Jonathan and Charlotte have a confession to make. 'I've actually never been to an opera,' says Jonathan Antoine, 17. 'Neither have I,' admits Charlotte Jaconelli, 16. Why would they? Jonathan and Charlotte are two regular teenagers from Chigwell, Essex. They met at state school in the music room and became close friends during their GCSE options year. Charlotte heard Jonathan singing Bring Him Home from Les Miserables, just after his voice had broken, through the wall. 'And I thought who is that? Damn! That boy's got vocal chords.'
Jonathan and Charlotte have much better things to do with their time. Whatever basic stereo-typing has gone into giving their home locale a particular notoriety, these two talented young people could not smash the TOWIE (The Only Way Is Essex, TV show) cliche any harder.
Jonathan's listening choice at home is extreme metal ('I like Periphery and Tesseract. Do you know, in that same sort of vein, Monuments? I know the lead guitarist, John Browne') and extreme hip-hop ('would it be really boring to say that Yonkers is my favourite Tyler the Creator song?') and he has recently been charmed by the alt-country sounds of Neutral Milk Hotel. Charlotte’s obsession is musical theatre and she happily listens to Louise Dearman, Mumford & Son’s and, 'yes, a bit of Rihanna'. They both say that humble singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is the artist that currently speaks to their generation most and is one of Charlotte’s all time favourites.
They were just two regular teenagers that adored their mums (both), with one hating school (him) and then other loving musical theatre (her) when Charlotte made the decision, on both their behalves, to audition for the nation's favourite talent show, Britain's Got Talent.
Charlotte still can't quite remember what it was that made her do it. 'I was sitting at my computer watching ITV Player and the audition advert popped up in a box. I thought why not? I was typing our names in when I texted Jonathan to see if it was all right.'
'I was just at my computer doing nothing,' adds Jonathan. He'd never really watched the show before. 'The nearest I normally get to that kind of TV is probably QI,' he says.
Nonetheless, he agreed with Charlotte that it might be a fun thing to do - that they might have something special hidden behind their unusual exterior.
'Whenever we'd sang that song to anyone and we'd done it well, it always seemed to get a special reaction. People seemed to like us doing it.'
This was just instinct. From Saturday night television's point of view, the talent applying for BGT does not get any rawer.
Two friends staring at computer screens in their bedrooms - with a dream to strive for a bit more.
Charlotte had already got their USP worked out in her head. 'I think because I don't sound like a classical singer there was maybe somewhere in the market for us. You can get a classical man and woman singing together - I adore the voices of Sarah Brightman and Andrea Boccelli and they sing beautifully together. Our idea of a musical theatre voice and a classical voice seemed a little bit different to us. Here’s hoping people think it works!'
This sounds like a pitch that could almost be sold to Dragons’ Den if BGT hadn't worked out.
'Most importantly,' says Jonathan, 'we might not listen to this kind of music at home, but we love singing it and making it.'
Actually, most importantly, they're really good at it. They both blush. The nation was soon entranced.
That song Jonathan had referred to is The Prayer.
Jonathan knew the song from one of his favourite films as a child. 'Originally it was in a movie called Quest for Camelot. A Disney-style movie, but not Disney. It's about talking dragon's called Devon and Cornwall.' The two had been paired up by a music teacher at school who had asked them to sing it at her wedding. Later they had scored 'A' grades at GCSE with a rendition of it. 'I got two marks better than Jonathan and he was always the best in the music class. 'I was a bit of a swot-head,' he nods.
The original singers of The Prayer were Celine Dion and Andrea Boccelli, two people on the music world's top table when it comes to star power, bankability and global glamour. Clearly, our two plucky Essex school kids weren't afraid of taking on the big guns. 'It just suited us,' demurs Charlotte now. It was soon to suit the nation, too.
What is it that gives everyday teens the confidence to put themselves in front of the country? Where does desire, telling you that you might have a special gift come from? 'I actually have no idea,' says Charlotte. 'We had the most awful cut of music for the backing track,' says Jonathan, of the audition backing. 'It got to the point where we got to the actual audition in front of the judges where I thought 'are we going on here as one of the joke acts?' I looked pasty white, like I was going to pass out,' adds Charlotte.
And then Simon Cowell told them they shouldn't be doing it together. 'I was there to be judged by him and I had put myself in that position. I had to take it. I just remember thinking: "Oh my gosh. Do not cry on telly."'
For Jonathan, the decision to carry on with Charlotte was cut and dry. 'She'd done so much over the years for me,' he says, 'it was time for a bit of payback.'
Jonathan had not got on with school well. 'I had what you might call a breakdown' he says, hesitantly, 'we just didn't match, me and school.'
His music teachers, ever a saviour, had warned him about the pressure that going on a national TV show might cause him. 'But it has been the best thing that's happened to me. It's actually given me confidence.'
The boot is very much on the other foot now, as the man who told Jonathan and Charlotte to go their separate ways is now the bloke they call boss.
'The first meeting we had with Syco wasn't to discuss whether we would make a record or not but what we would put on the record,' says Charlotte now, still clearly a little aghast. 'We made a list of eight or nine songs that we wanted to include on it,' adds Jonathan, 'only one didn't make the cut.'
The debut Jonathan and Charlotte album is a work they are immensely proud of. His soul-searching tenor and her poised soprano make beautiful counterpoints to one another.
They recorded the album under the tutelage of producer Graham Stack in Surrey. Because they have such uniquely skilled but young voices they breathe new, sincere life into evergreen classics, Your Song, the First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and, of course, The Prayer. 'I can't believe how well it has worked and how much we enjoyed ourselves,' says Charlotte.
Because they are of a generation that grew up with the third way between classical and pop that might loosely be called 'Popera', they are skilled in its nuance.
'We want to work hard at this,' says Charlotte, 'when you come from backgrounds like ours, where you are not given something because you want it but because you work for it, you understand the value of doing something special.' Charlotte's dad runs a courier company. Jonathan's is a policeman. Both their mums are housewives, slowly getting swept up in the new turns of the remarkable story of their remarkable children. 'My mum reads me every comment out under our Youtube when I'm trying to eat my tea,' says Charlotte. Their version of The Prayer has currently had 22 million hits. 'That's a number I can't even picture,' says Jonathan. 'We just want to carry on doing this while it's still fun for us. It has been the most incredible, mind-blowing experience.'
It couldn't have happened to two nicer teenagers.