Michael Bolton may be part of an upcoming reality talent show called Bolt Of Talent, but his own journey to success can hardly be called a bolt. It was more like a slow jog to stardom.

“I didn’t have a hit until I was 34! It took me 18 years!” the 64-year-old singer exclaimed during a recent phone interview. “So when young artistes tell me they’ve been trying really hard for five or six years, I look at them and say, ‘I’m sorry I’m not playing a violin for you; it took me 18 years!’”

With multiple Grammy awards, numerous hit albums and two No. 1 singles on the Billboard Top 100 charts under his belt, it’s safe to say that Bolton has come a long way since.

Born Michael Bolotin in 1953, Bolton recalls starting a blues band when he was 14, and signing his first record contract at 16. “I was still exploring until the mid-70s, when I was given an offer to put together a band,” he said.

That band was Blackjack, which featured Bolton on lead vocals alongside guitarist Bruce Kulick (who would later join KISS), Sandy Gennaro and Jimmy Haslip. Blackjack released two albums, Blackjack in 1979 and Worlds Apart in 1980, but disbanded soon after that second record.

“After that, I was signed by Columbia Records where I did two more rock albums. I would say I spent a good eight years of my aspiring years in rock and roll,” he said.

Then, one day, Bolton was offered a deal to reinvent his solo career, and decided to keep all the songs he used to write for other people for himself. These included How Am I Supposed to Live Without You, which was a hit for singer Laura Branigan, and I Found Someone, which Branigan also recorded, but was later turned into a bigger hit by Cher.

The result was his third solo album, 1987’s The Hunger, on which Bolton swapped the hard rock of his earlier albums for a more mainstream pop/soul singing style.

It proved to be a sucessful formula – with hits such as That’s What Love Is All About and his cover of Otis Redding classic (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, The Hunger putting him on the map as a solo artiste.

He then went one better with 1989’s Soul Provider, which has sold more than 12 million copies to date, and produced hits such as Soul Provider, Georgia On My Mind, How Can We Be Lovers?, and When I’m Back On My Feet Again.

Still, if there is one song that was instrumental in turning Bolton into a global superstar, it’s How Am I Supposed To Live Without You. The single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and even won him a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance (he later won another Grammy in the same category in 1991 for When A Man Loves A Woman).

It was my first giant hit. It changed everything. You don’t realise the power of a massive global hit until you have one. It became popular in every region of the world,” he recalled.

“It really justified the decision to keep my hits for myself. I’ve continued writing for other people from time to time. But How Am I Supposed To Live Without You is, without a doubt, the most important song I ever wrote.”

New projects

Today, Bolton is looking to nurture the next generation of singers from Asia, on new reality talent show Bolt Of Talent, which premiered on Aug 16 in Malaysia.

The show follows Bolton as he travels across Asia across seven-weeks journey to discover hidden Asian talent. He will pick four finalists to reinvent, rearrange and reproduce a selection of his greatest hits and perform with him on upcoming his Asian tour.

The show also two Malaysian contestants – Gregory Ramanado and Cassandra Anne.

“I get to meet these young aspiring singers throughout Asia, and guide them to a whole new level. I’m giving them the opportunity to record songs under my label and take them on tour in Asia performing in front of a lot of people. It’s daunting and challenging but also extremely exciting for all of them,” he said.

What Bolton didn’t expect was how these young singers would remind him of his own early years as a singer. He mused: “It was like going back in time and watching young versions of myself aspiring to do what they love, which is to sing.”

Bolt Of Talent is on Wednesdays at 9.30pm on Star World (Astro Ch 711/HD Ch 722).

Malaysian talents

Cassandra Anne

Known as Cassey on the show, the 23-year-old full-time student also sings part-time. She started getting booked for jobs during high school, and loves to sing contemporary R&B because of the genre’s depth, feeling and meaning. Cassey has a wide vocal range and believes that her strength is her adaptability – she doesn’t want to limit herself to just R&B and looks forward to showing off her versatility.

Gregory Ramanado

Gregory, 30, is the oldest contestant on Bolt Of Talent. He teaches English through the medium of music, and was a contestant on Malaysia Idol over 12 years ago (this is his first competition since then). Greg, as he is known in the show, is a focused individual with drive and passion for singing, and takes great joy in writing, being on stage and singing for an audience. He is one of the few songwriters in the series.