The new season of "Britain's Got Talent" just premiered this past weekend, and already the show has a breakout contestant, 17-year-old Jonathan Antoine, who is earning comparisons to "BGT" superstar Susan Boyle and the new nickname "SuBoy."
While a 33-year age gap separates SuBo and SuBoy, the similarities are still obvious. Both are opera singers, and both have struggled with shyness, emotional fragility, and a lifetime of being teased and bullied. And, as was the case with Susan, Jonathan's appearance in no way matches his incredible singing voice, so he too created an unforgettable TV moment when he opened his mouth and sang on "BGT" for the very first time.
When Jonathan auditioned for "BGT" this past Saturday alongside his 16-year-old pop-singer friend and vocal school classmate, Charlotte Jaconelli, he hardly looked like a budding opera star. If anything, he looked like he might be trying out to be the slovenly singer of a grunge band, with his scraggly hair and faded Hendrix T-shirt. Judge Simon Cowell flashed his signature skeptical scowl, of course, as Jonathan and Charlotte appeared onstage. ("Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse," he muttered.) But then the duo started belting out Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion's "The Prayer," at which point the look of shock on Simon's face was reminiscent of his stunned expression the first time he heard Susan Boyle sing. And he told Jonathan, "You're a future star."
While Simon made it clear that he thought Jonathan had upstaged his duet partner, the shy teen said, "I really didn't think I'd be going up onstage today if I didn't have Charlotte by my side. Charlotte has been a really big help for me, in terms of confidence"--and he insisted that they remain a duo.
It was revealed that Jonathan, who weighs 20 stone (or 280 pounds) and has been clinically obese for most of his life, was relentlessly teased in school about his weight, to the point that he suffered a nervous breakdown last year. (He is still seeing a psychiatrist.) Jonathan told British paper The Sun: "I had a nervous breakdown back in October. At that point I left the school I was at and rejoined the school I was at previously in the New Year. But then I couldn't handle at either, so I'm currently not at school but still enrolled. Me and school just don't get on. That's just the way it has always been. I've never felt right there. Ever since I was quite small I've had weight problems, and the bullying was related to that. People would be nasty about my weight and say nasty words."
Jonathan's participation on a high-pressure TV show like "Britain's Got Talent," so shortly after suffering a mental crisis, has understandably raised concerns among viewers who recall Susan Boyle's breakdown after she lost on the 2009 "BGT" finale (at that time, SuBo was briefly hospitalized at British mental health facility the Priory for exhaustion). But Jonathan insisted to The Sun that he can handle the competition. "[My psychiatrist and I] discussed it beforehand and it was decided on whether I thought I was capable of dealing what could come from that. And at the moment, I feel that I can. The show has been a fun experience to do and be around all the people and such. I am seeing a psychiatrist and I'm on a really good road to recovery. 'Britain's Got Talent' are aware and they have been incredibly helpful," he explained.
"I wanted to go out and show people that I'm more than just a body. I was hoping that because I don't look like a typical person in the limelight, that may actually help," he added. And that's a good point, since it can be argued that it was the contrast between Susan Boyle's voice and her outward appearance that created such a stir when she first performed on "BGT," and it was that dichotomy, as well as her sympathetic backstory, that made her a star. Will Jonathan enjoy similar success in the future on "BGT"? We shall soon see.