.
He looks a bit unconventional too, and he won’t be offended by that. With his distinctive platinum hair, pale complexion, chiselled features and absurdly ripped body, he looks like some sort of mysterious villain from a dark and edgy Bond movie. Bulging biceps, rippling abs and a washboard stomach give him more than a hint of menace.
There’s more in his locker, too. He had a suicidal breakdown, ran off with Simon Cowell’s make-up artist and became the figure people loved to hate when he finished as runner-up on the 2007 show. He was The X Factor’s equivalent of Big Brother’s Nasty Nick.
Remarkably, he doesn’t care a hoot. Rhydian is focused on forging a creatively rewarding and commercially successful career – and he’s making an impressive fist of things. Red carpets, column inches and celebrity girlfriends aren’t for him. He wants to make music that people remember and love, star in shows that send the punters home happy and be recognised for his work, rather than his X Factor associations.
“I make no bones about it, X Factor was very important to me. I wouldn’t be a ‘star of the show’, in inverted commas, if I hadn’t been on that and wasn’t recognisable. It has fast tracked my career.
“But I would have done these things anyway, with or without X Factor. Performing is my vocation. We live in an era of celebrity and reality shows and that’s what casting directors and the public like to see. So I make no apology for being on X Factor.
“But I had to have a certain quality to get through the rounds. X Factor isn’t easy, let me tell you. You have to tow the party line and sell your soul to the devil a little bit.”
Rhydian knew what he was doing. “Of course I knew what I was getting into. But even if X Factor opens the door, you have to turn it in night after night to get hired. I wouldn’t get the gigs if I didn’t turn it in. I am still getting decent roles in top class productions.
“I steer away from that celebrity culture now. I am not going onto Big Brother or developing a tabloid profile, that’s not what I want. I want to work with good record companies and top class producers and brilliant talent. I want people to see me and realise I’ll bring in business at the box office.
“I don’t particularly like being recognised to be honest. It’s great after a gig or theatre show, if the fans enjoyed it. But I don’t want to be known for the sake of being known. I went onto the X Factor to get a recording contract.” And he got one. Quid pro quo.
Rhydian is presently on the road with Little Shop of Horrors. It’s at Lichfield’s Garrick Theatre tonight and headlines Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre from September 27 to October 1. Typically, he’s been cast as a bad guy.
“I love this show, it’s a favourite. The show, the music and the way it’s been choreographed and directed are all so impressive. The director is up there with the best of. With some touring productions, you are never sure which creative people you’ll get. But this one is West End quality. We have the best lighting director, best sound crew, it looks expensive and it’s a privilege to be in it.
“This role is right up my street. I play a sadomasochistic dentist, it’s great fun. I often play the bad guys but I prefer that because they are more interesting. Those roles also lend themselves to my voice. The good guys are tenors. The bad guys have a bit more baritone. Let’s face it, I look like a Bond villain too, it’s no surprise the casting guys put me in pieces like this.”
It’s no surprise indeed.
Rhydian has also played in Beauty and the Beast – no prizes for guessing which one he wasn’t – as well as Khashoggi in We Will Rock You and the artfully unpleasant Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar.
“They are impact roles. They are not necessarily the biggest roles – Jesus and Judas are both bigger than Pontius Pilate. But they are roles where I can really make an impact. I sing the biggest numbers. I’m not saying it’s all about stealing the show, I’m a team player, but it’s nice to play parts when you’re a memorable character.”
He owes everything to Birmingham. He studied at the city’s Conservatoire, which got him started. It gave him invaluable experience of playing leading roles. It also put him in touch with an exceptional teacher, Michael Barry, who remains a mentor to this day.
“He was my drama coach. I still consult with him. When they came knocking about this gig, I rang him and he told me to go for it. Having another set of eyes and ears and somebody I can trust is enormously important. Michael’s invariably correct.”
As well as a performing in musical theatre, Rhydian has enjoyed an impressive recording career. His debut album went platinum, the follow-up, O Fortuna, went gold while his fifth album, the 2014 opus One Day Like This, gave him a number one in the UK Classical Chart. “We were there for ten weeks.”
He’s still hungry for success. His tick list is longer than most.
“I’d like another number one. I’d like a song that defines me too. Indina Menzel, who sang Let It Go, from Frozen, is a great example. She was emailing me six months before that, asking what she should do. Then Let It Go came along and it completely changed her life. She’d been going nowhere.”
“I’d like to create a role on Broadway and one in the West End. I’d like to collaborate with more big names in music, both in classical and pop. Those are realistic goals. I just want to keep working. I’ll never be Justin Bieber but then I don’t want to be – that has too short a shelf life.
“This industry is about a marathon, really. I know it’s a cliché but it’s true.
“The X Factor is a spring and people burn out. I never believed the hype and the bubble. It was great exposure and a great opportunity but it was only ever going to be about building foundations. I think carefully about my next moves. Although my fan base isn’t massive, they are loyal and they are strong. They follow me by the sword and I have a duty to honour them and provide them with new music and tours. It works.”
It certainly does, Rhydian. It certainly does.
Rhydian is in Little Shop of Horrors at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, from Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm.
Tickets cost from £14.90. Visit www.atgtickets.com or call 0121 230 9077.
By Andy Richardson