Singer Naresh Iyer talks about the shift from commerce to music, working with A.R. Rahman and the desire to explore new genres

It's been six long years since Mayiliragae happened, but people still can't get over the fairytale debut that Matunga boy Naresh Iyer had. Sometimes, even Naresh himself. Mother Radha and younger sister Nisha coaxed a reluctant Naresh into applying for Channel V's Super Singer. He reached the final rounds, was eliminated … and got launched by none other than A.R. Rahman.

Now, that's the kind of stuff dreams are made of. And, Naresh, the curly-haired crooner with a voice that can caress, serenade or rouse passion, went on to strike gold in Hindi and the Southern languages, surrendering to music directors who helped him discover the depths he could plumb and the new highs he could scale.

“Even now, I don't feel I am a good singer,” says a disarmingly frank Naresh. “I still remember the eliminations in college competitions,” he laughs. “Music was never on the top of my to-do list. I never dreamt it would become my career,” he explains.

If Super Singer had not happened, Naresh would have most likely become a chartered accountant, and dabbled with music at some stage. But, his family decided to gently nudge a competition-weary Naresh towards future stardom. “I've been really lucky that my parents and sister have been there for me,” says the singer who revels in his samathu payyan image.

However, all that changes once he goes up on stage during a live performance. A rockstar emerges — his voice cascades over an eager crowd and engages them, he jives like there's no tomorrow, and lets his noodle-like curls do the talking. “Well, these are changes I've incorporated. People want performers. It is the duty of every performer to establish a connect between himself and the audience, and ensure they have a good time. I've not perfected the art as yet. I'm learning along the way,” he says.

Considering he won a National Award (2006) with very first Hindi number Roobaru (in “Rang De Basanti”, which featured him in four songs) under Rahman's baton, and followed it up with hits such as Munbe Vaa, Valayapatti Thavile, Mundhinam Paarthaney, and Oru Vetkam, how does he manage to stay unaffected by fame? “Fame and popularity attach themselves to you at some stage, but there are the small things we've always done that give us great joy. There's little reason to sacrifice those. It is so vital to strike a balance. The values you pick up at home also matter,” says the singer who credits his (late) grandmother Jayalakshmi (Vebus to him) with all his achievements.

“Her love and encouragement started it all. She did not live long enough to see me make it big, but I feel all this probably happened because of her fervent wishes.”

Despite success in tinsel town, Naresh still bonds with his buddies from Mumbai and meets up with members of his band ‘Dhwani'. “We stay in touch, but play on and off; the distance (he shuttles between Mumbai and Chennai) has taken a toll on regular playing,” says the singer who's now basking in the popularity of hits such as Kaiya Pudi (“Mynaa”), Mazhai Varum (“Veppam” — “I've always loved how Joshua Sridhar conceptualises songs”), Thee Illai (“Engeyum Kaadhal”), Netri Pottil (“Ko”), and Tere Bin (“Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji”).

So, how does someone who helps others relax, chill? “I take off somewhere, hang out with my friends, or just tune into myself,” he smiles.

Meeting a legend

I'll always be grateful that Rahman chose to place faith in a newcomer. He explores your talent and shows you what you are capable of. His patience, tolerance and understanding of a newcomer's anxiety and nervousness are unparalleled.

Sports calling

I breathed and lived sports at one stage. I spent about eight hours a day on the ground, playing serious cricket. At the university-level, I played table tennis. Probably, why music moved to the forefront much later in life

Tress tales

“My curls? Ah! All credit to my grandmom and mother; it's all in the genes, I guess,” he laughs. Naresh did straighten his hair at one stage, before he allowed Nature to take over in all her glorious unruliness.

Genre hopping

I love melodies, but prefer dabbling in different genres that challenge my voice. Among my favourites are

Innisai from “Varalaaru” — I'd never done semi-classical before

Mundhinam and Yethi from “Vaaranam Aayiram” — Gautam Vasudev Menon and Harris Jeyaraj always give me great numbers, and these two were so different in form.

Sirikiraen from “Bale Pandiya” — A lovely mix of melody and kuththu, and it rained swaras. Also, I got to sing this with Mano sir, whom I greatly admire.

Kummi Adi from “Sillunu Oru Kaadhal” — This was the only song I got to sing with Swarnalatha, whose voice I so love.

Wave of melody

Naresh launched 92.7 BIG FM's new positioning “Manasa Thotta Melodies”. With this initiative, the channel promises to air only melodies through the day. Naresh also launched Melody 927, the neighbourhood music concerts initiative that will see live bands and celebrity singers entertaining people.

As part of this effort, Naresh travelled around the city in a limousine before hitting Express Avenue where he joined a live band and belted out a few of his hits. The singer was joined by some of his contemporaries.

The month-long campaign to promote the branding will see varied celebrities go on air sharing their favourite music and the memories associated with it.