The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - CDs REVIEWS - Sign of the times: Wizard of odd: Looney tunes: Kevin Court­ney

First waltz: It’s Fri­day night on Jools Hol­land, and old faith­fuls such as Christy Moore and Yusuf Is­lam are rub­bing shoul­ders with young pre­tenders such as Ra­zorlight. Also on the bill that night is a dark, long-haired chap named Mika, whose dex­ter­ous pi­ano play­ing, skit­ter­ing, high-oc­tave vo­cals, and show­tune song­writ­ing style make him sound like a strange hy­brid of Ru­fus Wain­wright, Randy New­man and Tiny Tim. This was the de­but TV ap­pear­ance of the 23-year-old singer/song­writer/pro­ducer. He’s on a mis­sion to put the fab­u­lous back into pop and can be counted on to turn a dowdy tune into some­thing swish, sparkly and drip­ping with dia­mante. Mika made his first stage ap­pear­ance in a Richard Strauss opera at the age of 11, per­form­ing on a set de­signed by David Hock­ney, and fell in love with the glam and glitz of the stage. “It was a mag­i­cal world that you could live in” he re­calls. “A par­al­lel uni­verse for peo­ple that is il­lu­sory and en­chant­ing and amaz­ing.” Since then, Mika has fol­lowed his own shin­ing vi­sion, in­spired by such sin­gu­lar stars as El­ton John, Prince, Nils­son and Michael Jack­son.

Mika’s de­but album, Life in Car­toon Mo­tion, is out now, and fea­tures songs that move with all the zing and za­ni­ness of a Pink Pan­ther showreel. Songs in­clude the joy­ous Love To­day, the gaily aban­doned Billy Brown and the re­as­sur­ing Big Girl (You Are Beau­ti­ful). But the stage is where Mika feels most at home, and he can’t wait to get out and per­form his songs live. “It’s where it all comes to­gether for me.”

It wasn’t all di­a­monds and pearls when Mika was grow­ing up in war-torn Beirut. Sur­vival was fore­most in the minds of Mika’s fam­ily. When they fled the coun­try, his dad ended up a hostage in Kuwait. The fam­ily even­tu­ally set­tled in Lon­don, but Mika al­ways felt an out­sider in school. He found so­lace in the mu­sic of Dylan, Joan Baez and Serge Gains­bourg, taught him­self the pi­ano and, with the help of a tough Rus­sian singing teacher, per­fected the vo­cal gym­nas­tics that al­low him to leap across four oc­taves. His mother found him work singing with the Royal Opera House and do­ing a recorded tele­phone voice for Bri­tish Air­ways, but was un­for­tu­nately un­wise in the ways of com­merce. “Look­ing back on it, I think 45 quid for the Or­bit chew­ing gum jin­gle could have been a lit­tle too cheap,” says Mika.

When he was 19, Mika en­rolled in the Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic and be­gan writ­ing songs and per­form­ing them at par­ties. He signed a de­vel­op­ment deal with a ma­jor la­bel but, when it tried to turn him into the new Craig David, he re­tal­i­ated by writ­ing his flam­boy­ant sig­na­ture tune, Grace Kelly. En­list­ing sis­ter Yasmine to help him with his colour­ful art­work and blag­ging record­ing time wher­ever he could, Mika fol­lowed his own yel­low brick road to star­dom.

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