If Shayne Ward weren't an international British pop star with a falsetto voice of gold, he could certainly have forged a career solely off his approachably good looks. But the 2005 winner of the UK's X Factor is more than a scruffy face, and he's ready for America to know it. With his third album, Obsession, and a new tour, Ward is making his debut onto U.S. shores. Out chatted with the singer about sporting hard nipples under a wet t-shirt (yes, you read that correctly), support from his gay fans, and what's playing while he's getting it on.
Out: Can we start with your tattoos? What's all that happening on your chest and your arm?
Shayne Ward: I've got a big tribal pattern down the right of my arm, but it's actually a cover-up of a leprechaun. I got it because I'm Irish and I've got three older brothers who all have tattoos, so I wanted to be like them. The problem was, every time I wore a t-shirt, a pair of legs stuck out. It didn't look good.
Do you have plans for future tattoos?
Yeah, I want to get a sleeve of all the things I love in life drawn up in a sketch on my left arm.
So no unicorn, ala Lady Gaga?
[Laughs] Definitely not a unicorn. I'll get favorite numbers, scripture, family names -- things like that.
We don't see much of your tattoos on your Gay Times December 2010 cover, but there is a lot of wet t-shirt. I always wonder, is that cold to shoot?
It's not that bad, actually. We shot it in L.A. and it's hot over there anyway. Somebody stood there with a spray gun just completely attacking me with the water. They didn't stop until they got that t-shirt absolutely soaked and stuck to my body. It's fun.
But if it's not cold, then why are you wet t-shirt guys always so nipply?
That was the photographer, who comes over, ruffles up the t-shirt and kindly walks away. And all the sudden, your nipples are erect.
A lot of straight male entertainers hesitate to embrace their gay fans, but you haven't. Why?
I think it's great. I've got a huge gay following. Pink power is important and I think everyone should embrace it.
Are the rumors that you're gay frustrating, considering you've been in a relationship with a woman for the past 7 years?
[Laughs] They're not. People are just quick to judge. I find it funny. Every male out there has a gay tendency in him -- that doesn't mean he's gay.
What do you mean every man has a gay tendency?
I suppose if you saw a straight guy with his legs crossed, people would automatically go, 'Oh, he must gay.' That happens all the time in the U.K. If you're a very tidy guy -- you clean up after yourself, your house, your kitchen -- they say that's a very gay thing. If you're clean-cut, if you're groomed, in the U.K. people are very quick to judge.
So you identify with David Beckham metrosexuality?
I don't go to the extent of being overly groomed, like David Beckham. Sometimes au natural is almost better.
You're hugely successful across the world, but this is your first chart release in the US, so let's introduce you. How do you describe your sound?
Traditional. I've got a real closeness with the songs I've recently done. It's a more mature sound now. I'm into big, atmospheric haunting vocal tracks. I don't really hear anyone else doing them. I'm really into listening to a song and getting lost in the lyrics.
I get a love-making vibe from your songs, like, 'Hey baby, I love you, now let's do it.'
A lot of the songs are like that. And it works!
Would it weird you out if you knew people were having sex to your voice?
I think it's brilliant. Carry on.
Have you had sex to your own music?
I actually haven't. I think it would freak me out because I'd be singing along to my songs whilst'
So what artists get you in the mood?
Something like Marvin Gaye. I go for the old school soul.
Have you gotten any feedback from Nickleback about your cover of their song, 'Gotta Be Somebody'?
I haven't actually. It would be nice if somehow they were able to hear the song. It's split. A lot of people prefer the original, a lot of people prefer mine because it's more pop R&B.
And it was Simon Cowell, whose record label Syco you're signed with, who chose that song for you, right?
It was, yeah. He was adamant that he wanted to hear my voice on it. So, I went into the studio and before I knew it -- before it was really even finished -- the track was chosen as the first single.
He seems like he usually gets his way. What's he like as a boss?
What you see is what you get. He knows the game and how to play it. It's a lot of politics. He's very honest and straight to the point. What he says goes.
Well, he's also pretty famously nipply. Maybe you two can bond over that.
[Laughs] I suppose.
He wears those tight t-shirts, I'm just saying.
He does! I've noticed that.
Five years into your career, you have a new manager, Alan Edwards, who also managed Amy Winhouse and Naomi Campbell. Did you choose him just in case you become an addict or start throwing tantrums?
He's brilliant. He's been with David Bowie and Prince. To have him on board now, I'm very fortunate in case I start to go down the wrong path. We believe in each other.
You've been dubbed the 'British Justin Timberlake,' but who are your musical influences?
I think it was just because of the shaven head and the stubbly beard' and the nipples [laughs]. I obviously like to sing in falsetto and hit those high notes, and that's not something a lot of people are actually doing. My influences growing up are from the Stylistics to Tom Jones to Marvin Gaye to the Bee Gees.
What, no George Michael?
Even George Michael back in the day, like 'Careless Whisper.' Back in the day he was unbelievable but since he's gone a bit wayward.
Your new tour is a stripped-down version of what you've done in the past. What do you have planned?
I've put on big shows over the years -- loads of dancers, big graphics, pyro. But this time -- because I was gone for three years making the album -- I wanted to make it as intimate as possible. We called it Up Close and Personal and that's exactly what it's going to be. Just my voice, the band and the audience. It's going to be a really good night. I don't need gimmicks to entertain a crowd for an hour or so.
Finally, in honor of your heritage, X Factor and your entrance onto the U.S. scene, let's play a game called, 'Irish, English or American?'
Go for it.
The superior version of The Office?
Reality competition TV shows?
American, because you've got so many of them.
Good dental practices?
Most enthusiastic fans?
Oh God, that's a mix between Irish and English. But more Irish, let's be honest.