HIS LUCKY DAY

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 May, 2006, 12:00am

IT'S 10AM AND Daniel Powter is recovering from a rather bad day. In Bangkok for last weekend's MTV Asia Awards, the singer-songwriter spent his first 24 hours in the Land of Smiles wearing a pout.


Nothing a good night's sleep and an efficient public relations department can't put right. Right? So after being warned not to mention the American Idol factor, the assembled press corps finally get to meet the 35-year-old Canadian.


Powter enters the room with a cheerful demeanour and flashes a halogen smile. He's wearing his trademark woolly hat ... and a tan that you'd expect from someone who's spent the last month in a hammock in Boracay.


'I'm feeling much better today, thank you,' he says in response to a barrage of questions about his health. Someone makes a quip about having a bad day, but it goes unnoticed.


He slides onto the couch and a bottle of Hilton bottled water is put in front of him. 'Paris is everywhere these days,' he says. 'I wonder if it tastes like perfume.'


There are a few polite chuckles, but most reporters are clearly desperate to ask him about that show and how it has propelled his best-known song back into the charts a year after it first appeared.


Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you'll know that Powter's worldwide radio hit from last year, Bad Day, is played over each vignette as contestants are booted off the top-rating show. Each episode reaches more than 35 million screens, so it's the kind of marketing push most artists can only dream of.


On being No1, Powter says 'it feels like there's only one place to go' - whatever that means.


The amount of times Bad Day has aired on American Idol might have obscured what it's really about (the clip features actress Samaire Armstrong from The OC going through the motions of a tedious working day).


'I don't consider it dark,' Powter says. 'None of my songs are. Bad Day is all about narcissism, and about baring your soul. More than anything else, I feel my songs are honest. It surprises me that people consider them dark. I've balanced out the starkness of the lyrics with upbeat melodies. I find it's a balance that serves the songs well.'


Powter may have hit the mark with Bad Day, but his subsequent releases - Free Loop and Jimmy Gets High - sank without a trace. But don't mention the phrase 'one-hit wonder'.


He's also quick to douse any accusations of a meteoric rise to fame. 'I worked on this album for about five years before it was released. I happen to be very lucky in that Warner Brothers told me I could take all the time I needed. Anyway, if it had bombed, I'd rather have hung myself with my own rope.'


The eponymous debut features 10 tracks, and Powter says he's proud of the results, which he took on a tour of Europe last year, culminating in an appearance at Live8 in Berlin.


Raised in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, Powter showed a deep fascination for music from an early age. He picked up the violin when he was just four and moved on to the piano as a teenager.


He's a fine musician and an assured performer, but shrugs off comparisons to Elton John - a sound that's apparent on Jimmy Gets High. 'People are always going to be compared to someone else in this business. It's something I expected, but I certainly didn't go out of my way to create a similar sound.'


The Berlin experience is one that will stay with him forever. 'I hadn't earned my keep in the business yet, but I felt confident in my decision to do the show. It was an amazing opportunity and one I simply couldn't turn down. Those sort of things only come along once in a lifetime,' he says.


Although he pulled it off admirably, he says his stomach was churning backstage. 'Once I was there I realised I might have opened a can of worms. I thought, 'What the hell am I doing here?'' Still, Powter strode on stage and delivered his best-known piece with grace and charm. And despite not being able to remember anything of the performance, he sees it as a turning point in his career.


His breakthrough has coincided with the success of a raft of modern-day troubadours such as James Blunt, who has America wrapped around his little finger.


Powter is by no means a veteran, but his perspective is sobering and refreshing. 'I f***ing hate the red carpet. I hate all that stuff. I care less about fame now than I would have in my 20s. It's just not that important to me.'


Courting publicity on the red carpet is one thing, but entrusting the marketing machine that is American Idol with one of your songs is another. Surely, it's two sides of the same coin - but we're not allowed to go there.


Discussion turns to Powter's upbringing and he speaks openly and fondly about his family, particularly his mother, who ensured there was music in every room of the house.


His body language changes markedly when he starts talking about his school days. The couch suddenly starts to eat him up as he fidgets and hunches his shoulders. 'I was a nerd - all teeth and feet. And I played the violin as well, which immediately set me apart from the rest of the kids. I was ostracised.'


He was also diagnosed with dyslexia at an early age. 'The way my mind works, I find a piano so easy to use. It's linear, but I can see these shapes. It's very clear to me where the keys are, which helped of course, because I found it nearly impossible to read music.'


His biggest problem these days is coping with the strain of touring and promotion. He's been on the road almost constantly for the past 12 months.


'I do feel lonely and isolated,' he says. Sometimes it feels like I'm permanently on a plane. But don't get me wrong I wouldn't change it.'


As he strolls onto the stage towards the piano later that night at the awards, he sinks into the chair and places his fingers gently on the ivories. He strikes the first key, and his delicate voice slowly picks up volume. He's accompanied by a blinding light show and, for those few minutes, in a packed auditorium in Bangkok, he might as well be the next American Idol.


The audience can't get enough of it, mouthing along to every word: 'Cause you had a bad day/ You're taking one down/ You sing a sad song just to turn it around/ You say you don't know/ You tell me don't lie/ You work at a smile and you go for a ride/ You had a bad day'.


He jogs off stage to thunderous applause. It's clear that he may have had the odd bad day, but that this might end up being a very good year.


Daniel Powter is out now