The Irish Voice - February 9-16, 2000
THE IRISH TENORS SHUFFLE
By Tom Deignan
JOHN McDermott is Out. Finbar Wright is in. Was There Tension Among the Tenors? Did Lingering Questions About McDermottís Background Lead to His Ouster? No, McDermott Tells TOM DEIGNAN. The Big Change is Due to his Motherís Recent Death. McDermott Even Sang Her Favorite Song This Week in Belfast - While Sharing the Stage With the New Irish Tenors Lineup.
ALMOST from day one, John McDermott has heard the whispers. Despite the immense popularity of The Irish Tenors - Ronan Tynan, Anthony Kearns and McDermott - questions have been raised and raised again about touchy topics ranging from McDermottís musical training to the authenticity of his Irish background.
So when reports emerged last week that McDermott had abruptly left the The Tenors, just days before they were to record a TV special in Belfast, it was inevitable that speculation would swirl. Was McDermott dumped? Did his lack of classical music training, even his Scottish roots, compel producers to shuffle the Tenors lineup?
Such speculation would only be fueled by the fact that McDermott was replaced by Finbar Wright. Wright had been offered a Tenors slot before McDermott back in 1998, when no one knew if this concept would be a success. Wright turned the initial offer down; producers turned to McDermott.
All this Tenors tension may sound like a soap opera worthy of a bubble gum pop band. But the original Tenors have proven to be a huge international success, raking in millions in record sales, tours and merchandise, not to mention funds for public television and other causes.
That McDermott might have bailed, or been fired, just a week before a February 5 concert (which will air on PBS in March) at Belfastís Waterfront theater must mean something profound shook up the trio, right?
McDermott agrees. What happened? His mother passed away last month.
"Motherís passing was unexpected," McDermott says, speaking from a Belfast hotel prior to last weekendís concert. "If we could have moved rehearsals around I would have (performed as originally planned)."
But that proved impossible. So in a letter sent on January 21, McDermott informed producers he could not give the concert the time or emotional commitment needed. A press release written by producers and posted a week later on the Tenors web site read, "Rather than risk the quality of the performance, McDermott preferred that his role be filled by another vocalist."
Thatís when the cyber-speculation got under way.
VISITORS to the Tenors web site and other fans fired off e-mails, and some reports suggested the parting may not have been so amicable. A Washington Times article went so far as to note that Finbar Wright, the press release said, will be working with his "countrymen."
Such a reference could be read as a stab at McDermottís ethnic background. The Irish tenor has lived in Canada and was, in fact, born in Scotland -- though his Dad was born in Donegal, and his Motherís parents came from Antrim.
But the whispers did not stop at McDermottís ethnicity. He also lacks classical music training, and rumors have long circulated that the Tenors would be better off matching Kearns and Tynan up with someone with weightier musical credentials.
"Thereís always going to be speculation," said McDermott, whose solo show rolls into the New York area in March. Of the questions regarding his training and roots, McDermott told the Irish Voice, "I donít pay any attention to it. Iíve got Scottish and Irish roots and Iím proud of it. But Itís sad people think that way."
Of his tenure and relationship with the remaining
Tenors, McDermott said, "Itís been a great run. Weíre still pals."
McDermott also had nothing bad to say about Finbar Wright.
"Finbar was their first choice and he was kind enough to step in. Finbarís is a great voice."
In case there were any doubts about McDermottís relationship with Tynan and Kearns, producers found a spot for him in last weekendís show. He teamed up with the two and sang "Red is the Rose," before going solo with "The Last Rose of Summer," in what he characterized as a "terribly emotional" moment. The song was his motherís favorite.
With his motherís passing, and the Tenors show and controversy behind him, McDermott will now focus on his solo performances ó though his family is still plagued by serious illness. His sister Alice is battling cancer.
"Itís been a rough year," admits McDermott, who added that fan support has been "incredible."
Last week, tickets went on sale for McDermottís March 12 show at Hofstra Universityís brand new, 5,000-seat arena. It will be a homecoming of sorts for McDermott.
"I used to sell Yoo-Hoo at Hofstra!" he recalls, his demeanor lightening. In his younger days, McDermott hawked soft drinks at Hofstraís athletic facility, and remembered encountering Joe Namath and other star athletes who used the college for exhibition games and workouts.
As for the future, McDermottís not ruling out a possible reunion with Kearns and Tynan.
"If it works out for Finbar, then great," he said, but later added, "Letís see where we are in six months." Being part of the Tenors, he said, "is a fabulous opportunity. Itís the best of both worlds," he added, of combining solo work with Tenors shows.
Would McDermott bring a competing show on the road, with two other singers?
"Not a chance."
How about a more obvious solution to this ordeal
- putting on a show with four Irish Tenors?
"Sure, why not," he said with a laugh.