£2m record deal for Joseph, the 'new Aled Jones'

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The Independent Culture

Joseph McManners is 12 years old and by the time he turns 13, if his recording company has its way, he is almost sure to feature in grandma's CD collection.

SonyBMG believes Joseph will be the next big thing - and has backed its confidence by signing a £2m, four-album deal with the young singer, who was discovered by a former manager of Elton John.

Reprising such reliable standards as "Bright Eyes", from Watership Down and "Walking in the Air", from The Snowman, Joseph's debut album, In Dreams, is due for release on 24 October. It is aimed at the centre of the lucrative "MOR" (middle-of-the-road) market, with Christmas sales in mind.

Joseph was discovered by Derek McKillop, who formerly managed Elton John, Jamiroquai and James Blunt, one of this year's big successes. McKillop was also the producer of Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance. He said he had been taking a break from the business but was lured back by Joseph's " unique talent".

Richard Story, a senior vice-president at SonyBMG, said that although at first glance he was an unlikely signing for the label of Usher, Beyoncé Knowles and Justin Timberlake, he was "the most promising new talent we have seen in years". He added: "We are as committed to him as we are to our established artists. We believe that our investment in him accurately reflects the longevity of his career.''

SonyBMG will be hoping that a market still exists for such an old-fashioned concept as an angelic looking boy singing mainstream standards and are clearly hoping to emulate the success of the Welsh choirboy Aled Jones, who also had a huge success with "Walking In the Air".

Joseph was discovered last year, after a nationwide talent search auditioned 25,000 children for the lead role in the opera The Little Prince. Joseph starred alongside well-known performers figures such as Lesley Garrett and Willard White. He also played the title role in a production of the musical Oliver. His next major performance will be a Classic FM concert at the Royal Albert Hall, where he will appear alongside Aled Jones. Perhaps Jones will give him some tips on survival in the music business.

Professor Joan Freeman, an expert on child prodigies, said Jones's example could prove an important model for young performers such as Joseph: " There are major pitfalls awaiting such children if their career is not properly handled by their record company.

"If they remain grounded - Jones stayed at the same school - are mature and have the right personality, then they will cope. Jones struggled but has survived. But if they get taken away from their families and taken over by record companies, they can become dependent on the whole fame thing and then it can be tough.''

Child stars

CHARLOTTE CHURCH

Now 19, the Welsh soprano secured a £100,000 five-album record deal with Sony Classical at the age of 12. She was first heard singing on ITV's Big Big Talent Show in 1998. Her debut album, Voice of an Angel became a hit in the classical charts.

SAM ASTON

Sam, 12, who plays Chesney Brown in Coronation Street, landed a £44,000-a-year deal with Granada this year. The boy from Bacup, Lancashire, won over viewers with a series of bitter-sweet storylines, including one in which his dog was run over.

LISA ROXANNE

In 2001, the 14-year-old R&B singer signed £1m, four-album deal with Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. She made her debut television performance on CD:UK on her 15th birthday. Her first single " No Flow" was released in May 2001.

NICOLA BENEDETTI

The 18-year-old violinist, who was the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year, signed a £1m six-album record deal with Universal Music's Deutsche Grammophon in January. Benedetti, from Ayrshire,has played violin since she was four.

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